Chapter 2: Brentwood and Colchester, 1924-1930

In 1923 the post-war run-down of the wartime army was taking place. The Worcesters were reduced from four regular battalions to two. (The usual practice in those days was for an infantry Regiment to have one home battalion and one in India or Egypt.) My father was informed that he was to be transferred to the Essex Regiment as a result of these changes.

In 1924 we moved to Brentwood, then still a country market town. The Regimental Depot was at Warley, close by. Moving station within a Regiment meant that there would have been ready-made friends to greet us. A change of Regiment meant that new friends had to be found and children must rely on their parents. For this and many other things hindsight tells me that my mother was an exceptional person, something of her story should be told.

Morah Baynes was the youngest child in a family of four who survived to adulthood. Her father, Malcolm Baynes, was the fourth son of a Baronet, the title stemming from Napoleonic times. Christopher Baynes, who was born in 1755, made a four-year Grand Tour and then with a purchased commission had a dozen years service in the Blues (the Household Cavalry). After selling his commission, he retired on marriage. He formed in 1797 what was to become the Middlesex Yeomanry and was created a baronet in 1801. As a country parson in late Victorian times his descendant, Malcolm, was a man of many skills well into DIY a century before the term was invented. Drains, buildings, early electrics, high-class woodwork and then car repairs were all understood. It was not the boys but my mother who picked up these practical talents. With a one handed husband many tasks inevitably fell to her, but she was in any case the one with aptitude. I was called in as the helping hand from a very early age, both in regard to my blind brother and for jobs to be done. This was very good training.

In their teens the parson’s daughters, Isla and my mother, found themselves caught up in all sorts of village activities. They ran Scouts and Guides and one of the earliest Brownie packs in the country. The two sisters provided energy and leadership wherever it was required. Their two husbands, my father and Isla’s husband, Maurice FitzGerald, a Canon of Bristol Cathedral, provided much humour. They formed what they called ‘The Anti-Baynes League’ to protect themselves from these two dynamic ladies.

In the finding of friends for the family Morah showed skill and imagination well beyond wait and see. We soon got to know the Burge family - a family without army connections - and became firm friends at parental level and amongst the combined total of seven children. This friendship has lasted through over seventy years and three generations. At my 80th birthday party Stuart Burge, actor, producer and BAFTA winner, discussed some of the imaginative practical solutions attributed to my mother. Stuart recalled an occasion when our Ford developed a second puncture, leaving us with no spare and the party was stranded. “Oh”, said Morah, “I know what we do, we stuff the tyre with grass and that will get us home.” Apparently the solution worked. On another occasion we wanted to go to Mersea Island where we had a beach hut. The problem was that my mother had picked up measles or some such childhood illness from one of us and did not want Malcolm, the youngest, to catch it. Solution: she strapped a board and a rug on to the carrier, the iron grid at the back designed for luggage, and rode on this separate outside compartment to the astonishment of other motorists. Stuart, with his actor’s eye for character, describes this indomitable lady as an ‘independent woman a generation or two before her time’.

Education proceeded steadily with Gill in charge, the syllabus and material being provided by the Parents National Education Union, the PNEU. I have nothing but praise for the system. At the Great Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 there were special provisions for the PNEU and I remember a graphic representation and talk on the 1918 Raid on Zeebrugge. The many sideshows were exciting and I recall a competition called ‘Can’t a Ford Polo’. Stripped down T Model Fords were the horses with the players with polo sticks standing behind the drivers. A very large ball had to be coaxed through the opposition goal.

Another expedition took us to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, which trained cadets for a seafaring career. The Scottish Captain in charge was a friend of Gill’s family and we had VIP treatment before returning to central London by tram. At home we had a climbing rope to learn that skill and my father organised children’s cricket matches in our garden. Holidays took us to Thorpeness where we learned to sail on the Mere. Our parents had their own holidays away from us in the south of France at the invitation of my Horsfield grandfather.

In this period Nigel went off to a small boarding school which catered for children with disabilities amongst their pupils. The Headmaster, a retired naval instructor Commander, was very adaptable and learned braille and a special mathematical braille board to teach this one pupil. For two summers my father was employed at the Small Arms School in Hythe and we lived in rented accommodation on the front at Sandgate. This led to a day trip to France, very exciting, and less fortunately to an accident. Nigel and I had been playing on the shore at Sandgate, after which we walked back to the road. I watched to see if it was safe to cross. On the ‘go’ command Nigel sprinted off. In those days few cars had four wheel brakes and stopping distances were long even at low speed. To warn drivers behind of their enhanced stopping power the newfangled vehicles displayed a red triangle beside the rear number-plate. A driver of one of the less well-endowed vehicles understandably misread a situation and swerved, hitting Nigel as his car came to a halt and breaking Nigel’s thigh bone. Hospital treatment followed and he was prevented from returning to school in September.

This presented another problem. I feel sure that no sort of school fees insurance existed at this time and Nigel, because of his injury, wouldn’t be able to return to school at the beginning of the new term. The solution was obvious. I would be sent off, aged seven, to take his place and Nigel would return when he was fit. Launching into a strange environment from a comfortable home is inevitably a traumatic process and returning to school each term was a misery for some years to come, but there was much to enjoy once one had settled in. Terms were thirteen weeks long with no half term breaks or the possibility of visiting one’s home. The Grange, as it was called, was situated in the edge of Hadleigh Woods, Cockfosters, next to the Ludgrove of the day, a well-known preparatory school for Eton. The house was a fine small country house of Edwardian date and it seemed to have some of the furniture of its earlier life as we ate off rosewood tables. The main gardens and playing fields were across a piece of the common ground, just outside the perimeter of the woodland.

Cockfosters itself was still a small country village with the large estate of Sir Philip Sassoon to one side, so country walks were readily available. Mr Wyatt Rawson, brother of the head, was one of the masters, He taught us the phonetic alphabet so that our French pronunciation should be good; strange at a very young age but with some success. I doubt if any teaching qualification was available or required to become a Master. One came direct to us on leaving public school and another, who did not stay, was a rather sad war warrior who endlessly purveyed the glories of Empire. In a school of a couple of dozen pupils at this stage it was difficult not to find oneself in the first eleven for any game that was played. To find opponents we would take on lower levels of school teams of larger establishments who were often astonished by our mix of a few class football players and a number of darting and enthusiastic squits, as they might have called them, harassing their every move.

The Grange
The Grange, Cockfosters

It is at this stage that I will note attitudes I attribute to the Victorians which have had a lasting and in my view damaging effect. Departure for boarding school even at the age of seven was looked upon as the achievement of manhood. The appropriate appellation for parents became ‘Father and Mother’. The result was that Mum and Pa were dropped and the formal names proposed were never used. Secondly hugs and kisses, pretty rare at the best of times, ceased entirely. Untouchable became the rule and an inhibition.

Although ‘home’ remained important one saw less and less of it. Term time with never a single break took two thirds of the year and family holiday trips and visits to relations and friends a third or more of the remainder. Christmas took us to Baynes Grandparents at Upper Swainswick above Bath and Little Somerford nearby where my FitzGerald uncle was Rector. White Christmases were not rare in those days.

In 1927 we moved within the County of Essex to Colchester, a military garrison town, on and off, since Roman times. Once again we had a private house and our own tennis court. Army quarters were to be more liberally available in later days. Even then quarters were not provided with furniture, so one moved, in any case, with all one’s goods and chattels. We were moving into modern times: the house was lit by electricity instead of gas; a telephone was much in evidence and a heavy portable wireless set - as radios were then called - replaced the crystal set which could occasionally be persuaded to receive Station 2LO.

In youth one accepts many oddities as the norm, whether at home or elsewhere. My mother started some project wherever she went. On a trip to Scotland we staged with her Cameronian elder brother, in Catterick Camp. Her enterprise led to an attack being launched immediately to help turn the heavy clay of this brand new Haig Road quarter into a garden before we moved on further north. By chance, when our family moved to Catterick seven years later we were allotted the same quarter. This habit of starting projects on other people’s property passed down to my generation and may or may not have been cured for the generation after us by the work of this kind which our children found themselves involved in.

Incidentally cars were changing and foot operated gears disappeared. However there were cars with the gear lever on the right hand side which my father could operate, steadying the steering wheel meanwhile with his ‘hard hand’. Sunbeams, which had recently been winning land speed records, came into this category and second hand quality cars were reasonably priced. Ours was a ‘tourer’, open to the winds with wide bench seats back and front.

We bicycled everywhere, became involved in tennis tournaments, had cricket coaching at Lords, roller skated in the Corn Exchange and were generally kept busy. Even so my mother was not satisfied that there was enough for us to do, particularly in winter, and set about solving this problem.

As usual we got to know relations in the area. The Chevalliers at Aspall in Suffolk had brought cider-making from Jersey and lived in an old moated house. The original stone built circular apple crushing device was there to be operated by a donkey harnessed to a radius pole with the crushing wheel, made of stone attached to it. Bee-keeping was there to be studied and the daughters, ten years our senior, took us in hand. These were relations of my Cazenove grandmother and there were Cobbolds too with intricate inter relationships which I have yet to sort out. One Chevallier bride had the distinction of being the mother of Kitchener of Khartoum. Of more immediate interest a small cask of cider was often taken home and we were old enough to appreciate it.

In 1930 the Battalion was warned for Germany and we looked forward to a pleasant life on the Rhine in Wiesbaden. However the Army of the Rhine was withdrawn so we left the East Anglia we had come to know well and moved to the very west of Wales, Pembroke Dock, a one-battalion station.

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