Chapter 26: Matrimony, 1948
News from India eventually came that Rex Eagan would be retiring and arriving in England in the mid-summer of 1948. Sheelah and her mother would come ahead and the wedding should take place soon after Rex’s arrival. Amongst our military group there were several of us, around the age of 30 (and more in my case) who were taking the same important step. Cambridge being a short-term location the majority looked for rented accommodation. I had a special problem. My parents were moving to Rye to be near my mother’s artist brother and, with a smaller house to go to, there was plenty of good furniture to fit out a house for us. I decided to buy and my search went wider and wider. With little building during the war there was not a great deal on the market. I eventually picked on a small and attractive house in the village of Elmdon, some twelve miles from Cambridge in a hilly corner of Essex. With six rooms and a garage there was plenty of space, with the only oddity that one had to come down the stairs from the bedrooms and go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. The house was called Mendips, the area in which we now happen to live. We renamed it The Strawberry Patch, a name that every shop in Cambridge, having heard it once, remembered as soon as we mentioned our name.
It is always a trial for a bride to be to meet her future in-laws, however well intentioned they are on the basis of photos seen. Sheelah still remembers the shyness of youth at this inquisition. She should have had no worries. As far as the wedding was concerned I was to play a full part in its organization, having had at least some experience of the practice in England. I took as my model a family wedding before the war in St George’s Hanover Square that had been a great success. My uncle, Canon Maurice FitzGerald, would conduct the service.
Large family gatherings were particularly important now that the war was over and London, with its railway tentacles, provided the best means of transport. Petrol rations were far too important for such travel. A number of our Ripon group took advantage of the final flowering of the capital city wedding, only to be outdone by a lifelong friend of our Cambridge group, Colin Cowan, who was married in Canterbury Cathedral. Londonderry House served well for the reception and Gunter’s ran it, as they must have done almost daily at this time.
All went well until the week before the wedding, when a telegram arrived from Rex Eagan; ‘I am having difficulty in getting a flight. Could we delay the wedding by a week?’ The answer was No, but he made it.
Honeymoon arrangements were complicated too. We had been offered the loan of a cottage on Majorca but the Spanish requirement was that we should enter the country with a minimum of three pounds per day each. This was more than the amount we were allowed to take out of England and in any case all of our allowance had to be preserved for University skiing at the end of the year. We settled for Eire. With none of the war worries it was a land of plenty as evidenced by large steaks and all the trimmings on arrival in Dublin. Hiring a car we drove along the south coast to Cork and Skibbereen before heading north through Bantry and Killarney. This was probably our last view of totally unspoiled countryside filled with wild flowers and country people who had never visited a large town. On our return, no-one who knew me was surprised to learn that we had climbed Carrauntoohill, the highest point in Ireland.
Arriving at our house in Elmdon on a Sunday, our furniture had been moved in but we were locked out. However a side window was slightly open and I was able to climb in. We had successfully burgled our own house. Next day we visited the solicitor handling the purchase and told him our story. Ah! He said. You have got into the house so you are all right. I have not handed over the keys before checking that payment has been cleared, so I am all right. Let me now complete the circle by a telephone call. This done we were handed the keys and entered the house by the front door without any bridal wish to be carried across the threshold.
We had returned from rural Ireland to rural England. There is a range of minor hills that extends from the Chilterns up into Suffolk with the flat country of Cambridge and southern Essex on either side. We had woodland full of orchids and hilly walks with hedgerows filled with wild flowers. Before long we had a golden cocker spaniel to enjoy these surroundings. His pedigree name of Clever Clarence was useless for calling him to heel, so he soon learned to respond to Pagan. Our village of Elmdon rated a small school and a good pub, but had grown little from the rated population of 500 at the beginning of the century. Appropriately there were a small number of properties for the ‘gentry’.
A large meadow climbed away from the back of our house where splendid Percheron carthorses grazed. An occasional Fordson tractor was to be seen. The common use of this machine traction had awaited the production of a suitable large rubber tyre that was only achieved shortly before the outbreak of war. There was a fine herd of the small black Dexter cattle with firm warning that the diminutive bull did not make friends easily. Across the road was the powerful Mr. Clarke, a road mender in a profession that had no great future. As our garden help he would arrive with his eight-tine fork and put a vegetable bed to rights more quickly than any machine which I have since possessed. Our neighbour, separated from us by three immense walnut trees, was the village postmen. Elderly in our eyes, he would do his daily rounds by bicycle.
All too soon it was time for the long vacation term and I started a commuting life through country lanes with no motorway obstructions. The term provided a good opportunity for carrying out a long list of experimental work with detailed writing up. The importance of this work had been stressed. I have since doubted the value. From my own teaching experience at Quetta Staff College I put great value on the issue of printed précis on subjects and syndicate discussion of them to bring the message home. In my view the note-taking practice of the day and too little attention to good use of the time available was not efficient. It would have been better for me to have read more of the many books recommended to me. Whether I would have done so is a question that cannot be answered and no doubt University teaching has changed a great deal since my time.