Where Were You in Fifty Two?
First published in the Friends' Newsletter Spring 2002 (free to members).
On the Kaiser's Yacht.
January 1952 found me and over 2,000 troops, all demob happy and in high spirits, aboard the troopship Empress of Australia, bound for Liverpool and home, after serving 18 months National Service in the Military Police in the canal Zone in Egypt.
Photograph: The Empress of Australia.
This ship (formerly the Kaiser's Yacht, was seized as reparation at the end of the First World War and refitted as a troopship) was on its regular run ferrying servicemen between Liverpool and the Middle and far east. She was eventually scrapped in 1960.
The one thing I will never forget is the sight of 350 men in their hammocks (me among them) swinging to and fro in unison as the huge vessel rolled from side to side. We were housed in the stowage hold in the bowels of the ship.
We had a celebrity on board, Sergeant Bill Spekeman, who had just won the Victoria Cross for his bravery in Korea.
The Green Green Grass of Home.
In Liverpool we boarded a waiting troop train bound for Aldershot and demob, and then home to mum's cooking and my old job in a garage. As we travelled home the green English countryside had everyone gasping in amazement, after 18 months looking at desert sand.
Food and petrol rationing were still in force, and times were hard compared to the easy life we lead today. I managed to buy a second hand motorcycle, which served me well as transport to work and for pleasure when there was petrol to spare.
The Love Interest.
1952 was the year Pat and I met again, having been at school together. We started dating seriously and planned to get engaged on her 21st birthday, but fate took a hand and instead of an engagement celebration I was knocked off my motorcycle on the very day and ended up in hospital.
Our leisure time together was spent walking, dancing at the local hops, and visiting Woking's three cinemas. Each cinema had a new show every week with a different one on Sunday. They consisted of a feature film a "B" picture and Pathe news, as well as entertainment ion the magnificent Compton Organs in each interval. All for the princely sum of 1/9d. (8p).
The Racing Times.
We also used the motorcycle to visit Race Meetings at Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Thruxton, etc., which were mainly disused bomber dromes. It's hard to believe now, with the emphasis on safety, that we were permitted to park and picnic at the trackside, protected only by a single rope.
We certainly had a close up view of the racing motorcycles. You could also wander round the pit areas and talk to the riders, something unheard of today.
Our wedding plans were well in hand, and the motorcycle again proved its worth. You would be surprised just what a vehicle on two wheels can carry when purchasing items for a new home!
We were married on Boxing Day, having experienced more problems when my best man was injured in an accident hours before the event, and Pat's brother had to step in and do the honours.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and neighbours parting with precious Food Coupons Pat's Mum was able to provide the guests with an excellent meal. The wartime spirit still prevailed and people were always looking for ways to help one another.
We set off the same evening for our Honeymoon in Hastings in a very dilapidated Ford Tubby Ten, which I had obtained in exchange for the faithful motorcycle. Not an uneventful journey as we managed to get well and truly lost in a pea-souper of a fog.
No Place Like Home?
A week later we arrived home, only to find that we had lost our rented bed sit and were homeless. But that's another story.
That's where we were in fifty two!
First published in the Friends' Newsletter Spring 2002.
Whilst watching Her Majesty the Queen's Golden Jubilee Parade on TV I was very surprised to see Bill Speakman once again. He was sitting in the rear of a vintage Rolls royce, proudly wearing his VC. it was interesting to see the Queen stand up to personally acknowledge him as he passed her. I have since been told that it is customary for the Queen to honour VC holders in this way. I still cannot believe that it is fifty years ago since I last saw him on that troopship, coming home to Blighty, and demob.
More about the incredible story of how Bill Spekeman. won his Victoria Cross.
More interesting history about the winners of the Victoria Cross medal.
END OF PAGE.