Last month we shared “Anthony’s Story (Part 1)” in which Anthony recounted his memories of an idyllic and adventurous wartime childhood in Canada. Anthony’s interview was so rich, interesting, and bursting with vivid memories and recollections that it felt important to document Anthony’s story post-Canada too.
In the first part of his story, Anthony recalled how his Grandmother sent them to Canada for the duration of the war – and vividly described his memories of a “perfect childhood.” The second part of his story chronicles his journey home from Canada and some of the twists and turns that subsequently unfolded in his life.
The journey home.
When the war ended Anthony, his mother, and brother were able to return to England. Their journey home was also an epic adventure, he tells me.
“I want to tell you about this journey home, across Canada. Machinery, trains, marvellous huge steam engines with a bell in front of the chimney, a huge searchlight on the front and a big ‘cowcatcher’ down below to sweep animals off the tracks if they were silly enough to stay there!”
“This train set off and it took us 3,000 miles across Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railway all the way to New York. Every now and again it would have to stop for water, then the engineer would come down with a very long-handled hammer and tap all the wheels to see if they had developed cracks. I still remember the noise of this man tapping the wheels as he came down – tap, tap, clang, clang, clang.”
“I also remember the big steward. He had a yoke across his shoulders. He used to come down the corridors shouting, ‘Coffee, hot chocolate? Coffee, hot chocolate?’ Of course, we boys used to grin at him, and he often used to give us a little taste for free, which was rather nice,” Anthony laughs. “Big cheerful fellow, he was. Great big smile!”
“It took us all of three days to travel those 3,000 miles. There were young soldiers going to fight in Europe. Big blonde lads. They used to play fight with my brother and I, all the way across Canada – wrestled us, tossed us in the air and did all sorts of silly tricks. They would tell us silly stories about giant grizzly bears.”
“Anyway, then we reached New York. Smoky, grey, wet. I didn’t like New York. Then we took the Troop Ship Rangitiki, named after a town in New Zealand, with a big gun on the front and a big gun on the back, in a convoy out to sea and back to Liverpool. Wow! Can you imagine the thrill of watching the guys doing the gun drills? We crouched on a pile of life rafts behind them after lunch every day.”
Finally, the family arrived back in England and made their way across the country to Anthony’s Grandfather’s rectory in Lincolnshire.
“We all got back to England safely. Mother told us to sit firmly on the cases and not to move because otherwise they might have been stolen, while she went to find a taxi to take us to the station. Eventually, we arrived safely to this lovely old Georgian rectory complete with a huge garden, a courtyard, stables and various other outbuildings – my Grandfather’s house – the Reverend.”
Anthony’s Grandfather’s rectory
Meeting Dad again.
A significant part of Anthony’s wartime childhood in Canada was the fact that his father was not a part of it. Like many children, he was separated from his father for the duration of the war and did not see his father again until after they returned from Canada. He remembered his father’s return and how it felt to meet him again after such a prolonged separation.
“Dad came back suddenly. One morning mother came into our room and said, ‘You had better come and meet your father’. We went into her bedroom and there was this huge fellow lying in bed,” Anthony chuckles. “I didn’t remember anything about him at all.”
I asked Anthony how such a sudden and abrupt reunion with his father felt for a young boy. I wondered if it would have felt strange or destabilised the natural order of his life.
“Strange? Yes, it was. Mother hadn’t talked about him a great deal. We knew there was a father… somewhere, but we had no idea what he was like and we had a pleasant surprise. He was a great big softie. That is the best way I can describe it. Of course, to start with, he spoiled us kids rotten. We had a big garden and he used to play ‘Mr. Gorilla’ with us. My brother and I would have to walk slowly through the shrubbery, not knowing where he was, and suddenly he would leap out at us from somewhere with a great roar, which is just what small boys love! They love being frightened and chased. That was brilliant.”
“Dad resumed his job with Worcester County Council as a surveyor after that, so we had a nice, steady income coming in and they decided to buy a small farm. They were lucky: they found a deserted one that was run down. The old man had died, and nobody wanted it. It was called Byfields Farm, on the Worcester-Hereford border. So, we moved into this tatty, red brick, timber-framed farmhouse, but I remember it had a lovely wisteria bush growing up the side of it that came into and surrounded the window of our bedroom.”
Like most lives, Anthony’s contains intriguing, unpredictable twists and turns of fate. One such twist saw him relocate to Africa.
“Life is normal…I changed jobs a couple of times in young adulthood. I meet this Spanish girl – the wrong girl – but we get married anyway. I was the wrong man for her, and she was the wrong girl for me, but she did present me with two lovely kids. Then we split in about 1975. I am so – if you will pardon the expression – “pissed off” with the solicitors, with this and that, that I go to Africa. That is one of the big turning points of my life because I find Africa absolutely, incredibly interesting.”
His description of his first encounter with Africa is powerful and evocative. Even though I’ve never been to Africa, his account of the initial smells and sensory experiences resonates.
“To get to Lagos where I was being met, we first landed at Kano, right in the north of Nigeria. We land at Kano for an hour or whatever to let people get off and on. We, passengers, are allowed to stand at the top of some steps that they push up to the airplane. It is midnight, I can’t see anything, but my first smell of Africa absolutely thrills me. It is a mixture of woodsmoke, cow dung, and hot, dry dust. If you ever talk to anyone who has been to Africa, they will recognise it straight away – because that is what it smells like.”
I picture Anthony in my mind, as a man, soaking up the awe and wonder of an impending adventure in a strange foreign land. I realise that this was exactly how he described his childhood experiences too, as a young boy, filled with wonder and delight at the prospect of a new adventure in a captivating and exciting country like Canada.
Anthony ran a quarry in Nigeria, “in a place called Abeokuta, which is about two hours’ drive out of Lagos. There is no telephone service in Nigeria at that time, so you have to have a two-way radio. If I wanted to phone anyone in the UK, I had to drive two and a half hours over terribly rutted, bumpy roads to a major exchange at a place called Lanlate. I didn’t do it very often because I didn’t want to get in touch with anyone in the UK – not really.”
“At this point, I don’t want to go back to the UK for Christmas. I want to stay in Nigeria, which I do. The firm are happy with that and I am happy with that. I come back at Easter and the firm contact me again. ‘Would you like to go out again?’ This time I go to a place called Suleja, which is right in the middle of Nigeria, a full day’s drive from our head office in Lagos out to our encampment in Suleja. It is fascinating, it is wonderful. I know my job, I am getting good results for the company, the people that work for me get to know me and they know they are always going to get paid. They are fantastic people. I love them. A mixture of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa and some incredible people from the north.”
Anthony’s African adventure
Grandpa – “carpe diem!”.
Anthony is now “Grandpa” too and as I raised in the first part of his story, he is keen for his grandsons to know that there is a rich, powerful, exciting, and extraordinarily adventurous narrative to “Grandpa.” “I want my large (6-foot plus!) grandsons to know that this funny little grey-haired man they call “Grandpa” has also been around and done stuff too, as they say.”
“Carpe diem” is my motto,” he tells me. “I know that I am 84 years old and may yet live another 10 or 15, depending on mother luck – but to enjoy the here and now is so important.”