My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full
A Life Lived to the Full
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Part 4 – Pages 36 – 46
In London, we had days out to Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Victoria Park, London Zoo, Hampton Court Palace, St James’s Park, Southend and Hyde Park. We also had trip to Durham just four weeks before our own wedding to see Colin Densham tie the knot.
We met up with Aodhan in Trafalgar Square. Subsequently, I was his best man at his wedding in Northern Ireland in November 1959 to Anne with whom he had four children. In 1974 while he was serving with the Royal Air Force in Cyprus, Anne died tragically.
She was nursed by a nurse called Kate whom Paddy later married and to whom he is still married.
The thing about the albums is, while under Margaret’s care, during our divorce proceedings, a whole lot of photographs disappeared. They were all of her, who flatly denied taking them. She had every right to the photos and was, I suppose, entitled to take them. I don’t think she was entitled to lie. Had she left them and asked for copies I would have done that for her. This was repeated for every album in our family collection of about sixty.
However, this is not the point. At that time in the late 1950’s I was completely in love and as far as I could make out, so was she. We went on a Police outing on a one day visit to the Isle of Wight on a near perfect day and we fell in love with the island. On our trip to Northern Ireland we visited all my youthful haunts and also ended up in Dublin.
In June 1960 we went on holiday for two weeks in a holiday camp on the Isle of Wight at a place called Little Canada at Wooton Creek. We had picked up transport at the ferry port and were sitting at the back of the bus, all feeling very jolly There was one stop before we were due to get off and everyone else piled off the bus leaving Margaret and I alone. We were unconcerned until as we were driving away we saw our luggage sitting, n its own, in the middle of the road.
“Stop, stop!” we yelled and the driver did.
“I’m sorry. I thought you had got off.”
We went back and picked up the lonely bags and carried on down the road to little Canada.
We had booked two weeks at £5 person per week. We had a marvellous time. We hired a boat which stalled in the Solent before coughing back into life and getting us safely ashore.
I suffered from sunstroke, had my first beer and we took a prize in a singing contest. We retained many fond memories of the island. One memory which persists without any justification is memories of two tunes which seemed to be playing everywhere in my memory. They were ‘A summer Place’ and ‘A certain Smile’. I see from Google that the year does not match so it must be an old man’s imagination.
Many years later, after our return from Australia, we again visited the Isle of Wight with our kids. We popped into little Canada. We found to our shame that the holiday camp where once we had been so happy was now used as a home for pets. The children regarded their parents with very strange looks.
Margaret had progressed to keeping score at my cricket matches, a very useful skill to pick up. I suppose she must have been in love. She must have been in love to watch me play cricket.
I scored sixty runs during the season at an average of 4.28. Impressive, was it not? The season in 1959 was equally brilliant; 58 runs was my total there. However I enjoyed my cricket.
I bought my first cricket bat while living in Leyton from a cricket bat shop in the High Road. It was loving hand made for me by a man called William Breeden and I used it for the rest of my playing days.
Late in December 1959 Bertie White, who lived in Donnybrook Street came and stayed with us for a couple of days before he jetted off to Australia. Sadly, we lost touch and I never saw him again.
In May 1960, I attended the wedding of Princess Margaret, at I may say, the invitation of the Metropolitan Commissioner. I was wearing my best blues and was stationed on a traffic island just outside the Abbey. I was just one more anonymous copper. This provided a very good view and I witnessed her arrival. She got out of the coach and turning round gave a very pretty smile and waved. As there was no one in front of me, I thought for one minute she was waving to me. For a horrible two seconds I considered waving back until good sense prevailed.
By the time the service was over I had been moved elsewhere. Sadly, the Princess had not ever been in love with Tony Armstrong Jones, whom she had just married, and the couple was divorced in 1978.
In 1961, as I mentioned earlier, I was part of the Police contingent charged with policing the Aldermaston March to Trafalgar Square. It was just about the longest day of my life. We paraded for duty at four AM, and we eventually got home about three the following morning. During the day we were subject to all manner of aggravations.
I was stationed on the back steps to the Square with my back towards the National Gallery. The crowd, perhaps 100,000, was gathered in the square to listen to a variety of left wing speakers, principally, Lord Russsell. The American singer, Pete Seeger, was a leading figure from the United States. He sang ‘We shall overcome’, a very moving anthem. Overcome by the occasion, most of the Police joined in and sang along. We had to police the march down Whitehall towards Downing Street and prevent the marchers attacking the Prime Minister’s official residence, which they tried very hard to do.
This went through all day and we ended up at two in the morning when we found ourselves in Embankment Gardens, next to the Underground station. We were totally exhausted and we sprawled on the benches awaiting our transport home.
At some stage, a young woman, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, walked into the Gardens where we were sprawled. She stared around at the exhausted police.
“Fascist bastards!” she snarled.
We all stared at her in shocked silence.
Sergeant Ted Bedford responded. “Fuck off, love.”
“Oh, OK” she replied and walked away.
It was a very British exchange and one that probably could not be repeated today.
Margaret had become pregnant in 1960 and again in 1961 but could not carry the pregnancy to term. She did not appear over stressed by these events being informed by her doctor that first pregnancies often end in miscarriage. Despite what appeared to be a lack of concern on her part, after our divorce she wrote to me blaming me for her miscarriages, saying I had failed to take care of her. Oh dear.
In 1961, I ran into a spot of trouble. While working night shift on the R/t car on nights, we had a call to a ‘disturbance’ on Dalston’s ground. Dalston Police Station was under the control of Stoke Newington or ND. They had their own car but presumably the crew were on refreshments and ours was free.
On arrival at 53 Downs Park Road we noticed a huge crowd of black people gathered outside the address, many of whom took off on arrival of police. The driver, Brian Lorking, and the observer, Bill or Fritz Weisser, went into the house via the open front door and attempted to speak to those inside. Fritz was a young German born guy, who had been brought up in Britain. Brian was an older, very experienced Policeman.
I stayed outside to get the crowd to settle down. At one stage I noticed a large pool of blood on the ground. Horrified I asked “Whose is this?”
A bystander volunteer offered to show me and led me up the street for about 100 yards. There I saw what I first thought was a red headed black man wearing a red shirt, sitting on a wall. He was actually a black haired man in a white shirt. He was soaked in blood.
I spoke to the little group of those who had followed us from the police car. “You two,” I ordered two of the group, “Get him back to the police car.”
I ran back to the car and broke out the first aid kit. The casualty arrived and I bandaged his head as best I could. I had already radioed for an ambulance.
“What happened?’ I asked although it was obvious he had been stabbed on the top of his head with a wound that ran from the crown to the forehead.
“I was stabbed” replied the victim.
“Who did it?”
“It was John Varrell,’ was his reply.
I did my best for him and he was conscious the whole time. The ambulance arrived and the guys we now call paramedics took charge.
“Where are you taking him?’ I asked.
“Hackney Hospital, mate” was the answer.
At that point Brian came back out of the house. “All quiet in there” was his judgement.
“Well it bloody isn’t quiet out here,” was my answer. “Where’s Fritz?”
Brian looked puzzled. “I have no bloody idea. He left me inside when he came out; he said to join up with you.”
”Well, I haven’t seen him.” It would be a further three days before we saw Bill again.
The fun was just beginning. I explained to Brian about the stabbing, allegedly carried out by someone called John Varrell. I had already ascertained that he lived at 53 Downs Park Road which was where we were.
“OK” said Brian. “Let’s go and find him.”
We went back into the house and went to a bedroom on the first floor where a black man was in bed with a woman.
“Are you John Varrell” asked Brian.
“Yes” was his answer.
“I am arresting you for causing grievous bodily harm to a Peter Jones. Get out of bed.”
The man pushed back the bedding to reveal him as fully dressed. Brian went to the bed and pulled away the pillows to reveal a slim bladed knife there. “I will take that.”
We then took the prisoner’s arms and led him down the stairs.
At the front door he went berserk, fighting and punching like a madman. Outside the front door we were standing on a small area of steps overlooking an unfenced area leading to the basement about ten feet down. I was concerned Varrell’s struggles would tip all three of us into that area.
At that moment, the police van from Dalston arrived and a gaggle of uniformed officers poured out of the back. They seemed to size up the situation very quickly and came to our assistance. Varrell was subdued and placed in the van.
“Thank God you lot turned up” I breathed.
There was still no sign of Bill, so we decided to follow our prisoner to Dalston Police Station. We were some distance behind the van and when we arrived we were greeted by a scene from hell. On arrival, Varrell had been placed in a cell to calm down. He did not calm down but began to tear up the cell furniture and bedding. This prompted the Station Officer; a Sergeant Riddell to turn the fire hose on him and when we got there it was a very bedraggled John Varrell who was dripping in his cell.
Sergeant Riddell had also decided to cover his backside and call on the Divisional Surgeon to examine the prisoner to see if he was fit to be detained. The Divisional Surgeon was a fiery Ulsterman named James Henry, who was also my GP. He arrived and boldly entered the wet cell whereupon he was immediately attacked. It took several officers to subdue the prisoner and rescue the doc.
“Too fucking right, he’s fit to be detained” declared a very angry Doctor Henry.
It was some several hours later before things had settled down sufficiently to charge Varrell. By this time the CID had become involved and the charge was ‘causing GBH with intent to cause,’ which I think was under Section 16 of the Offences against the Person Act. Brian Lorking and I gratefully climbed into the Wolseley and went home to bed. Of Bill Weisser there was absolutely no sight.
A few days later we were both advised by a uniformed Chief Inspector that we were being suspended for assault on Mr Varrell who was now being represented by a firm of solicitors who specialised in taking action against police. This was hugely worrying; Mr Varrell had undoubtedly been assaulted, in respect of his assaults against the police, but not by Brian or me.
That state of affairs did not last long. At some stage a WPC with a male officer, called at his address to check on the welfare of Varrell’s wife and son. An argument ensued and the WPC was stabbed. At is point the male officer got involved and arrested Varrell who found himself charged with a second count of GBH. Soon afterwards his solicitors decided they were backing a loser and withdrew. Our suspension from duty was withdrawn.
Interesting enough, this was not the last time this affair touched my life but I will come back to that.
About this time I learned to ride a motorcycle and from then on undertook most of my duties as a ‘Noddy’ rider. I enjoyed that very much and found life much more interesting. I also encountered one of the scariest things in my life.
Around three in the morning, I was on patrol in Groombridge Road very slowly when I came across six or seven cats. They were in a circle with one cat in the middle. All were sitting on their hind legs in the circle looking inwards at the cat in the middle. When I got near to them I put the bike in neutral. All the cats turned and looked at me, three or four yards away and not one made any move to leave. I suddenly sensed this feeling of pure evil. It was so strong that l simply put the bike in gear and rode away. It was one of those things I was then, and am now, unable to explain.
It was in July that we went on an extended two week tour of Ireland with my parents. We were in my Dad’s car, a Hillman Minx, and in addition to the four adults we had my eight year old brother, Alroy, and a small boy the folks were fostering, called Tony. In the course of the trip we visited twenty six of the thirty two counties in Ireland. We did not make any bookings which relied on being lucky in finding a bed and breakfast place and generally, we were.
We want down the east coast to Dublin and on to Waterford. Then we struck out for Cork and visited Blarney Castle. We were delighted by the south west corner with MacGillicuddy’s Reeks and Garish Island in Kerry. Here we had a curious but very Irish experience. Out in the countryside we spotted a large detached house with a sign in the garden. The sign said ‘Bed and breakfast.’ So we stopped and knocked on the door.
A woman answered. “Do you do B and B,” I enquired politely.
“No.” She replied.
“But you have a sign in the garden.” I pointed it out in case she hadn’t noticed it.
“That’s not for here. It’s for next door”
Puzzled, we turned away, drove about fifty yards to the house indicated and noticed it had no sign in the garden. Fearing the worst, I knocked on the door. “Do you do bed and breakfast?”
“Yes, we do.”
“Ah, can you accommodate all of us?”
“I am sure we can. Please come in.”
We were put up by a very friendly family in a lovely home. Later as we got to know the couple better, we asked about their strange method of advertising.
“Well,” said the lady of the house, “My husband is headmaster at the local school. The house comes with the job and the parish priest does not mind our doing B and B but he does not want us advertising.” OK, that explains everything.
Another incident occurred a little later which restored my faith in human nature and the brotherhood of policing. We were driving Into Clifden, in Galway, reputedly the last stop before New York and running late. We stopped at what was the only hotel in town and posed the usual question.. They were full. Oh God it was already about eight in the evening. We trudged away very disappointed and very unhappy.
As we drove down the high street and noticed a light on in the police house. I decided to take a chance and went in.
“Good evening sergeant.”
A big gruff looking man in Garda uniform was warming his backside at the fireplace. “What can I do for you?” he said in a voice which suggested he did not really want to do anything.
“I’m in the job,” I explained showing my warrant card.
His mood swiftly underwent a change. I explained my difficulty.
“Have you tried Mrs O’Regan in the hotel?”
“She says she’s full.”
“Nonsense,” he said, picking up the phone. “Mrs O’Regan, its Sergeant Reilly. I have a policeman here from London looking for a place to stay with his family. He says you said you’re full.”
“Oh, God, sergeant, I had no idea he was in the police. Please send him back.”
He put the phone down. “There you are my friend. If coppers cannot help each other now and again I don’t know where we would be.”
We shook hands warmly and just before I left his warm little station, he did me another favour. “You’ll want something to eat. Try the Lazy Leprechaun. I will give them a call and say you will be coming.”
We all got accommodated at the hotel and had superb meal at the Lazy Leprechaun.
Irish hospitality and police co operation has never worked so well.
Yes one other curious incident occurred again involving the Police, before our holiday was over. While crossing into Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, on a lonely road on the Sperrins we were stopped by a lone Policeman, a very young policeman, armed with a rifle. I felt for him.
“Can I see your driving licence and insurance, please?”
I produced both documents which he studied closely. “This insurance is not for this car.” He correctly pointed out.
“No,” I replied, “It’s for my car. It says I can drive any other car with the owner’s permission.’
“Who owns this car then?”
“My Dad does.”
“Does he know that you have It?”
“Why not ask him. He’s sitting beside me.”
And he did. Straight out of training school “Is this man driving the car with your permission, sir?”
“Yes,” said my father.
The young man was still not totally happy so I produced my warrant card.
“You’re in the Polis. I am sorry I would not have stopped you if I had known.”
We had a lighter conversation after that and he explained that his brother was in the Met. Did I know him? I explained that there were 26,000 officers in the Met and knowing someone was a very random chance.
Warmed by our meeting, I drove on.
Soon it was all over and we were on our way back home.
Perhaps it is time to say a word or two about our supervisors at Hackney. They were a mixed bunch, as you can imagine and the sergeants were always closer to the men than the inspectors.
There was Sgt Harris, always called ‘Bomber’ after the famous war time RAF leader. He had an active dislike of taxi drivers, a dislike close to paranoia. Most of us thought he was mad.
Sgt Ted Bedford I have already mentioned. Sgt Meekey was also a bit unpredictable and weird.
Two Inspectors I remember in particular as being pretty unpleasant; Babbs and Eacott. The first came unstuck when he crashed a police car while under the influence. Most people considered this a fitting end to his time at Hackney. Eacott was a mixed blessing but equally unpleasant.
Many years later while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force, I walked into the Officers’ Mess at Point Cook and bumped into Eacott in uniform and wearing a set of wings. We had a very long chat and he seemed to me to be a different chap. I never met him again after that day.
Meantime Margaret became pregnant. I was neither pleased nor displeased. I had always thought we would have children. It was something that happened. She had all the usual tests and was given exercises to do to help with her condition. The baby was due at the tail end of April 1963. Or the early part of May. We waited with bated breath.
In the meanwhile, she became interested in my long time hobby of stamp collecting. We would request stamps to be sent on approval and would spend time jointly sorting through the contents of the boxes. I found it worked as a way to make her relax a little bit during her pregnancy.
The day arrived at last. It was 15th May 1963 and I was wakened about three in the morning with the words “My waters have broken.” We had prepared for this and we had a suitcase packed. At this point she was about ten days overdue. I called an ambulance and we took off.
Margaret, being a member of the Salvation Army, had selected the Army’s Maternity Hospital for the birth. That was in Hackney so we had a lights flashing ride there. On arrival my participation in the event ended. It was obvious to me that the nurses did not welcome men, although it may be thought they were an essential part of the process. One even said to me “Look what you have done to this poor girl.” My response was “She is not a girl, she is my wife and she wanted a baby.”
This cut no ice and I was turned out. I walked to the police station and asked for a lift home, having been told that the baby was still some hours away
I went back to bed and was woken around seven thinking I had died and gone to heaven. There was a series of little feathers floating around my head. I studied these for a few seconds thinking that heaven did not seem too bad. Then I became truly awake to the sound of a dreadful squawking and worked out that the cat was trying to finish off a pigeon which it had dragged through the window.
I separated the pair putting the bedraggled bird outside and an irate cat inside. I then phoned the hospital to be assured that the baby was being unhelpful and was still some hours away. I got out of bed, remembering I was required to attend court that day.
It was a civil case with a judge presiding. The man stabbed in 1961 had finally got is case for damages against Farrell before the judge.
I got to the court with yet another phone call. No, no news yet I was told. I gave my evidence of arresting Mr Varrell and was severely cross examined by the defence counsel. I think it was around here that my severe dislike of solicitors started. It has lasted to this day.
The judge, a small Scotsman had intervened with the words “I will not have Police Officers treated in this way in my court.” Defence counsel’s performance had seemed to be pretty pointless. After all’ his client had been handed a prison sentence at the lower court.
At this juncture the counsel for the plaintiff had asked if I could be excused.
“That is unusual. Why does he want to be excused?” the judge responded.
Counsel explained that early that morning I had taken my wife into hospital for the birth of our first child.
“By all means you may. What are you hoping for, officer, a boy or a girl?” it must be remembered that in 1963 medical science had not advanced sufficiently to know the sex of a baby in the womb.
I replied that it did not matter as long as the child was healthy.
“Well, good luck. If it is a boy, you may wish to call it after me. My name is David.”
I said I would keep that in mind.
I left the court, still with no news, and went straight to the Mothers Hospital arriving around two in the afternoon to learn that our son, Rory Lawrence, had just been born. I was allowed about fifteen minutes to kiss my wife and say hello to my son, before the nursing dragons threw me out. They were too busy to be bothered by men.
Rory was a healthy baby, six pounds and nine ounces being, I was told a very healthy weight. He grew up as a bonny child. Margaret recovered rapidly and enjoyed being a mother. Life was good.
Rory was in due course baptized in St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Leyton. My mother came over from Northern Ireland and Siobhan and her husband also attended the ceremony. He was christened Rory Lawrence Matier. We chose Rory because I fancied an Irish name but I have now forgotten why we picked Lawrence.
Meanwhile I had become a driver and had bought a car. I had to take the driving test again after failing my first attempt. My first car was an old pre-war 1938 Wolseley 14. I was influenced in my choice by the marquee being the choice of the police. A major attraction was its ability to carry half the cricket team in the days before seat belts became the law. I had it for a year or two before it gave up the ghost, sadly.
My next car was also a Wolseley, a four/fifty. This was a nice car which served us well until I sold it in 1965 before leaving for Australia.
And our lives carried on happily enough for the next two years.
I continued playing cricket with a little more success than in previous years. In 1960 I scored 94 runs at an average of 7.83 and took nine wickets for 47. In 1961 it was almost the same, 92 runs at 7.67 and seven wickets. By this time I had settled into being an opening batsman, a position I enjoyed.
I finally reached 100 runs in the 1962 season. There was one special innings of thirty nine not out played for Hackney against Limehouse Police. They had scored 120 all out setting us a difficult target. It was my first game as captain. I batted at number seven and had only a handful when the sixth wicket fell;. To be honest, I felt we had had it. I was joined by Vic Atkins, a young police officer in his first game.
We started slowly but gradually runs began to come. I didn’t know what the score was as they did not display it. Vic and I plodded on until we had one over. I played the second ball for four through the covers and took a single off the next. Vic took a lovely four off the fourth ball and the hooked the fifth for six. Our supporters burst into rapturous applause. We had won. Vic had scored 27 not out and I had managed 39 not out. My wife told me later that they had intentionally ignored our reaching one hundred so as not to distract us.
As we walked off we peeled off our gloves and shook hands. “Well played, Vic.”
“Well played, skipper” he replied.
It was the forerunner to a very good season; 115 runs in eighteen innings, with six not out, at an average of 9.58.
The following season was a very poor one for me with only 38 runs, but 1964, my last season in England was better with 101 runs at an average 10.10. i did not fully know that the end of 1964 that it be another thirteen years before I would play cricket in England again.
We had decided to emigrate. Well, maybe I decided to emigrate and Margaret went along with my decision. I applied to join the Tasmanian Police but they took such a time about it I was tempted by a better offer from the Victorian Police and went for interviews. I was on such an interview, at Australia House, the day JFK was assassinated. It was a very sad day indeed.
I had one more notable duty to perform before leaving. This was to attend Churchill’s funeral in January 1965. I did not attend his laying in state, much to my later regret. It was only subsequently that I grew to admire the man as a giant and the hero of the nation. It was again only after reading his ‘My early life’ that my respect grew for the man.
As 1964 drifted into 1965 my wife and I and our unsuspecting baby son began to prepare for our new life in Australia.
However in the early part of 1965 the plans were almost deferred. On a cold winter’s evening I was riding my ‘Noddy bike’ sometimes known as a Velocette LE 200, in Victoria Park Road when a black woman came running out of a house and began screaming. I stopped and asked “What’s the matter?”
The woman was hysterical and her hysteria combined with her West Indian accent made it almost impossible to understand.
“He’s murdered her, murdered her.” She kept on screaming. I managed to quieten her a little and got the story. The man in the ground floor flat had been rowing with his wife who began screaming in a horrific way.
I went into the house with her and she indicated a door on the right. There was a total silence from within as I opened the door. A scene from hell greeted me. Two black people lay on the bed, a man who was moaning slightly and a woman who was completely silent. There was blood everywhere, all over the bed, on the walls and even on the ceiling. The woman had numerous knife wounds all over her body. Even to my non medical eye she was dead.
The man had cuts to both wrists but was alive, if only. I rushed outside to my radio and called control. “Juliet one five to MP.Victoria Park Road Hackney. I need an ambulance and the CID urgently.”
“MP to Juliet one five. What have you got?”
“It looks like a murder and attempted suicide,” was my answer.
I then ran back into the house where the black woman was still weeping.
“Get me some clean towels’ I told her. “Go on.”
As I bandaged both wrists as best I could I got some of the story. The woman was his wife and he had caught her sleeping around. After an argument he had used a knife to stab her. When he realised what he had done he cut his wrists.
The ambulance arrived and a little later the CID who took over the investigation. I went back to the station and then home, deeply upset.
The man survived his transfer to hospital and was subsequently charged with murder. As it happened I was not required and was in Australia when he went on trial.
Subsequently I got a severe ‘bollocking’ from the Yard for mentioning the word ‘murder’ over the air as it attracted much press attention. Oh, well, please forgive me.
So the last few months passed peacefully.
Pages 36 – 46