Updated 16 Aug 2015

Robert Palmer's autobiography - 01

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Robert Palmer's autobiography 1944-1955

| Chapter 1 (1944-47)
| Chapter 2 (1947-49)
| Chapter 3 (1949-52)
| Chapter 4 (1952-55) |
special photos

Chapter 1

1944 to 1947

age 0-3


    17 11 months old at Sheffield.
    12 Taken 1947
    20 Summer 1946 Twickenham
    I was born on 29th July 1944 at five minutes past four (?am or pm) at St Andrews (according to Aunt Lu) or Argyll (more likely to be correct) nursing home, Nether Edge (Sharrow), Sheffield. I weighed 8¼ lbs (the same as John) and was a vaginal delivery (I am not sure how long Mum was in labour with me but clearly it was an easier delivery than for John, for whom the sun set twice on Mum’s labour which was at 37, Court Way, Twickenham by Dr O’Sullivan, and clearly should have been a Caesarean Section). My delivery was by Dr J B Fisher. Aunt Lu says she visited Mum every day and the sheets at the nursing home weren’t very clean. By coincidence John was also born at five minutes past four, but his was definitely in the afternoon. I was presumably conceived in October 1943 at 37, Court Way, which was before Dad went to Italy (he went to Naples with Cable and Wireless on the “blue train”, which was not a train but communication vehicles, on 13th May 1944). Probably not long after this Mum moved up to 107 Banner Cross Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield with John who would have been four years old. John has memories of the year or so he lived there. Granny was 67 at the time and somewhat short tempered, especially when she was cooking. She also worried about money. Uncle Billy lived in the attic bedroom and John enjoyed being taken into the basement where Uncle Billy made his transformers. Aunt Lucy (who was a hospital Consultants secretary, and her husband Norman Brealey who John liked used to come round, also Aunt Dorothy who was a teacher and was married to “Pop” Bowen who was quite a bit older than her (and the relationship and marriage had been frowned on by her parents, and may have shortened the life of her father who died age 68 in 1933). Pop meddled with cars. Uncle Billy also had an old car and when he could get petrol drove everybody to the toad’s mouth and the surprise. They had a terrier dog called Chummy who was somewhat bad tempered. John had no one to play with and used to go to the garages at the top of the road and talk to the “magic man” an imaginary person. Mum says in her memories “after marriage in 1931 we lived care free for 9 years as we could not afford a baby. Then war began in 1939 and I had visions of being alone (she assumed Dad would be sent abroad and she remembered from the first world war that few came back) so I had John (1940). Then carried away with motherhood I had Rob (1944). Best thing I did was give birth to my children. Bern went off with his job to Italy in 1944 and came back a dying man (on a hospital ship to Southampton) in 1946. Dad was not so keen on having children and there is a suggestion Mum “pulled the wool over his eyes” when John was conceived in August 1939 and possibly again with me. I was called Mary before I was born because Dad wanted a daughter. I was about 2 before Dad first saw me in 1946 (he returned to Southampton from Vienna on a hospital ship on 13th April 1946). By this time we had moved back to Twickenham (we probably moved back from Sheffield in the summer of 1945). John went to Brook House school probably in September 1945 and was there until 1946, but probably for less than a year. He did not enjoy it there and his school reports were not good. Aunt Yvonne, Uncle George (Stewart) and Jean and Shirley Jane lived with us for a few months in 1946 at 37 as their house (47 Court Way) had a sitting tenant. This may have coincided with the time John was sent to Worksop to live with Aunt Win and Uncle Frank who were childless. The reasons for him going there were unclear, but it may have been a strain on Dad who was quite unwell. He stayed there until he was 18 just coming to Court Way for holidays, eagerly awaited for by me. Dad had contracted acute rheumatic fever in Vienna and nearly died and was a cardiac cripple for the rest of his life with mitral stenosis. My godmother was Aunt Win (Dougill), and my godfathers Uncle Ernest (Doxey), and W E (Ernest) Burnand, Aunt Lu’s father. I was christened at All Saints Church, Ecclesall (which is where I believe Uncle Wilf, Dad’s elder brother, preached to full houses some years before, and who incidentally was killed in Plymouth, supposedly while demonstrating a grenade which accidentally detonated, 2 days after I was born). I weighed 10lbs at one month, 113/4lbs at two months, and 25lbs at fourteen months. My first tooth was in March 1945, and my first steps on 19th October 1945. My first word was “this”. I was breast fed for 8 months. I probably lived at 107 Banner Cross Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield until late 1945 or early 1946, when we moved back Twickenham.

Chapter 2

1947 to 1949

age 3-5


    03 Taken Twickenham summer 1946
    15 Taken 1948
    24 Taken with Dad Swanage 1949
    My earliest memories are of 37 Court Way Twickenham when I was 3 in 1947. I remember going with Mum when she filled up the coal scuttle from the side of the house, which was semi detached. The other part of 37 was occupied by Tommy Farmer and his wife. Tommy Farmer only had one arm, having lost the other one in the first world war. They were perplexed why Mum had children during the war. I believe Mum had a miscarriage on the toilet at 37 between 1941 and 1943. I also remember the motorbikes roaring up Court Way to the technical college at the top of the road (on Egerton Road). An early memory is Mum, Dad and I on holiday in a riverboat on the Thames at Reading. Dad was still well enough to come on holiday with us, and I estimate it was about 1947 or 1948. I also remember the Olympic Games in London in 1948. Dad took John to Battersea fun fair which opened alongside the Games. I knew something was going on but was not told at the time but found out for sure later, and harboured a sense of injustice. John used to come to Twickenham for the school holidays, something I eagerly looked forward to. If he was rough with me Dad got very cross, but never spanked him or me, he left that to Mum. I used to whine a lot, dribble and pick my nose. John started to have his “dreams” which were petit mals, and Dad had difficulty coping with it, which I suspect was one of the reasons he went to Worksop, although the official reason was that he had asthma and the air was cleaner in Worksop. I also remember going on holiday to Swanage, which may have been in 1949 or 1950. Again Dad came, but got mad with me because I whined a lot of the time. On one occasion in the dining room I had a spoon of food in my hand when the door opened and I swung round and deposited the food all over Dad. He got furious. He did have a short temper, probably because he felt ill all the time with his mitral stenosis. We also went to Sheffield, 107 Banner Cross Road, occasionally where granny would show me her jewellery and Uncle Billy would take me down the cellar, and on trips in his car to the Toad’s Mouth, The Surprise and Hathersage. Once we went to Hollycourt House and I played in the garden and somehow got out and got lost. I was wandering around when a man came by and I told him I was lost. I didn’t know the address of Hollycourt House but I did know how to get there from where the trams turned around so the man took me there and I found my own way back (or may have gone to 107, I am not sure). The next episode is going to school.

Chapter 3

1949 to 1952

age 5-8


    13 With Dad Hampton Court 1951
    33 Taken at Twickenham 1952
    34 With Mum and Jip Worksop 1951
    I went to St Mary’s primary school in September 1949. I remember walking to school with mum and being somewhat apprehensive. It was about a mile and a half walk up Court Way, right on to Whitton Road, right at Kneller Hall with the corner shops (including Mrs Houchin’s and the Grangers sweet shop on the left), and almost immediately over the river Crane and again almost immediately left over the zebra crossing (with Michaels council works and the entrance to the old Twickenham station on the right). Then over the railway and left at the Regal cinema along Amyand Park Road to the school. As I remember it wasn’t long before I was walking by myself which would be unheard of today, though I think mum used to come with me and pick me up, maybe on her bike. There were 19 girls in our class (although that was maybe later on), and only 5 boys (myself, Michael Sacree, David Brown, Richard Hammond and Ian Carey). In the early days there was another boy whose name I forget, but I seem to remember he lived in a houseboat on the Thames because I went to a party there once. One day when we came to school there were teeth all over the road outside the infants playground because I recall a boy picking them up. He had been run over and I never saw him again. I remember Empire Day with the Union Jacks out at the infants class. When I played in the infants playground I used to be bullied. I was called Dumbo because of my protruding ears. Michael was in a difficult position and joined in in a half hearted way. David Trelease was one of the participants as was David Brown. Mum said I had to get David Trelease one on one and punch him. To make sure we followed him back from school, mum pushing her bike and me walking. When we were walking down Court Way a short distance behind David, she got on her bike and with a word of encouragement cycled off. I walked up directly behind David, went round the side of him, and punched him in the face as hard as I could. He went home to Craneford Way bawling and you could hear him in Court Way. I went home and soon after his mother Agnes came round to 37 with David. Mum sent me upstairs and held her own in a stand up row with Mrs Trelease. It worked though and they didn’t bully me any more. However there was another boy Colin Ross (Dad called him Colin Ox) who was about 10 months older than me and lived at the top of Court Way. He used to get home before me and waited for me and came out and beat me up. I was terrified of him. One day John broke up from his school in Worksop earlier than me and was down in Twickenham. He walked a discreet distance behind me and when Colin Ross came to beat me up, he was beaten up and dragged through a puddle by John instead. He never beat me up again. Michael was my best friend and I used to play with him in the council yard near the old Twickenham station. We would also go to Marble Hill and the open air swimming pool in Twickenham. Michael had four older sisters and his father worked for Twickenham Council. Later they moved to the top of Egerton Road near where The Stoop Harlequins rugby football ground is now. We played cricket behind the sheds there. Dad once said to me why couldn’t I have a friend of my own class which upset me more than a bit. After infants school I remember sitting in class and the girl behind me kicked me all the time, and when I finally retaliated it was me that got into trouble and was moved to the bottom of the class. I had a great sense of injustice. At school David Brown was the star. He was the best sportsman and came top of the boys in the exams. He was not particularly nice, partly I suspect because his parents divorced (his mother was very nice and worked at the school). I remember them wanting us to name our favourite song and I named the same one David named, and he shouted at me. David Brown and Richard Hammond sat next to each other in class, then behind them Michael sat by himself (he wouldn’t let me sit next to him, I am not sure why), and I had to sit next to Ian Carey. We were friendly with the Carey family. Ian’s mother Betty was German and I didn’t like her. His father worked for Prudential Insurance and he had a sister Ingrid who was quite a loose cannon and the opposite of Ian who was very careful but not especially bright. Ian’s father Wally had a car and they used to take Mum and I for drives often. I can’t remember Dad ever coming. Dad bought me a Hercules wartime bike, model # NY2258 in 1951 or 1952, and there is a photo of me with the bike. Also a photograph in Dads handwriting of details of the bike is shown, and it is a wartime Hercules model # NY2258. Apparently when Dad first joined the Eastern Cable Company he was told to do something about his handwriting and he developed his “italic script” which he spent a lot of time perfecting. I was woken up one evening after dark (maybe 1948 or 1949) and pushed down to Whitton Road in a stroller to watch a procession. I was none too pleased. Mum and Dad had a big row and woke me up. I got up and sat on the stairs listening for some time before I was spotted. The argument stopped. Dad went out for a walk to the top of Court Way and back to calm himself down as was his wont after arguments. Mum used to say to Dad “can’t you do it” on occasions when he was trying to do something which always made him mad. I was in the garden when a radio request which Dad had made on my behalf for “little red monkey” was played. He was too unwell to get me in time and I missed it. I was very disappointed. We used to go to Richmond on occasion. Dad and Mum bought me a cap pistol in a toy shop in a pedestrian only connecting street, whereupon I ran outside with it, pointed it at a man, and said “bang you are dead”. He was not pleased and I think details of the incident appeared in the “Richmond and Twickenham Times”, the owners of which were the Dimbleby family. This was maybe 1949. Mum used to take me to Twickenham baths and put a harness on me and walk along the side of the pool while I tried to swim. Later she gave me swimming lessons there with a man. Mum took me to Kings Cross and put me in a compartment on a train to Retford. She then went into the next compartment and asked an older couple to keep an eye on me. After we started a soldier came into the compartment (there was no one else in the compartment), and after drawing the blinds molested me and got me to do unprintable things on him. I was more interested in my I spy book. I never told anyone until years later I told Mum. She got terribly upset. Dad and Mum were friendly with the McLachlans who lived near the corner of Craneford Way on our side of the road. They had a daughter Angela who used to take me out in my pushchair. I didn’t enjoy the outings very much, especially when she took me to a fair and put me on a ride which shook me up. Angela had a younger brother Peter who was about 18 months younger than me. I used to play with him a bit, especially at OP (The Exiles Club). He went to Dollar Academy where his father Uncle Mac had been head of school. Sadly Uncle Mac died in his 50’s of lung cancer. Everyone used to smoke back then. Angela also had an older sister Marjorie who drowned when she went swimming in the sea on the east coast of Scotland. This was before Peter was conceived. Mum once undressed as she thought probably correctly that I had no idea what women looked like with no clothes on. After she quickly dressed and refused my request to do it again. We were also friendly with the Horwood Barrets (Horwood and Auntie Elaine) who lived in Craneford Way. They had two children, David who was a few months younger than me and who I played with a bit, and his older sister Suzanne who sadly developed multiple sclerosis. Horwood died in his 50’s of a heart attack, not unusual in those days.There is a photo of me in the Thames at Datchet with David, which was one of Mum’s favourite destinations. David Trelease got his own back on me when he locked me in his shed and I couldn’t get out. I yelled like anything and eventually Mrs Trelease let me out, but I suspect was deliberately slow about doing so. David had a sister Sheila who got a congratulatory first at University but who was not a good looker.
    84 With Michael Sacree at Court Way
    35 My first bike, Twickenham, 1951.

Chapter 4

1952 to 1955

age 8-11


40z 1955: St Mary's primary school, Twickenham. Left to Right:
back: Margaret Phillips, Angela Blythman, Susan Trickle, Jacqueline Woolard, Frances Archer, RJP, Valerie Gray, Ian Carey, Anne Butcher, Mrs Andrews
middle: Michael Sacree, David Brown, Kay Harle, Judith Nicholson, Pauline Watkinson, Caroline Bunn, Joan Ford, Richard Hammond, Jimmy Panormo
front: Mariann Potter, Pamela Hitchinson, Margaret Beauthorpe, Sandra Croll, Maureen Bowles, German girl, Anne Glazebrook

    41z David Horwood-Barret (R), RJP at Datchet
    09 Before operation
    14 After operation
    I had quite severe bat ears. I think it was February 1954, though it may have been February 1953, when Ian Carey (who also had bat ears) and I were driven to Lord Mayor Treolars Hospital in Alton by Ian’s father Wally Carey, where we both had our ears pinned back under general anaesthetic. I remember the dry mouth from the premedication, and a number of attempts to find a vein. The surgeon was Mr Reidy, a Consultant plastic surgeon at The Westminster Hospital, and who I anaesthetised for many years later in 1971 when I was an SHO at Westminster. It was a very good result as the photographs before (photo 9) and after (photo 14), show. I believe they now do it under local anaesthetic, except in children who still have a general anaesthetic. When I was in the senior year at St Mary's primary school (on the badge it reads "Conemur" which is Latin for "Let us try"), my form mistress was Mrs Andrews who lived opposite us in Court Way. My school reports invariably said "lacks confidence", and I remember a school visit to Twickenham Baths and the headmistress Miss Ashton being amazed when I jumped off the top board several times. She later got me in her office shortly after our mock 11 plus and asked me who the top boy in our year was. "David Brown of course" I said. "Well do you know that he only got 1 more mark than you in the mocks", she replied. The photo of class 1 at St Mary’s primary school in the summer of 1955 shows back row right to left, Mrs Andrews, Anne Butcher, Ian Carey, Valerie Gray, myself, Frances Archer, Jacqueline Woolard, Susan Trickle, Angela Blythman, Margaret Phillips, middle row right to left, Jimmy Panormo, Richard Hammond, Joan Ford, Caroline Bunn, Pauline Watkinson, Judith Nicholson, Kay Harle, David Brown, Michael Sacree, and front row right to left Anne Glazebrook, German girl, Maureen Bowles, Sandra Croll, Margaret Beauthorpe, Pamela Hitchinson and Mariann Potter. Another friend I had at St Mary,s was Christopher Harper, who was at the school for maybe a year and a half in probably 1954 and some of 1953 and or 1955. His mother ran the greengrocers shop at the corner and his father a shop in Balham. At St Marys I wanted to become a doctor.
    This is the dissertation I wrote verbatim:
    "The major influencing factor in my choice of medicine as a probable career is my interest in the profession. I believe that without interest one cannot progress adequately. Since my early childhood the doctoring profession has attracted me and I have always sought to further my knowledge in this sphere pleasurably. My interest in the arts subjects has always been limited and I regard them as detrimental to human progress, however I do think that many scientific careers nowadays are striving towards the manufacture of weapons for destructive purposes, whereas medicine strives to make good of destruction. Also I believe that good health is the most important possession of an individual, without which his happiness cannot be complete, therefore if I can do my best to promote general health I will feel I have succeeded".
    I think I wrote this in 1955 at the end of my time at St Mary’s, although it is possible it was later. I also wrote some reminisces of my years at St Marys in 1963. I talk of “the fun Michael and I had in the council yard, the old blacksmith, Mr Allen, Mr Grumpy in the field, the walk along the old path to the railway line alongside the greenhouses, looking for matchbox labels, running up the steps to the ghost room etc. I remember David Brown who was always the leader and who I hated because he always used to sneer at me. I remember not being very good at sport in my early years. Dad helped me a lot for my 11 plus. Miss Ashton always said I lacked self confidence. I recall train spotting, trips to Chessington zoo, The Exiles Club, and Twickenham swimming baths. I much enjoyed going to Worksop and looked forwards to John coming for the school holidays”. Other little incidents I have written about “playing doodles with Michael at St Marys, walking through Bushey Park with Mum and Dad, conker hunting especially at Cole Court when Michael and I were were caught and made to dump all our conkers, holidays at Bognor Regis, the holiday in Swanage when I was so bad tempered though I can’t remember why, walking over Reigate Hill with Uncle Jim, Mum telling me that granny had died, riding to the Toad’s mouth with Uncle Billy in the Austin 7, getting lost at Uncle Earnest’s old garden in Sheffield, being told by Stephen Allsop that I was his best friend, the fights with Colin Ross, playing cricket with Michael behind the garages, the excitement before fireworks day and the thrill of sorting through my fireworks over and over again, the apprehension when I was competing at Twickenham rugby ground in the crawling race, when I was locked in David Trelease’s shed, the annual party at Meadowbank etc etc”.

    Probably in early 1955 or maybe 1954 John and I went to visit Old Oak Common railway sheds near Feltham. We found ourselves on the wrong side of the railway tracks of which there were about 5 as I remember. John insisted on crossing. Despite very severe reservations I eventually acquiesced and waiting for a clear moment and carefully stepping over the live rails we both safely got across.
    I remembered this after 60 years when Robert reminded me - John.

    100 Written by me on March 11th probably 1954, though may have been 1955. It was marked by our form master or mistress.
    10 Michael Sacree, RJP, John Palmer Twickenham Baths, 1954 Dad gave us 10 shillings when we swam our first width

    Continued in 1955

Other documents

42z Uncle Wilf dies 1944.
44z Gold Award 1962
45z "Bloody Squash" 1974
85 1958 School Report return
86 1959 School Report return
15 Award of Purple from University ofLondon Union return
16 Selection for British Universities return

Conceived, written and copyright © 2014, Robert PALMER, All Rights Reserved.

Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, and hand-coded 2014 by John PALMER, .