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LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT BUT YOU NEED A BIT OF LUCK…
Casual acquaintances might describe the life I’ve led as “interesting.” My nearest and dearest, on the other hand, would opine that it has been exciting, adventurous and in parts dramatic. My own view is that it’s been a heck of a ride.
As a Gunner in the RAF Regiment, then a police officer and journalist, I’ve lived in several countries and touched down in more than 40, mainly in pursuit of golf.
I’ve had two marriages which have produced four wonderful sons and the usual amalgam of agony and ecstasy. I’ve written a book or three, solved a murder, known a good deal of love, more than a modicum of pain and made countless good friends, chiefly in journalism and golf.
As I write, in my 78th summer, I like to think that a few folk will recall my name in years to come and that among the memories my loved ones will remember the laughter, above all, and now and again fondly raise a glass to my name.
Now, in the autumn of my life, I am barely able to comprehend the sheer improbability of it all. The start of it was not propitious; it gave no hint of what lay ahead.
It began in the back streets of Nottingham in October 1932. I was the first of two sons of Harry and Myrtle Ward, nee Brown, who lived in the area of the city bounded by Carlton Road, Alfred Street, Robin Hood Street and the Victoria Park. It was not quite “the wrong side of the tracks” but it wasn’t Mayfair, either.
It was not a happy childhood: my mother walked out, never to return, when my brother and I were still toddlers. She was 21 years old. My father, two years older and a motor mechanic, enlisted his mother, my dear Granny Emma who lived nearby, to help look after us.
I was too young to understand the implications of the situation but that changed when my father re-married. Soon I was left in no doubt about where we two boys stood. We were not wanted by our new step-mother who was obsessive about our father. Other than that, she was self-centred, cold-hearted, vitriolic and, brought up on a farm, possessed of a brutal strength she delighted in exercising against us. In time, my brother and I identified her as “the Wicked Witch.” But never to her face.
Eventually we both left home as soon as maybe, by which time I had undergone a rudimentary education at local schools, a time that I thoroughly enjoyed. I left school at 14, as most did in those immediate post-war years, but I should have gone further. A bright pupil who loved reading and studying, I had passed the 11-plus exam that should have seen me into grammar school, with university on the horizon. But the family couldn’t afford the uniforms and books, I was told. So instead I went to work for nine shillings a week, little of which I was allowed to keep.
My first job was as an office boy for a firm in the Lace Market, called upon for minor clerical work and mail collection. A year or so later I was promoted to shipping clerk, but in reality I was a packer, completing in-coming orders for transportation. One morning each week I attended technical college to learn the mechanical aspects of making lace and thought that eventually I might become a designer. I shudder now at the thought but fortunately, a couple of years later, in 1950, an escape route appeared. My new life was about to get a kick-start.
To be continued…
HIS MAJESTY BECKONS AND MY TRAVELS BEGIN…
In simple terms, His Majesty beckoned; I was called up for national service in the RAF. It was a happy turning point in my life: I never looked back.
From initial training at RAF Weeton in Lancashire I was posted to 23 Squadron RAF Regiment. Like my new-found chums, I became a crewman on 40mm anti-aircraft guns known as Bofors, and a proficient marksman with various small arms.
The next step saw me infected by the travel bug: I never recovered. Leaving our training camp in Somerset we transferred via Harwich to the Hook of Holland and, by rail, to Germany. There we spent the following 18 months at various RAF stations His Majesty asked us to defend in case of war.
This was not a far-fetched notion: the Russian zone was only two minutes’ flying time distant and the Cold War was at its height. It was a sobering thought for 18 year olds away from home for the first time, particularly as we had seen nearby Hamburg still in a state of utter devastation after the fire storm prompted by RAF bombing only five years earlier.
Service life can be repetitive and boring but I found an antidote in sport. In my boyhood I’d spent many happy evenings at the Central YMCA, primarily to escape the Wicked Witch but chiefly to play basketball and learn boxing. I had some talent at both, which was to prove invaluable and ultimately change my life.
Thanks to inter-squadron boxing matches, I was soon representing 2nd TAF, as the RAF in Germany was identified, and travelling all over Europe to box teams from the British Army, US Air Force, the French Air Force and anyone else who felt like a fight. It was a grand time, seeing the sights, having special diets and time off for training.
Eventually, though, the fun had to stop: in January 1952 I was demobbed. But what to do with my life, once back in Nottingham? The lace industry was history, literally and metaphorically, and I had no qualifications. My life had reached a major turning point. Fortunately I made the right call. The fickle finger of fate was already pointing in my direction…
To be continued…
I JUMP OUT OF ONE UNIFORM AND INTO ANOTHER
A friend of the family sang the praises of his work on the Nottingham City Police and suggested I might find it an agreeable occupation. So I applied, sat the written examinations and was accepted.
Six months later I had completed training at the Pannal Ash Police College near Harrogate and, as PC 453, was received into the bosom of Southern Division which covered Nottingham from the edge of the city centre to the River Trent via Wollaton Park and Carlton. Initially with a mentor, I was soon on lone foot patrol at all hours of the day and night, winter and summer.
Some of it was exciting; much of it was repetitive and, in winter, uncomfortable. I had intentions of making it my career but after two years I began having second thoughts. That’s when the travel bug resurfaced in my bloodstream and I began thinking of exotic places, blue skies and sunshine.
But what to do for a living? That’s when the notion of the Colonial Police came to me. I made enquiries in London and discovered a host of places I might live and work: Hong Kong, the Solomon Islands, Kenya, Palestine; all sounded exciting but the last two were also dangerous at that time.
So I investigated further and came upon perhaps the most exotic name of all: Bermuda. It conjured up visions of a Caribbean island; palm trees, beaches and vivid blue ocean.
In fact it’s not in the Caribbean, a common misconception, but in the North Atlantic and about 600 miles south east of New York City. But it is on a latitude with North Carolina so the climate is semi-tropical. It seemed an attractive place to spend a few years and so it proved. A bonus: the population was sports mad. I had discovered heaven on earth.
Having played cricket for the City Police I was soon made to feel at home. Boxing was a major sport, too, so it wasn’t long before I was in training and appearing on local shows.
The police work was initially similar to that I’d known in Nottingham, except that it happened in sunshine and I was wearing shorts while on foot patrol. Soon, though, I graduated to the mobile squad, riding a motorbike during the day and driving a car at night. So there was variety aplenty, the populace was friendly and the social life most agreeable.
Then I met a lovely lady and discovered golf, In fact one led to the other: the lady became my first wife, Shirley, who was a golfer. So the grand old game was added to my sporting CV and the fickle finger of fate was prodding me in the chest once again.