Wisdom from Lord deVere
The Days of Early Yore
We all know that, as you get closer to The Later Years your short-term memory frequently fails you, or becomes a little faulty – to say the least. If I am to be totally honest I would admit that my short-term memory is not just a little faulty, and it doesn’t simply fail me occasionally, it totally deserts me frequently and always at the most embarrassing moments.
However, God’s compensatory gift, when we finally mature sufficiently to become Chronologically Gifted, is to improve our long-term memory – and in this case, I am no exception. My long-term memory is excellent and therefore my recall of events when I was a little fella is almost complete. I’ll give you an example:
I was born in England in 1939 and was christened the day war broke out. It was a Sunday and my parents, Lord and Lady deVere, were listening to the radio – a huge contraption that stood in the corner of the living room containing big glass tubes that glowed and emanated heat that could and would burn your fingers if approached without due care and caution.
The tinny, crackling, voice that came from the cloth-covered speaker cut into the front of the big wooden box broke into the weekly comedy show that my parents liked to listen to. It told them, and the world, that as of that moment, Britain was at war with Germany because Germany had invaded Poland. Being only three weeks old, I didn’t understand what the announcement meant and did not fully appreciate its greater ramifications.
The weeks, months, and years, that followed saw many changes come into our lives. My father went away to fight the Nazis (I learned that they were the bad people who lived in Germany who followed a mad man called Hilter or Hister, or something like that). He didn’t return until 1946 when I was seven years old.
What most of the world did not know, and certainly people this side of The Atlantic didn’t know, or probably care, was that the heir to the vast deVere estates in Cheshire, England, Yours Truly, was christened the day war broke out. I was four weeks old. What a welcome into this world!
The dramatic announcement, made that bleak September Sunday morning so long ago, sent chills down the spines of everyone over the age at which baby formula was the staple diet and nursery rhymes were the required reading. People went from house to house discussing the news and its immediate implications for every citizen of Britain’s Sceptered Isle.
I recall thinking as I listened to our Ekco cabinet radio along with my parents, despite my relative youth and apparent lack of worldliness, that it would be more expedient for Herr Hitler to give back Poland and Czechoslovakia to those to whom it rightfully belonged, and allow my Daddy to remain at home. I reasoned, ‘How on earth am I going to be able to have a brother or a sister if Daddy is going to be away in the army?’ You see, even at my tender age (4 weeks old?) I knew that proximity played an important role in conception.
Herr Hitler didn’t listen to my gurgled plea. Instead, the French military generals forecast that Herr Hitler would ‘wring Britain’s neck like a chicken’. My mother said ‘He’ll have a good try, but no little short-a.r.s.e.d. (she spelled it out not realising that I was quite educationally advanced for my tender age) Nazi upstart was ever going to conquer this country. Winnie and our boys would see to that’.
I remember making a mental note to ask, when my Mother was able to understand me when I spoke, ‘Who was this ‘Winnie’? As far as I knew the leader of Britain and the entire free world was Mr. Churchill, and I’d heard good things about him. I really wanted someone to tell me what this ‘Winnie’s’ credentials were and what experience he had kicking the backsides of short-arsed little Nazi Fuhrers?’ But nobody explains these things to a young person still eating his Spam and chips through a nipple.
It was in 1940 that I had one of my best ideas. I suggested to my mother that Mr. Churchill should go on the radio and reassure everyone that we were doing a good job fighting the Hun, and what’s more, we would keep on fighting until we had beaten them. (I think the Hun were another group of nasty people who were also on the side of the Nazis).
I thought it would be good for morale and if the Nazis heard it, perhaps they would give up and say ‘Sorry’ and go back home and not do it again. I even wrote the speech in brown crayon. I rather liked it. It had a certain panache if I do say so myself. It began “We shall not flag or fail…” and went on to remind Mr. Hitler that “…we shall fight on the beaches” and concluded by stating emphatically “…we shall never surrender.” And, do you know what? Not long afterwards, sometime in June 1940 I believe, I heard him, Mr. Churchill, giving my speech. In fact, my speech became quite famous and people everywhere were quoting it. Of course, I hadn’t registered it or copyrighted it, so I got no royalties, but it was nice to hear my speech read so effectively over the radio.
After Daddy had been away for a while, and I was much older, Herr Hitler started to get quite stroppy. He used to drop bombs around my house in the middle of the night when I was asleep with my teddy. My mother used to take me outside and into the Anderson air raid shelter located next door in Clifford Rowe’s garden. When we were down there, below the ground waiting for the ‘all clear’ siren to sound, Clifford and I used to discuss the deteriorating world situation.
He was several weeks younger than I, and so I couldn’t expect him to know as much as I did about world affairs. But, although we possessed somewhat different political views, we were agreed on one thing; ‘That a maniacal Nazi demagogue was probably not perfectly suited to rule England, especially without a full mandate from the people resulting from a democratically convened and implemented electoral process. Boadicea would turn in her grave’.
I think our mothers were listening, as I quite often heard my mother say (or spell) words to that general effect when she was playing cards with Ann Taylor’s mum, Enid Houghton’s mum, and Dave Acton’s mum. They often spelled words when they thought I was awake.
As I grew older still, I became more and more concerned with when my father was going to return home. By now I was on solid food and had grown out of the folded paper aeroplanes he sent me from Italy, Egypt, and North Africa. Besides, they seldom could fly. The reason was apparent to me. It had nothing to do with their being scrunched up in a tiny envelope for five or six weeks; it was the design that was wrong.
The dihedral was too radical for the wing area and neither the bulk nor the geometry lent itself ideally to generally-accepted aerodynamic principles of flight. But, try as I might, I could never get Mother to understand what I was saying so she could include the tip in her next letter to my father. She just kept saying: ‘Come on, eat up your (powdered) egg and ground (horse)meat, or you won’t get any tapioca pudding.’ Tapioca pudding! Yuk!
But I digress. I was always being told that ‘Daddy will be home soon – as soon as the war is over.’ But, as Clifford and I agreed in the early hours of one dark, wet morning as we were chewing on a Farley’s rusk in the Anderson shelter, Herr Hitler had very large and well-equipped ground forces, almost total air superiority, and naval power that was quite awesome especially those predatory untersee booten that we had heard so much about, and we could see the entire conflagration lasting until maybe 1945 or even 1946. By which time, we both concluded, we would be almost senile.
We were also quite disappointed in the performance to date of ‘Winnie’, who by now I had discovered was really Mr. Churchill masquerading under another name. He hadn’t yet beaten the Nazi upstart and Jerry still kept bombing our houses at night. (Quite by chance, it seems that all the Germans who flew planes over our house were all called ‘Jerry’. I don’t know how my mother and her friends knew this, though.)
One lunchtime, after a particularly aggressive raid in which several homes in nearby Queenswood Avenue were hit, I told my Mother over my semolina and jam followed by a spoonful of Virol Malt Extract, that I thought it wasn’t fair. We should be able to drop bombs on Mr. Hitler’s house and see how he liked it. She said we were. That was what RAF Bomber Command was doing. Every night Wing Commander Guy Gibson and his brave squadron were bombing the Ruhr and German industrial cities, and Daddy was helping them by fighting the German soldiers in Italy. I didn’t see how fighting in Italy helped RAF bombers disable steel plants in the Ruhr but, what the heck, I was only a kid.
One day in May of 1945 when I was really, really grown up and already going to Town Lane Infants’ School, I went on a train down to the south coast of England with my mother. I saw my Daddy and we touched fingers through the wire fence that surrounded where he was staying. I asked if Daddy was in prison, but Mummy said ‘No, all the soldiers were in isolation in preparation for The Invasion’. When I asked what ‘The Invasion’ was, I was told we couldn’t talk about it.
I also didn’t understand why my father and the other British soldiers were kept behind fences when they were ‘our lads’ – the good guys. Anyway, a few days later they all went on boats across the English Channel and landed in France. Many British, Canadian, and American soldiers were killed, and my Mother cried.
We didn’t hear from Daddy for many weeks and we didn’t know if he had been killed or not. Then we got a letter and I got another darned aeroplane. The good news was that Daddy was still alive. The bad news was that he still had no idea about the relationship between the angle of the dihedral to the cross-sectional profile and the elementary physics governing the rate of airflow across the wing of a folded paper plane.
It just goes to show that nobody listens to kids; even those who were christened the day war broke out. But they bloody well should!