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A Spitfire Pilot Remembers: Good Times And Bad

After war-time service as a Spitfire pilot John M Davis is caught up in the trials and joys of domestic life and being involved in a family business.

In the family dental business things were happening. Uncle Joe Davis died. An agreement between the three partners said that on the death or departure of a partner, the other two had to purchase his shares at the valuation of the latest end-of-year balance sheet.

This meant that my father and Mark Schottlander had to stump up large chunks of money. Mark had it, but my father had to borrow from the business. Since at that time it was possible for directors to borrow from their business, he continued with borrowing in order to avoid a large salary with its tax deduction

The Socialist government that was elected in 1945 activated the wartime Beveridge Plan. It meant free dentistry which, at that time when preventive dentistry did not exist, meant free dentures all round.

The company sold artificial teeth by the million and could not get enough. So a rationing system was adopted. Even the poor-selling moulds and shades were sold. They were boom years with big profits.

Then Mark Schottlander died, and his son Leslie agreed with my father that there could be no repeat of the operation of the remaining partner taking over the shares of the deceased.

By this time the dental boom had ended, resulting from government action, and the business almost died. This probably aided my father’s health deterioration, and he just faded away. This immediately caused a major financial problem for our mother because our father had substantial debts that she insisted should be repaid.

This was done and Victor, using his accountancy knowledge, was of enormous assistance. The accountant who had prepared the papers of Father’s assets and liabilities used the last company balance sheet, showing that his shares were worth a high figure. Victor and I visited the officer dealing with death duties and showed the current company figures. He agreed that no death duties were liable.

The family breathed a sigh of relief. Our success caused the family solicitor to hand over all the papers to us, saying that we were doing a better job than him.

However there was still no capital for my mother and no income. Thus we three sons had to produce some income for her by monthly payments. Difficult for me and almost impossible for Peter and Victor. She was wonderful and found driving jobs taking elderly friends around. She also accepted an elderly cousin, Beatrice Oppenheimer, as a paying guest. There was also assistance from her brother Edward and her sister Enid’s husband, Basil. The family pulled together and gradually the problem was solved.

The dental business situation was disastrous, and it gave Mark’s son Leslie his great opportunity. His father had spare cash in the business, whilst my father’s estate was in debt. Thus the situation was handled by the disappearance of the Davises from the business, with all the shares ending up with Leslie. I had to pump more money in, and Basil and Edward came up trumps again, as did my brother-in-law Charles. Thus ended a chapter in my dental life.

The only disappointment Charles had with his new brother-in-law was that I could not accompany him in his favourite pastime, fresh water fly-fishing. I kept getting the hook caught up in bushes, so he gave me a gun and told me to go and shoot rabbits.

Our life at home continued happily, and after a year we decided to try and produce a child. Success! All did not go smoothly, and for a time Hilde had to lie with her feet up for most of the day. However finally I took her in to a Haverstock Hill maternity home and went on to work since they would not allow me to stay there.

Later that day my father shouted for me in the office and told me with great joy that I was the father of a little girl. The telephone call from the Home had asked for Mr. Davis, and they got the wrong one, who was congratulated on fatherhood.

I made my way to the Home and there found a wife who was safe, tired but overjoyed. Then to find the baby. The baby room had several babies in it. There was no doubt which was ours. A dark little one with hairs all over. Susan Ruth were the names we gave her. Ruth was after Hilde’s cousin. After a week mother and child were brought home, and we had arranged for a delightful nurse to live in with us for two weeks and train Hilde and daughter. We were sorry to see her leave.

Life changed with the arrival of Susan, and we relied very much on the two mothers-in-law, who took over the care of Susan for most working days since Hilde had to return to work to provide us with sufficient income. Susan was a delight (for most of the time), but she was also a great screamer.

A few years later she started catching most of the childhood ailments. When it came to mumps (from which I had never suffered as a child), I succeeded in catching it from her. It was a very serious disease for an adult male, with high temperature and swollen testicles.

By this time Hilde’s widowed Mother, Else, had remarried Dr. Willi Israel, and I can still recall him coming round to examine me. When he looked at me he just shook his head sorrowfully, which was not very comforting. However I did recover, although I needed a few days convalescence by the sea.

Eighteen months after Susan’s safe arrival she succeeded in pushing a little metal ball up her nose, and I could not remove it. It was Christmas morning. So I put her in her pram and ran round to the Hampstead General Hospital, (the predecessor to the Royal Free). There the nurse in charge of the Accident Department merely said, “Give her to me.” She took her into the next room and returned her to me five minutes later with a grin and the metal ball in an envelope.


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