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Rodney's Ramblings: Odd Beginnings

"My parents met at work in an office during the early stages of the war, but there is some doubt how much both were really in love,'' writes Rodney Gascoyne.

In a strange way, my early childhood seems, in hindsight, to have been more influenced by the First World War than by the Second, towards the end of which I was born.

My parents were each born towards the end of the earlier war. In both of their families, the father returned home during and after the war to a house with babies in which they felt replaced and, hence, resentful. The effect on my mother's father was to cause a rift with his eldest son, and a general distance with all his children, even those born after his return. He was old fashioned and directive towards his children and had little interest in listening to or understanding them. In his day, he was withdrawn from Grammar School at 14 and made to join his father in the business. He had to accept the duties of loyalty and obedience as demanded, and later, expected the same too. He was hard working but not a natural entrepreneur like his father. Running the company took almost all his time and energy and he later became moderately successful in continuing the business.

He had further problems with his two eldest and surviving sons, neither of whom wanted to work in the business with him, and he may have influenced them into joining the war only to lose them both over Germany. My mother considered herself, as the eldest daughter, to be his favourite, but this was still a distant relationship, as the children were mainly raised by a maid and housekeeper. Her mother died when she was in her mid teens, removing the last close influence in her life at home. She later left to work in France, teaching English at a rural school in the late 30s, then going to London to live and work, after the remarriage of her father to a rather remote step-mother, and the approaching threat of war.

My father suffered far worse. His father refused to accept him in the home and he was sent away to live with a maiden aunt, never to become a part of the family with his younger siblings, six brothers and three sisters. He was still living with the aunt when the second war began, although he had worked in the family business with uncles. Both therefore grew up knowing little direct parental attention and affection and this may have also been reinforced by their families hanging onto late Victorian values towards raising children.

My parents met at work in an office during the early stages of the war, but there is some doubt how much both were really in love. Oddly, she only took that job on the insistence of her father, who knew the owner, hoping she would meet 'better' people. The war itself almost certainly had effect, uniting those who wanted to belong to someone, at the very point of separation, and then there was family opposition on both sides. My mother was very independent and strong minded, but must have had very little to share with her intended. She was always an avid reader who could get lost in a book, and a good academic with her head in the clouds. He was not bookish or ambitious.

My mother's father was against the marriage and did not attend the wedding, by an agreement to exclude both sets of parents, although a last minute, forced substitution for his brother, who was recalled to his army unit, did require his father attend, together with a few family members on both sides, including my mother's uncle. It is questionable whether this opposition pushed them into it. For my Grandfather, it seems likely that it was a class issue. He was a moderately prosperous merchant from the provinces, in Worcester, but my father was from a family of greengrocers, with a shop selling fresh fruit, flowers and vegetables, in the London suburb of Willesden. That was not good enough for the daughter of a true Victorian.

Their eventual separation was hardly surprising and not caused mainly by his serving in the army during the war. My father never could return home to the family after mid-war, except on short leaves from his unit. He served in a junior administrative position, involved with planning for "D-Day", going over to France a few weeks after the invasion. My older brother and I were born during the conflict and he may equally have felt displaced by us the way he was resented by his father. He had met a very determined and possessive woman in the army unit where he worked for the last two years of the war, and by all accounts, she was not going to let him get away. My mother, on the other hand, did not feel the need to put up a fight. She was at home with us boys. After the war and demob from the army, he set up with the other woman. My mother's uncle thought that he may have been weak willed and simply gave in to the greatest pressure. We believe he had two further sons. My brother was invited to attend our aunt's funeral in 1966, where he learned of our father's death. He could not meet the other family, as they did not attend. I was abroad at the time but found myself unaffected when I heard.

I was born in a large country mansion on the edge of the Cotswolds, north west of Oxford, because it was then serving as an army maternity home. For the last months of the pregnancy, my mother had stayed with her father in Malvern Wells, near Worcester, after receiving a coded warning from my father that "D-Day" was approaching and she should leave London, because of the expected bombing retaliation. Two months after my birth, my grandfather sent us back to London and the V bombs. He had done his bit; he never did find children too interesting, but usually under his feet.


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