The Final Days

I had had companionate leave, for the birth of Linda coupled with Christmsa leave. After Christmas I had to say good-bye to them both and head back, but it was not to be for long. Within two weeks I received a telephone call to the effect that Linda was seriously ill and I was to come home at once. I was allowed home leave indefinitely. It transpired that Linda had a very unusual illness for which there had been no successful cure in the UK although there had been some success in America with a procedure which our doctor was adapting. The disease was called Sclerema and took the form of the thickening of the cells of the skin so that the pores ceased to function and therefore any change in temperature was immediately transmitted to the body. Pneumonia and death could follow almost automatically.
The treatment carried out by us was to keep Linda in an even temperature, twenty-four hours a day, and rub the affected skin which covered her back with olive oil to keep the skin supple. That was all we could do, although some also prayed. Liza and I were afraid to be hopeful, we had been told that the chances were one in ten thousand for recovery and no one in Britain had been known to survive
Slowly the thickness began to recede, we were afraid to hope and still Sophie did not realise the seriousness of the situation and then, one day, the doctor said he thought we were out of the wood and with a little more time Linda would be cured, as indeed she was.
The outcome of this story was that Linda had now become a bad sleeper, she had learned that if she cried she would be lifted. I spent hours in the night rocking her and singing the only songs I knew, which were not suitable for a young lady of pure upbringing, but the alternative was unthinkable. We did discover she had a propensity for diluted whisky and that it helped her to sleep. When we bent down to kiss her it was not uncommon for her to belch whisky fumes into our faces and so she was christened Drunken Diane for a while.
I never did go back to teaching, I merely returned to collect my gear and be demobilised officially. A farce if ever there was one. After all the form filling and the medicals we were marched off to a huge hangar somewhere in Portsmouth where we were let loose to find ourselves our demob clothes. The problem was that the group I was with were not passed through until late in the day when everything had been picked over and stocks were rock bottom. I came away with a sports jacket the colour of strong, milked tea and an emerald green raglan overcoat, the rest was equally embarrassing.
At last I was free. When I had returned from compassionate leave a well meaning officer had suggested I should sign on as a candidate for Dartmouth and a commission, but I had had all I could take of the Naval straitjacket and anyway Sophie and Linda called loudly.
On my way home from leaving the Service I had called in with Willie and at the same time I went to see Cluttons with the result I have already mentioned. They had an embarrassment of riches, a surfeit of staff, not enough of us had been killed to allow them to honour their promise, a statutory one in fact, and as I now seemed content with the thought of working in Ireland they had taken the easy way out and agreed it was best for us all. The only thing they did not do in my presence was wipe their corporate forehead in relief
When I returned to Ireland I had barely scratched the surface of my training as a surveyor, so I had no job in any professional sense, but I did have a fair knowledge of radio repair I decided that I would do that, repair rados, after all I had been teaching it for years on sets which were a hell of a lot more complicated than the common domestic radio. I bought a newspaper, and scanned the pages. Clydesdale’s, a Scottish-based radio retailer, not the bank, was advertising for a repair man and I went along immediately. Not interested! The manager said, in so many words, that Service personnel were useless, knew nothing and I was wasting my time and his. The attitude was so positive, almost belligerent, I suspect he had had some bad experiences. I found no other advertisement and gave up on that tack.
Grants of about two hundred pounds per annum were being offered for ex-servicemen and women to resume their education. I discovered there were no courses anywhere in Northern Ireland for Valuation Surveying, but I was eligible, with my London School Matriculation to go to Queens University Belfast, with one proviso, I would have to sit their Entrance Examination in French and Mathematics. I suspect it was a test of my ability to study rather than an entrance exam per se, after all it had been six years since I left school, nearly seven years previously It was March 1946 and I had six months in which to get up to speed.
We were without any income, other than the dole, and I knew I would need to study hard to reach the required standard, there would be no second chance. We decided I would get a job for three months and study on the dole for three, and in the ways of the world, members of the family fixed it for me. I got a job as a documentation clerk for three months and then wangled my way back on to the dole for the last three without all the rigmarole of the waiting time. How it was worked I forget, even if I knew at the time, all I can say is that I was grateful to the relatives who rallied round.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *