1923 - 2012
In 2010, when I was recovering from an operation, Dad visited me in Glemsford and asked me if I would type up “this”. “This” was his life story. I was happy to write it up, and was able to use the web and technology to produce a document with pictures. It led also to Dad returning to Belgium where he had ended up at the end of the war.
He liked it, but it felt like a gift to me, allowing me to understand him better
I think of him a lot.
The original document was given to me in 2008, and already he had added after thoughts from the original, started in 2003. Those afterthoughts appear at the end of the document. He also appended (“appendix 1”) memories of his maternal grandparents, the Warrens.
Dad’s views about his war service and the futility of war are clear. However, the time he spent in Scotland with the 52nd Lowland Division in the Highlands and North East of Scotland generated a love for the country which he retained for the rest of his life, and which I inherited. And I went further and married a Scot.
Dad died of Cancer in 2012, two months before Ashley,his grandson, was married.
From A to X and Still Travelling – September 2003
Immediate Family: see Family Tree
Grandparents and family
My father’s father was Ephraim James. I never met him: he died before I was born. My grandmother was Maria who lived until she was over 90 and was a lovely lady. They had two daughters and I think nine sons. My father was well down the list. He was a very active man playing football in his early days, then tennis and badminton, at all of which he was very good. I learned to play tennis from him. He really was a lovely man who worked hard, played hard, loved his children and never lost his temper, a very calm man who had time for us and best of all, he had a wonderful sense of humour.
My mother’s family came from Huntingdon. My grandfather ran a successful business as a sanitary engineer, plumber etc. He had a retail shop in the High Street, employed several men, and ran an old 1906 car for business and had a very nice coupé of his own. My grandmother was quite a relaxed person in the background. They had two sons and three daughters, my mother being the youngest girl. Her youngest brother, Billy, did not enjoy the best of health and died at the age of 23.
My parents married in 1920 after my father had seen active service in France in the First World War. He was a cook and used to give we children a cooking treat from time to time.
My mother was a very private person, backing up my father in the running of the grocery shop: she was the one with the business head and kept the books etc for the shop. I inherited my business sense from the Warren family. My mother’s whole life was her family to whom she was totally dedicated.
MY STORY: THE POTTED AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY MAN
1 The Beginnings
I was born on September 3rd 1923 over my father’s grocery shop at 13 Howard Avenue, Bedford, overlooking the Moravian Church. Although I didn’t know much about it at the time I was told I was in a hurry to get into this world. There was already an older sister, Barbara Mary, born April 19th 1922. My father’s birthday was 20th April and I always told him that he missed out on his birthday present by a day. Later on, on 23rd July 1925, my younger sister Margaret arrived on the scene and the family was complete.
Our parents were Lloyd Duncan Edwards and Annie Elizabeth (née Warren) whom he met when he went to work as a grocer in Huntingdon two years after the end of the First World War. He had been a cook with the Beds and Herts Regiment and had tales to tell of his exploits in France cooking in some very tricky and unlikely situations. We kids enjoyed his rissoles which he cooked for us from time to time as a treat.
My father came from a very staunch Methodist background and my mother was C of E. They were married in All Saints Parish Church in Huntingdon where all we three kids were christened. So my ecumenical background was very mixed: christened in the C of E; Sunday School education and worship in the Moravian Church until the age of 9 when we moved to the Methodist Church: St Paul’s in Harpur Street, Bedford, where I became a member and remained a member till its closure, then transferring to Priory where I still am.
2 My Childhood and Early Years
My two sisters and I had a happy childhood spending many hours playing in the storage sheds in the backyard and among the empty jam crates with which we built “houses”.
At that time there were lots of children living in the neighbourhood so there was lots of games played in the street outside our house (where there was a convenient blank wall for use with a ball). Our special friends would spend time with us using our imagination in the back yard.
Pop with Don, Margaret and Barbara in tow outside Bedford Modern School
My first school was Queen’s Park Infants and my first teacher (on whom, at the age of 5, I had a violent crush) was the lovely Poppy Jardine who was also a member of the Bedford Operatic Society. Then came Miss Bullen and I certainly remember her hair made up in two “earphones” as I called them. Then there was “the tartar”, Miss Brooks, who was very handy with a ruler which caused some pain when rapped over the knuckles.
Don is on back row right.
At the age of 8 I moved into the “Big School” where I was taught first of all by “Fanny” Goddard. He was an excellent teacher and I am grateful to him for giving me an excellent grounding in Arithmetic and English. Next came “Bill” Coleman, another very good teacher who had also taught my father many years before. One more step and I found myself taking the “scholarship” exam at the age of 10, which I passed and started on my next stage of life at Bedford School.
During these years I remember my mother taking us to “Honey Hills”, by the river to the “paddlers” during the holidays to paddle in the Ouse and have a picnic. On Thursday afternoons my father would join us for our afternoons out. I remember taking out a punt and being “punted” towards Kempston, mooring up by the “Osier Beds”, lighting a fire, boiling a kettle and having our picnic.
At this point I must say that we children could not have wished for better or more loving parents. My mother lived for we kids and kept herself much to herself. My father was more outgoing, a favourite with all his customers, had a wonderful sense of humour and was a good all round sportsman playing football for several local teams, playing a good game of tennis and a very crafty badminton player. He taught my sisters and me very well how to play tennis. He also took part in several “Half Mile Swims” in the Ouse from the Town Bridge to the Suspension Bridge. I must admit that in all the years I knew him he never once lost his temper or raised his voice, which irritated my mother sometimes. Dad worked hard and played hard and was a great example to us.
Memories are now dim but one of my clearest memories is of seeing the airships R100 and R101, and going to Cardington with my father to see one of them moored at the mooring masts. I remember well the R101 setting off for India and the news of the disaster in France. My father took me to Willmer's Corner to see the funeral carriages go through on their way to Cardington. I had a grandstand view sitting on his shoulders.
3 1934 to 1942
I went to Bedford School, just turned 11, into a new world of the Public School – and what an experience. The education I received there was first class and has always stood me in good stead through my life. Life in a Public School, for a humble scholarship boy, was not a bed of roses. The head master was a complete and utter snob who just tolerated scholarship boys and some of the boys, particularly “boarders”, were distinctly “anti”. However it taught me to stick up for myself and I did make a lot of friends. As time went by, being keen on sports, rugger, athletics etc gave you a certain amount of respect and I ended up playing for the 3rd XV, gaining my house colours and being a member of the school athletics team as a hurdler, much to my surprise as I really was too short to be an expert.
School work was hard. I cycled to school for 9 am till 1 pm. Cycling home for lunch and back for 2.30 games till 3.30 on 3 days of the week, cycling home for a wash, change and tea, back to school for 4.30 to 6. Back home for a load of “Prep”.
“Lock up in the winter was 6.30 pm, in the summer 7 pm except for special events. There was also school on Saturday mornings.
I recall being passed as a “bass” voice for the choir and we did the “Creation”. I couldn’t read a note of music but they still made me sing. I was amused because I could see the black squiggles went up and down, but how far? On the day of the concert I took my place at the back of the choir pretending to sing the notes but saying the words and got away with it.
I made rapid progress and passed my “matriculation” (school certificate with five passes including credits) at the age of 14 which meant I had to go into the sixth form much too early. I spent 2 years in the engineering sixth with 18 year olds who were about to go into Officer Training in the services as the war had started.
The war began on my 16th birthday – 3rd September 1939. It was a Sunday. Our “gang” were in church at St Paul’s Methodist Church. A new minister had joined us: Rev Francis B Hudson. It was his first service at 11 am and the first words to his new congregation were “I’m sorry to inform you that war has been declared”. On the way home we wondered if we would hear “Gerry” aircraft. We had no idea what to expect and the air raid sirens went for the very first time to test.
We were all issued with gas masks and had to carry them everywhere. Rationing was introduced and my mother and father were very involved with ration books and coupons at the shop.
Opposite the house on the Moravian Church tower they fixed an air raid siren and if that went off during the night you can imagine what it did for us if we were fast asleep at the time. When the raid on Coventry occurred, the German planes came over Bedford and two land mines were dropped in Queen’s Park shattering lots of windows.
At school we were organised into Fire Watching parties. We senior boys had to sleep at the school according to the rota for 1 night. My mother made me sandwiches for my supper – cheese and sauce etc and I would eat them in the library whilst doing my prep, which we still had to do.
One of my lot was Peter Parker (later Sir Peter Parker who became Chairman of British Rail). I got on well with him and he shared my sandwiches.
After two years in the Engineering 6th form they decided for my last year, I should go into the Mathematical 6th and take my Higher Certificate which I duly did, passing that exam in1941 when I left school. I was 18 that year in September, but what to do? I knew I would be “called up” to the services shortly and I had no idea what to do. My father, through my uncle, heard that Charlie Salsbury, my uncle’s accountant, would be prepared to take me on in the accountancy world if I would like, so I went for interview and became an Audit Clerk at £1 per week. He could not take me on as an articled pupil as he was committed, some of his pupils being away in the services, but he would take me on “after the war”. So I decided to go to night school to learn basic book-keeping and accounting and had a thorough grounding from Harold Harper. It was there, in the same class, that I met Melvyn Hughes and we became friends.
The War Years 1942 Onwards: FROM A BOY TO MAN
In July 1942 I was called up into the Royal Artillery to the 34th Signal Training Regiment RA at Bamber Bridge near Preston, a young lad of 18, never been away from home before, sitting in a Nissen Hut wondering what was in store for me. Later that first day my future colleagues arrived in dribs and drabs, but who should come in but Melvyn Hughes. We spent our first six months training together. First it was square bashing then to the serious business of wireless operating, driving, semaphore and communications.
At the end of 6 months we “passed out” as qualified “driver/operators”. Another of my colleagues was Jim Hallsworth who also came from Bedford. Several of us, including Jim, were posted at Xmas to 318 Battery, 80th City of Glasgow Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, stationed at Forres.
Another of my colleagues at the training regiment was Gordon Lusher (later professionally known as Don Lusher), a brilliant trombonist featured on television conducting a big band and as a soloist. He was a desperately unhappy lad and I remember he would march on Sundays with the local Salvation Army band. I enjoyed those months at Bamber Bridge.
The 80th Field Regiment was in the process of reorganising and expanding hence our postings there as part of a reformed regiment. Here we underwent intensive mountain warfare training with a 3 week mock operation over the Cairngorms and Grampians. This was a real toughening up time for us all. During the period I spent 3 months at the army winter school at Dalwhinnie (Drumochter Lodge).
We had moved to Old Meldrum and Montrose. At both of these places we were billeted on the granary floors of whisky distilleries. The one at Montrose was a working one and the dust from the conveyor belts used to cover our beds and equipment. We spent Christmas 1943 at Montrose. Christmas lunch in the Army was something to look forward to. This day we had an ENSA party coming to entertain us and they were staying to lunch. The officers served the OR’s with lunch and I really enjoyed mine: I was well filled. It was then that an officer approached me and said he would like me to help entertain the ENSA to lunch. I protested that I couldn’t eat a thing but I had to go. Compensation was that I was the envy of all as I had a lovely girl on either side. I suffered with indigestion later!
It was here in the late spring that we turned “airborne”. All our heavy vehicles were removed and we were equipped with Jeeps even to tow our 25 pdr guns and limbers. We had a “mock" Dakota and we had to practice driving up ramps into the aircraft. You could drive them in so far, make sure you didn’t drive out the other side and wait to be manhandled into position. The Gunners sweated blood practicing dismantling 25 pdr guns and manhandling the parts into the plane. They had competitions to see how fast they could dismantle and reassemble. The speed in the end was incredible. I was the Driver/Operator for the Battery Commander with my own Jeep with two radios, one on the Battery net and one on the Regimental net with a further “18” set to link with the Infantry!
In June 1944 the invasion came and we moved to Berkhampstead to join up with the Americans. The plan was to fly to France and land S.E. of Paris to cut off the Germans moving back from the invasion coast. However the Germans were caught at Falaise and the operation was stood down. As soon as this happened we had a rapid move north to the Lincoln area following the moves in France. This move was made on 3rd September 1944 – my 21st birthday – we passed through Bedford but I was unable to call on my parents. What a 21st!!
In September we had another “panic” on (as we called each stand to). Destination Arnhem. We were briefed. The paratroops and Airborne troops would go in first to create an airstrip. Then we would land with our 25 pdr guns in the area as they had a 360o traverse. One of our brigades, already moving up in France, would link up with us.
I remember well being lined up on the road to the airfield, my plane number chalked on the jeep, with hundreds of others. Some of our people were already on the airfield being loaded. Time passed and we waited. I can see that despatch rider coming down now and telling us it was off: they couldn’t hold the airstrip and we know what happened at Arnhem. “Panic over”.
We immediately drove to Gosport to be transferred to France by landing ship. We were told we would get our heavy equipment back in France. It wasn’t until we got to the Dutch border that the big equipment arrived.
Our first action was to take the island of Walcheren, a fortress island holding up the Allies use of the port of Antwerp vital for the transport of equipment and supplies instead of the mulberry harbours - the original harbour in France.
Walcheren. A partly flooded island with lots of dykes and heavily mined. It was successfully taken, we had our first casualties and we tasted war at first hand. We were a highly-trained Division, trained in mountain warfare fighting our first action below sea level. Strange! It was November.
In 2002 I took Dad revisit places he had fought for in Germany and Holland. We were able to find places that he passed through albeit much changed.
After Walcheren, the Regiment, part of 52nd Lowland Division, took part in Operation Blackcock to clear German troops from the western bank of the Rhine. Dad had a particular memory of the Afferden Woods and Kasteel Blijbeek which was a target for 80th Field Regiment RA and a major obstacle for 4 KOSB. Dad had bought one of the Regimental Histories written by one of the officers, and I had discovered the memoirs of an officer ( (“With the Jocks”, Peter White) who had served in one of the Infantry Battalions . This described the progress of the Battalion and made understanding the bigger picture much easier. We visted the Dutch war museum in Venray, and Dad was able to see history that he had been part of.
The Return, 2002
Church used as an Observation Post by 317 Btty, Gilrath
Museum display featuring the Scottish Divisions’ role in the liberation of Holland, Venray, NL
Familie De Groote, Herzele 1945
There followed a month of warfare in Holland and up to Germany. Christmas was spent on the Dutch/German border. It was a hard winter with ice and snow. All kinds of warfare were met and eventually we arrived at Xanten on the Rhine. It was here that Churchill arrived to have a look over the Rhine.
Everything was assembled for an assault across the Rhine. The guns were at it night and day. It was here that my mate Jim Hallsworth was injured by a German shell and was returned home and discharged. We saw the American Airborne fly over to attack, and the assault across the Rhine by boat. One of the American planes was damaged going over the Rhine, got disorientated and flew back. Thinking they had properly crossed the Rhine the paratroops dropped onto our lines. We had great difficulties getting them not to fire on us, but we managed. The interesting thing was that those parachutes disappeared like lightening and lots of the lads “acquired beautiful pieces of silk parachute which eventually arrived home for wives and girlfriends to make good use of. Our route across the Rhine eventually took us up to Bremen which we captured. An interesting sight unveiled itself one day at Bremen. We heard the skirl of the pipes and we looked down from our high position to see the “Jock’s” pipe band in full regalia marching up and down the football pitch with hundreds of German prisoners sitting in the stands forced to watch this early victory parade. In May, we moved up into final action as far as south of Luneburg Heath where the Germans surrendered to Montgomery.
With the war in Europe at an end we had a period of civil administration near Magdeburg. Then we moved to a rest area at a place called Herzele near Brussels and were billeted with local Belgian families. I was with the De Groote family with my friend Maurice Binns. Next door was Stan Morris. I liaised with Germaine De Groote as we could both speak French. This was an enjoyable, relaxing time and we all had leave to the UK for the first time since setting foot in France. There was a small millinery shop along the road from the De Groote shop where I was and I got friendly with the family. The daughter was a ginger-headed girl and when they knew I was going on leave I was loaned a bicycle and with the girl (I am ashamed to say I have forgotten her name) we cycled to her uncle’s orchard where I was given a lovely box of cherries which I duly took home to my mother. I also had a 24 hour leave to Brussels and weekend leaves with several of my mates to Blankenburg. I have a photo taken at Blankenburg with the lads. The De Grootes were over the moon that they had been released from German domination and treated us like lords and for a lad of 21 coming up 22 it was an honour. They insisted in taking a photo of me sitting in the prime seat with all the family around. I still cherish that photo.
Blankenburg, the De Grootes and Don Edwards
We moved to Sennelager, a prison camp which had originally held Russian P.O.W.’s, now filled with German P.O.W.’s and our job was to run and guard the camp, with interesting results on some nights. I was patrolling the outer wires of one of the compounds one night when I heard a strange rattling of the wires. I could see P.O.W.’s inside the compound lurking in the shadows. When the rattling occurred I saw them sneaking out and picking up what I thought were packages. I looked around and found one or two packets between the two rows of wires, obviously packages which had missed the target and hit the wires, which was the noise that I had heard. I picked one up and opened it. Inside I found a small pack of cigarettes, tobacco and a tin of food. I called the lurking figures over and passed the tin in; it was pathetic. What puzzled me was how the packets were arriving. I worked it out: there was a wood 50 yards away with a clearing from there to the camp. Some ingenious person had made a substantial catapult and was shooting the packages over. At one corner of the compound we had a fire; lights shone all the time down the length of the wires. I was chatting to my colleague who was with me when a young lady appeared. She desperately wanted to go in to see her husband. We sympathised but had to persuade her to go back the way she had come, reassuring her that nothing serious would happen to him.
My 22nd birthday passed in September, then came the call to return to the UK. We thought we were being returned pending “de-mob”. We ended up at the barracks at Exeter where we were informed that we were going on 14 days disembarkation leave and 14 days embarkation leave. This was a blow: where were we going? It hit us that 28 days brought us to Xmas day. When we were about to go off to the station to get the trains home we said to the officers we would NOT be back on Xmas day: extend the leave. They said no way, but our parting words were “You will not see us back”. Whilst on leave we had telegrams giving us an extra two weeks.
I was so pleased to see my parents again and it came home to me what a hellish time they had had. In July 1942 I went off at 18. My sister went into the ATS and was on the A.A. guns on the south coast. My younger sister at 16 went nursing in Stanmore. She became ill in 1943 and died aged 17 of tubercular meningitis. I only had two weeks compassionate leave to cover the funeral etc. They still had their two other “children” away for heaven knows when and to heavens knows where. So to find I was off abroad again was a worry. Was it to be the Far East?
The destination was the Middle East where the Stern gang were in operation in Palestine trying to create an independent state. I arrived at the base depot at Almaza in Heliopolis outside Cairo. I was to spend a year in Egypt before returning home demobbed for Xmas 1946 – 23 years old.
I spent that year at the Base Depot doing office work dealing with officers in transit from UK and to UK, documenting them. I spent 3 weeks in 63rd British General Hospital in Cairo suffering from a viral pneumonia, then 2 weeks convalescence in Alexandria. I was promoted to warranted Bombardier (2 stripes).
During that year I managed to have two “leaves” in Alexandria, which was very pleasant. Because I went to hospital I missed the drafts to Palestine. I met up with my friends again at Port Said on our way back to the UK and found that they had had a pretty rough time. I had been lucky.
My final release from the Army expired in March 1947. It was a terrible winter and I really felt the cold, coming from a hot country. To tell the whole story of this period would take many pages.
My thoughts of this period of wartime life are that at 18 I left school: went into the Army at 18 and 1/2 and grew up fast experiencing war, returning from that experience at 23. This would have been my development time in ordinary times, preparing for a vocation building life. Five years lost, and I had to start life again when I should have been on the way already.
I rejoined McPherson, Timmins and Ednie to resume my studies to become a Chartered Accountant. I recall the months I was with McPherson, Timmins and Ednie before my call up. We were in offices in St Paul’s Square, opposite the Corn Exchange. During the war the BBC Symphony Orchestra were evacuated to Bedford and regular lunch time concerts were broadcast from there. I had my first introduction to classical music here, going to the concerts with Don Cartwright during the lunch hours.
POST WAR 1947-1956
At McPherson, Timmins and Ednie I became Articled to Charlie Salsbury. The office was full of previous pupils returned from the war grown and mature men hoping to qualify as Chartered Accountants after losing many years of study. We were all living (or trying to) on a miserable Government grant of £2.50 per week – true! – and studying by postal studies with their tutors. It was hard working during the day and studying at night. The usual period of studying and qualification was 5 years, now reduced for such as me to 3+ years (with luck) which firstly included the Intermediate exam and then the final. If you failed either it meant extra time to resit. I managed my qualification first time for both. A number of us joined Bedford Athletic rugger club which took up Saturday afternoons. I also played badminton at the church club at St Paul’s Methodist in the winter, tennis in the summer. Sometimes in the winter I would play a rugger match in the afternoon followed by badminton matches in the evening. It left me very fit.
I resumed my association with St Paul’s Methodist Church and there was a good group of 20+ people, friends who had also returned from the war and altogether we were a happy group. It was a time of weddings, colleagues settling down after years of war: my friends from church gradually settled down and there were a number of marriages within the group.
I had had several friends at the church in the pre-war years until we were separated by war. We were fortunate to survive and resumed our friendships after the war. Munro Walsh, a Captain in the R.A. was rescued from Dunkirk; Don Ford was captured with the Beds and Herts at Singapore and was a P.O.W. of the Japanese until the end. He suffered much hardship, of which he never spoke, but it took its toll and he died reasonably young.
Hugo Newbury was in the Navy on minesweepers around our coasts; Gordon Gill flew in the R.A.F., was shot down then repatriated via Switzerland and I in the Army on the continent. John Panter was younger than us and was left at home, and Watt Davies was in a reserved occupation but joined the Home Guard.
In 1948 my sister married John whom she had met whilst in the ATS on the South Coast. I became engaged to Flora whom I had met at Montrose whilst stationed there and to whom I had written whilst in Egypt. However at the time of my sister’s wedding I realised that we were too far apart, I had no prospects and felt it was better to part. Perhaps I was very cruel and selfish.
However, in 1950, I was introduced to Gwen by my friends Hugo and Myrtle and we became engaged shortly afterwards. We decided to marry in July 1951 after I had taken my final examination, the results of which were not due out until July 1951. We married (Hugo being my best man) in Downham Market at Gwen’s old church and went on honeymoon to Torquay. The best wedding present we had was a telegram from my mother whilst we were in Torquay congratulating me on passing my final!
Married in July, we started married life with my parents “over the shop” but then, horror of horrors, I was called up for “Z” reserve to Henlow for Air O.P. training. Two wasted weeks which would have cost the country millions overall!! Such is life.
We were then presented with a slice of luck: we were offered a cottage to rent in Oakley next to the railway station, 1 up, 2 down, owned by a church member whose old and infirm sister lived in the other part of the cottage. The deal was we could live in the cottage at 7/6d per week if we would keep an eye on Clara. We took it! It had a brick copper and an outside Elsan toilet. No sewer connection. Say no more!!
I used to cycle to work in Bedford for 9.00 am, return home for lunch, back to work in the afternoon and back in the evening. Four miles each way, 16 miles a day: it kept me fit. In August 1952, Martin was born. I had to cycle into the centre of the village to phone for the ambulance to take Gwen to the hospital. We managed.
In 1953 we decided it was time I moved on; I was going to get nowhere at McPherson, Timmins and Ednie, so I applied for a job in Coventry with a firm of Chartered Accountants. I remember going to Coventry for an interview. We had a 1936 Morris 8 Tourer, and Gwen came with me with Martin, not a year old. After the interview, it was feeding time for Martin and we discovered we had left his feeding cup at home so it was a journey to Boots to buy another. Again we managed.
When I first returned from war service, I joined Bedford Athletic Rugby Club and played for them until I went to Coventry.
I also took up badminton again, playing at All Saints. I was asked to be Chairman of the Bedford Badminton Association (which ran an annual tournament in Bedford) and held this post for a number of years.
Having got the job, and having no capital, I had to find somewhere to live. My cousin Phyllis lived at Solihull and Edgar her husband was an estate agent/surveyor and knew of some houses being put up. I saw the builder with Edgar and we booked a plot in Pauline Avenue, Bell Green. The house would not be ready for many months, so I had to go into “digs” whilst Gwen went to live with her parents in Downham Market. I went to Downham every weekend, returning on Sunday night.
This continued for some time until the house was ready- and thereby hangs a story. I had no money, I needed to obtain a mortgage: what to do? I am sure the Lord was on my side. Bob Heatley, the senior partner in Daffern and Co (the firm of accountants I was working for) was also a principal in the Coventry Economic Building Society of which his father was the founding member. I went to see him to ask for help as I was buying this house and required a mortgage. His words to me were “OK, when the time comes, come and see me and I’ll give you what you want.” Also working with me in the firm was Audrey Thompson one of whose clients was a solicitor, Gilbert Richards. She said “when you need the legal work doing go and see him and tell him I sent you”
The time came. I went to see Bob Heatley and the conversation went something like this:
Me: You remember you told me when I wanted a mortgage to come and see you and you’d give me what I wanted? Well, the time has come.
Bob: Yes. What do you want?
Me: I want 95%
I remember standing there and thinking: This is it. He’ll throw me out. Then he just stared at me and stared, then
Then came the time for paying out the solicitor, and he was very good: he wouldn’t charge me costs for the whole building only on the cost of the land! I was still short £50, which my father-in-law loaned me.
We had our house and moved in… our first house. A 3 bedroom semi: £1750 in 1954.
So we enjoyed our first house and I enjoyed my job. I could tell a few stories about this time, but I won’t. In 1955 my father fell ill and went into hospital just as we were negotiating to buy the shop premises from my uncle’s estate, as he owned the property. I had been travelling back and forth at weekends dealing with solicitors and fighting Dad’s case with them, and the conveyance etc was prepared by the solicitors but the deeds had not been signed by Dad when he went into hospital. I made a mad dash to hospital for his signature after having a row with the solicitors for being so dilatory in seeing him, for if I could not get his signature, mum would have nowhere to go.
Saturday – I saw him, told him what to do: he was very ill. I put the pen in his hand but he could not write: I told him not to worry, I would come the next day. I went back and, miracle of miracles, he was able to give me a signature, such as it was. Then he said to me “Mum will be OK now”, and I said “Yes”. These were our last words together: he died the next Wednesday. So I had to deal with all the funeral arrangements. Barbara was stranded in Tunbridge Wells.
After the funeral I persuaded Mum to carry on with the shop with the help of her two part-time assistants. I came back from Coventry each weekend to help. This was getting too much for me and Gwen. Mum sent us the local paper each week and in one of them was an advert for an accountant/company secretary by a fashion group. We agreed for me to apply. I duly had an interview arranged for January 1956, when Bedford played Arsenal in the FA Cup.
The company was Roses Fashion Centre Ltd and I said to Gwen “I think I know who I’m going to see.”
I went into the interview and a voice said “I thought it was you I was going to see.” It was Harold Rose who had been at Bedford School with me as a boarder in the same “house”.. I said “I thought it was going to be you”. I couldn’t lose and I stayed with them for 23 years finishing up as Financial Director on the sad early death of Harold.
We moved back to Bedford in March 1956, Russell having been born in February 1956, so life was very hectic as he was only 6 weeks old when we moved back to Bedford. Houses were scarce then and I had no choice but to buy a house in Honey Hill Road which Gwen hated from the start. We stayed there for 5 years, moving to a new detached house in Curlew Crescent in 1960.
On our return to Bedford, Gwen and I assisted and looked after my mother. She said the business was getting too much for her, so we closed it and cleared out the premises, creating a bedroom for her downstairs, where she lived quite happily until physical problems forced her to go into a convalescent home. We found her a place at Steppingly where she could receive the attention she needed. She died suddenly of a stroke in 1965. I then had the responsibility of clearing the premises and settling her estate.
In 1961 I was invited to join the Board of Provincial Hospital Services Association and was appointed Honorary Treasurer, a post I occupied for 25 years before I resigned the position. I spent 35 years altogether on the Board.
Those years with Roses were the happiest years of my working life. I remained with them for 23 years until the business was sold, finally becoming financial director. In 1961, Roses moved Head Office from Bedford to Ampthill taking over and refurbishing the old Zonita Cinema. They had 8 branches when I started, and when the group was finally sold in 1979, we had 36. During my job with Roses I became a member of the Ampthill and District Rotary Club continuing for a while when I moved to Arquati, but then retired from that. I was also a member of Ampthill and District Rotary Club for a few years until R.F.C. Ltd. was sold. Whilst there I ran a Young Enterprise “business” with Redborne School pupils.
R.F.C. Ltd was sold in 1979 and I joined Arquati UK Ltd as accountant then financial director. Arquati was a partly-owned Italian firm selling principally picture frames and picture frame mouldings wholesale, then expanding into the fine art trade. I was instrumental in creating a computer system for them and we began to expand. The Managing Director left and I became Financial Director and was instrumental in providing the finance for new premises in Kempston. I worked at Arquati until my retirement in 1986. I retired in 1986 at the age of 63. My father died when he was 63 and never reached retirement age and I vowed this would never happen to me. I have now enjoyed 20 years of retirement.
In the meantime we resumed our association with St Paul’s Methodist Church where I became a teacher in the Sunday School for a while. When I returned to Bedford I resumed, with the family, my connection with St Paul’s Methodist Church. I became a steward just before the sale of St Pauls and the amalgamation with Newnham Avenue: I filled the position of Treasurer and one of the first Stewards in the new Priory Church. The post of Treasurer I occupied for 20 years until giving up the post. I was during that period a member of the Property and Finance committees.
By the end of the 60’s, it was decided to sell St Paul’s and move from the Town Centre. We arranged to build a new Church at the present site and join with Newnham Avenue Church to create a new church: Priory. In 1969, St Paul’s Methodist Church closed and the new church, Priory Methodist Church, was built in Newnham Avenue. I was one of the first stewards at the church, and was appointed Treasurer, a post I held for 20 years until I gave up.
During my years back in Bedford I was a member of the Wesley Players, the drama group formed in the later days of St Pauls an enthusiastic group of would-be thespians formed the Wesley Players which began with the production of a religious play and expanded: I joined them in the late ‘60’s. I was an active member of the Wesley Players enjoying playing character parts and comedies. This was a great band of friends and we had lots of fun putting on productions. Being also a director of Roses Fashion Centre was a great asset: our stage management team had great times combing through our store of display equipment to be used in the productions.
As a thank you to St Peters for “housing” us during the building of Priory when we had no home, we produced a play, “The Vigil” which we performed in St Peters, later taking it to Kempston and Oakley. The Group met socially also and had great fun in rehearsals. The group continued with the move to Priory, and we enjoyed many productions over the years until sadly the group folded through lack of producers and disagreements on productions.
Time passed and Gwen took a part-time job at the school where Russell went, as a supervisor. Later on she went to work with the Path Lab at Bedford Hospital.
The boys both in their turn went to Bedford Modern School to give them a good education. Their progress and careers are their own story. This is about me and Gwen, who has been my guide and support throughout my ups and downs and without whom I should not have achieved and come through what I have done. In 2001 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.
On retirement, I became an operator of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber at the MS Therapy Centre and have been operating there weekly since 1987 (over 20 years).
I also joined a small band of Church members who met on Thursday mornings to do repairing and maintenance to Priory and who were christened “The Geriatric Playgroup”.
We are still living in Bedford and have made many good friends since our return in 1956, our best friends being Myrtle and Hugo Newbury, the latter being responsible for my introduction to Gwen. Of course he was best man at our wedding.
Our two families spent many happy times on holidays together and were very close until first Hugo died then Myrtle. Myrtle was very brave, suffering from MS from the age of 40 and finally ending up in a wheelchair. She was my badminton partner.
Feb 2003 - On my retirement I became a trained operator on the Hyperbaric Oxygen “Tank” at the Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre doing a regular weekly session for them, which still goes on.
Russell is happily married to Carol and they have two fine children: Ashley (17) and Sarah (15) who we love very much.
Martin was married in November 2002 at the age of 50 to Marie from Ipoh in Malaysia. We love them very much.
Sept 2003 – Now 80 years of age, still trying to keep active with weekly visits to the Robinson Pool to swim with my neighbour and friend, Fred.
For my 80th, Martin, Russell and families gave me a digital camera and Gwen gave me a new printer cum scanner cum photocopier. I fear a new computer age has dawned for me – they are determined to keep me active.
I am still operating the HBO chamber at the Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre once a week (I have now clocked up 20 years as an operator of the HBO chamber at the MS Centre), but I have given up holding any offices at the Church.
In May I finally retired from the Board of Management at Provincial Hospital Services Association after 35 years (25 years as Hon Treasurer).
I still swim once a week with my mate Fred Pack, but aches and pains are encroaching. Still I’ve done well as I am 84 in Sept 2007.
The old directors and wives of Roses Fashion Centre still meet for lunch together once or twice a year to reminisce. Cyril Rose is a poor thing in a wheel chair but he still turns up – and we all love it.
It is now 2008, we have been married for 57 years, our two sons are happily married and we are fortunate in having two lovely daughters-in-law. Russell and Carol have given us two grandchildren, Ashley and Sarah, of whom we are very proud.
Don Edwards, 2008.
ME AND GOD
I am a Christian. A practicing Christian.
My father’s family, the Edwards, had their roots in Methodism. One of my Great Uncles was a Methodist minister and several of the clan were local preachers. My mother’s family were C of E.
I went to Sunday School (and my first church) at the Moravian Church then we all as a family attended St Paul’s Methodist Church where at the age of 16 I became a member. This membership was carried on to my present church, Priory Methodist Church, where I was a steward, for 20 years its treasurer and also a member of several committees.
What has this got to do with God? It started, I believe, with morning Sunday school at St Paul’s Methodist where we were taught by old Ben Shorten (Gordon’s father), a lovely Christian Irishman and successful businessman who owned Bedford Plough and Engineering Works. He taught us Christian principles and the Christian way, which I have always tried to follow through my life and particularly my working life. That brought a few clashes with my fellow Directors.
When I joined the Army I was given a pocket New Testament by the church which I always carried and I still possess. During my war service my Christianity was severely tested but there were occasions when I felt I was being directed and guided. After the war I returned to the fellowship of St Paul’s and my faith was strengthened although when I went to Coventry it did wane. Looking back with the events that followed – my father’s death, my mother’s dilemma with the shop – I felt I was being drawn back to Bedford and a return to my old church. There I was drawn into the responsibilities at the church which I have described and I was led into my working life with Roses. During that period Gwen and I experienced a happy life together raising our family. All this time Gwen had never waivered from her links with the church and was a great help to me. There were times when things did not go smoothly, but I always felt this presence with me.
When Roses was sold I found myself without a job at the age of 56 but I said to Gwen that we would be OK: I felt I was being directed, and sure enough I found a good job and went from strength to strength. We have been fortunate in having saved enough to be able to live without worry, lucky in health and finance, lucky with our family and may it always be so.
I have always put myself in God’s hands when I have had operations; I pray to him every night for guidance and help. Some people say it’s nonsense, there is no God. OK, but I do not doubt.
I believe that my assurance came with that Christmas message from King George VI:
I said to the man that stood at the gate of the year
Show me a light that I may walk into the unknown
He said to me “Put your hand into the hand of God.
He will be to you better than light and
safer than a known way”
That’s what I do.
The Edwards and the Warrens - back to my grandparents
My grandfather and grandmother Warren lived in Huntingdon. My grand-father was a gentleman in all senses of the word. He was an engineer and created a business as a sanitary and heating and plumbing specialist with a shop in the High Street and large working premises in Ferrers Road. He was a pillar of business life in Huntingdon and was very well known and respected in various activities. It was something in the 1920’s to own a car: he had a coupé and at one time I had a picture of him sitting in the car. I just wish I had it now. He also had an old Panhard (I think) from about 1906 – 1912 which he used for business, carrying the tools etc and his workmen wherever required. I recall going out with the men in it one day and when we returned it poured with rain so my cousin Billy and I came back under a very large tarpaulin. Everyone knew we were coming: it was a noisy car. In the 1930’s I remember my mother seeing in the paper an account of the London to Brighton old crocks race, and there was a photo of the old car. Grandad had a spectacular droopy moustache I recall. Grandma’s maiden name was Linnell.
Grandma was a quiet and lovely person always in the background supporting her husband and family. Her family were two sons, Ernest (Ern) and William Henry (Billy), named after her father. Billy was the youngest and died at the age of 23 from T.B. He was the apple of my mother’s eye as she was the next youngest. There were three girls: Mabel (May), Gertrude (Gertie) and Annie Elizabeth (Nance) who was my mother and named after Grandma. They were all a lovely family. Ernest married Agnes and they had four daughters: Dolly, Gladys, Marjorie and Kathleen followed by a son, William Henry (Billy) named after his grandfather and his uncle. I got on very well with them all, especially Bill who was 1 year and 1 day younger than me. Bill went into the R.A.F. during the war and was killed whilst flying in Egypt where he is buried.
Mabel (May) married Arthur Levy who was a gardener at Hinchingbrooke House where she was in service. After they married they went to live in Uttoxeter in a lovely cottage where Uncle Arthur kept bees and made his own honey. He was a gardener at the large house owned and lived in by the Bamford family who later became famous for manufacturing JCB’s etc, JCB standing for J.C.Bamford.
Gertie married Harry Pratt, not liked very much by Uncle Ern’s family and a rather snobbish sort of person. He was a schoolmaster and had a high opinion of himself. He became the Headmaster of the village school at Baston in Lincolnshire and liked his whisky. I stayed with them several times in my younger days and found he had a daily routine which to my mind was so monotonous. He would walk down from the school at lunch time (the school house being In the school grounds) sit down for his lunch (which had to be ready on time) and then would sit in his armchair with a cup of tea, do the crossword in the paper and when the clock chimed a quarter to two would get up, kiss Gertie who would dutifully be waiting, say “Goodbye m’dear” and be off until school finished.
(RE: Dad omits that Gertie and Harry died on the same day in 1961. Harry took a shotgun to Gertrude then turned it on himself. Dad remained bitter about the death of Gertie to the end of his days.)
My mother I have mentioned in the main story. Incidentally, Uncle Ern was a brilliant engineer and was at some time in East Africa working in the early days on radio transmission and communication with America.
All the Warrens were brainy in their different ways and I have always said that I credit my business sense etc to the Warrens.
I do not intend to expand on the Warrens any further. Martin has a detailed family tree of the Warrens.
What a colourful story this would be if investigated in depth. I will only give brief cameos of some of the characters..
Firstly, my Grandfather Ephraim James and my Grandmother Maria: I never knew my Grandfather because he died before I was born but Grandma was a lovely person with a lovely nature who lived into her 90’s. I have lost count of their children but I think it was nine. There were only two girls: Bertha who married Tommy James and Ada who married Charles Garner. Ada and Charles had a farm at the end of Spring Road, Kempston. I was very fond of my Aunt Ada. They had four daughters: Molly, Joan, Peggy and Pauline and one son, Clifford. Joan married Frank Sanders of R B Sanders the leather merchants whose factory was in College Road, Kempston.
Of the boys, there was Hubert (who was blown up in the First World War), Ethelbert (who farmed in Biddenham), Gladstone, Alan (the youngest), Cecil (he and his wife Ethel looked after Grandma for years at 100 Spring Road – he was a carpenter and worked at the farm for Charles Garner), Lloyd Duncan (my father) and Frank (who was at one time the Mayor of Malvern). There could have been have been more but I can’t recall.
Grandma’s maiden name was Alexander and curiously enough her mother’s maiden name was Edwards.
I have memories of a regular Sunday visit to the farm at Kempston with my father and sisters and even as tots we would walk from Queen’s Park to Kempston. I can remember going there with my younger sister Margaret in the pram and bringing home a kitten from the farm. My Uncle Cecil was a staunch member at Southend Methodist Church. When we visited Grandma on our Sunday visits we usually found him playing billiards with a couple of friends (Fred Notley was one of them) in his billiard room. I remember he kept chickens in the back garden.
Hubert married Lily and they had a son, Harold, who although much older than me was a favourite cousin. My sister Barbara and I both stayed with him at his home in Reading where he had a builder’s business. His wife was Rose Sanders who was the sister of Frank Sanders who married Joan Garner who was my and Harold’s cousin – what a tangle. More complications arose when Tommy and Bertha’s daughter married Ted Garner, Charlie Garner’s brother!
I used to spend time at Uncle Bert’s farm in Biddenham. He had a motorcycle and sidecar initially and then a small van. He used to bring his eggs and milk to the shop for Dad to sell. On Saturdays he would pick me up and take me with him to the cattle market. My treat from him at the cattle market would be a hot potato from a handcart from the “Hot Potato Man”.
Apart from Grandad’s family there were a number of other families from Grandad’s brothers and sisters. One brother Arthur became a Methodist minister, and there were several local preachers in the family including great grandfather Edwards.
I must stop here. There would be much more to tell, but that is enough of back to my grandparents’ time.
Don’s CV of life 1923-2003: 80 years
3rd September 1923, Bedford
1923 – 34
A happy childhood with loving parents and two great sisters
1934 - 41
Bedford School - a good education
War declared on my 16th birthday
See separate sheet for my church connexions
Left school awaiting call up
Night school to learn book-keeping
Call up – Joined Royal Artillery
Initial training 34th Signal Regiment
1942 - My sister Margaret died at the age of 17, nursing at Stanmore Hospital
Posted to 80th Field Regiment at Forres as Driver/Operator
52nd Scottish Mountain Division
In action – Belgium, Holland, Germany
1945 – 46
Returned UK: posted to Middle East. 1 Year in Egypt.
Demobbed – rank Bombardier
Articles with McPherson Timmins & Ednie. Studying.
1947 - Played rugger for Bedford Ath till 1951. Tennis with St Pauls Meth tennis club till 1951. Badminton with All Saints to 1956
Chairman of Bedford Badminton Assoc for several years 1950’s and 1960’s
Took finals – passed as Chartered Accountant (A.C.A.)
July. Married Gwen.
Martin born, Oakley
Left McP.T.E. went to Coventry to join firm of Chartered Accountants
Father died aged 63
Feb. Russell born. Returned Bedford
Joined Roses Fashion Centre as Accountant/Company Secretary
56/60/70 Treasurer of Priory from opening for 20 years then retired. Active member of Wesley Players
RFC moved to Ampthill: Zonita Cinema converted to Head Office and Distribution Centre
Made Financial Director, RFC
!960’s Became member of Ampthill Rotary Club. Left 1970.
1960’s Invited to become a member of board of management, Provincial Hospital Services Association – Made Hon Treasurer – held position until retired for 25 years. Still on Board of Management (2003) and Trustee of Medical Charities Trust: made Life Member
Mother died, aged 72
RFC sold. My employment there was 23 years
Joined Arquati UK Ltd as Accountant/Company Secretary
Became financial Director – instrumental in raising finance to build new premises, Kempston
1976 Life member of Institute of Chartered Accountants
Took early retirement
1986 onwards – weekly swim at Robinson Pool with my friend and neighbour Fred
Became a qualified operator of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber at Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre – still operating
Celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary
Celebrated my 80th birthday
Retired as Trustee of Medical Charities Trust; Retired from Bd of Mgmt, PHS – after 35 years
923 – Christened in All Saints Church, Huntingdon – my mother’s church (CofE)
From the ages of 5 to 9, went to Sunday School and Church at Queen’s Park Moravian Church, just across the road from home.
When I was 9, my father decided to return to his family roots in the Methodist Church so we all went to St Paul’s Methodist Church. I became a member at the age of 16
On our return to Bedford in 1956 I became for a time a Sunday School teacher
I was one of the last stewards at St Pauls Methodist Church before it closed, and a steward during our amalgamation with Newnham Avenue when at St Peters.
I was a very active member of the Wesley Players from its inception at St Paul’s. This was a very enjoyable time.
I was one of the first stewards at Priory in 1969 and was appointed Treasurer, a position I held for 20 years. In that time I was also a member of the finance committee and the property committee until retiring a few years ago.
Priory I love: it is my spiritual home.
A few words about my father.
First off, I miss him. I am pleased that he knew his grandchildren, and am sad that he did not get to see his great-grandchildren. My father was and is an important to me. Very important. I am proud that in his last years, I was able to share so much with him. I loved him, and he was my hero. I aim to make him proud.
In this writing of his story and my “editing” of that story, I learned more of my father, some of which led to revisiting some of his past. The tone of my father’s writing, in particular the comments about the de Groote family, suggested that the stay with the family had been incredibly important to him. As a consequence I contacted the local newspaper in Herzele (with the assistance of an old Dutch friend) looking to see if there was anyone there that remembered Dad. And they found the surviving de Groote family, so we went to Belgium and visited them. Of the family, only three survived, but the reunion was amazing. My father had taken the Brussels photograph with him and showed them the photograph, unnecessarily: sitting on the table was their copy of that photograph.
The reunion was something else, finixing business that needed finishing and making that statement for each other "and they lived happily ever after”. Dad visited Germaine’s grave, we all ate together and Dad was given a Civic Reception, complete with a veteran Dutch pilot; the Mayor wore his sash, presented an official picture of Herzele and he pinned a liberator’s medal on my father’s lapel. Speeches were given, with Gerke, my Dutch friend translating, and Dad responded to the speech in kind. I was so proud of my father’s humanity, so touched by the warmth across the years.