Fred walks home with Will

As I mentioned before, my Dad, Fred, during his time in the RAF, was frequently given 24 hour passes which ran from 00:00 hours on the first day to 23:59 on the second. They weren’t much use when he was with 20 Operational Training Unit in Lossiemouth which even nowadays, using the motorways, is a there-and-back trip of almost 930 miles. Here’s the old Lossiemouth from a wartime picture:

And here’s the brand new sign at the gate:

Here’s the journey by car today:

On the other hand when Fred was stationed at Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire, two day passes were fine. Here’s the home of 103 Squadron in 1943:

Fred was often forced to travel in the early morning because he wanted to make use of the first few hours of his pass, usually from around 00.40 by the time he had walked down to Barnetby Station, to when the earliest train left Barnetby at, say, 01.10.

From Barnetby he usually travelled to Lincoln, then Nottingham and then Derby, although he could carry on from Derby to Burton-on-Trent if he so wished. The orange arrow points to Elsham Wolds, and Burton-on-Trent has been hidden, more or less, by the first triangular sign with an exclamation mark, just to the south of Derby:

Here’s a map of the local area around Woodville, the mining village where Fred lived. His house was quite close to the tip of the orange arrow, in actual fact. The station at Burton-on-Trent is the tiny white  dot on the spindly black thread running from north east to southwest near the town, just below the “U-R” of “BURTON” :

The problem Fred faced at this point, however, was that from Burton-on-Trent to Woodville where he lived, there would be no buses running if it he had arrived at Burton Station at four o’clock in the morning. If that were the case, there was only one remedy…what used to be called “Shanks’s Pony”. Do check out the link. It is quite an interesting origin for this phrase and useful for the American version of it too.

On one occasion, Fred came back on leave from Elsham Wolds and he then continued through Derby station to the local station at Burton-on-Trent. When he emerged onto the street, knowing full well that he had a five mile walk in front of him, he found that his father, Will, then in his mid-fifties, had spent at least a couple of hours of the early morning darkness walking the five miles from their house in Woodville to meet his son at the station as he got off the train:

They walked back together in the fresh, bright summer sunshine, the road even more deserted than normal as it was so early in the morning. Not a single word was said between father and son at any point in their journey. Their mutual respect and solidarity, their love, was expressed not by words but by a deed, the walking of five miles just to be with somebody that extra couple of hours, even if the time together were to be passed in total silence.

In later years, Fred was to say that one of the greatest regrets of his life was that he had never said anything to his father during this walk and that his father had never said anything to him. In general, Fred wished that there had been much more obvious affection shown during his life with his parents. Will had never hugged Fred or even held him in his arms as a young child. Never in his entire live did he ever express his undoubted love for his son by such gestures, which he would have thought unmanly.

Here they are, in a local park on holiday in Blackpool. Notice the fashion statements. Will is wearing those two coloured shoes and Fred has one of those elasticated belts that fastens with a metal snake device:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

18 responses to “Fred walks home with Will

  1. Thank you for sharing these stories and these memories; they are beautifully, tenderly written. I enjoy your posts, immensely.

  2. What a marvellous walk. I know you have seen and liked this post about my trek from Nottingham to Newark, but your father and son effort reminded me

    • Thanks a lot, Derrick. I’m sure you’ll always remember that trip to Newark and I know my Dad never forgot those five miles walking home, albeit miles travelled in silence, which is what I find so peculiar, despite being well aware of the difference between the generations. Sitting here now, I wonder what was the role played by the forces in this? Was my Dad just used to marching along in silence? My Grandad certainly was after his two years on the Western Front in the Canadian army. Perhaps that was an element in their failure to converse for what was probably the best part of an hour and a half.

      • I guess we’ll never know, John. Our trip was eleven days and we got to converse in the evenings – I couldn’t always keep up with the boat – got a chance to catch up at the locks

  3. Back then it was normal for people to use Shank’s Mare. Today they think of walking as major exercise – a new concept.

    • You are so right! Back then, people thought nothing of walking what would nowadays be considered quite considerable distances, and, as you say, “major exercise”. I think it may be the increased speed at which we live our lives. We just don’t have the time to walk four or five miles to work or school, so it’s into the car or the bus or even a taxi.
      A couple of years ago, I taught a boy from Zimbabwe in Africa and he and his fellow scholars had all walked seven or eight miles to school every day, because they all wanted to get themselves an education. That must have boosted the morale of his teachers!

  4. You bring up an excellent insight to that generation that I feel is common. Back then, demonstrations were simply rarely given. I can count on my hand how many times my mother told me she loved me growing up. I never received kisses and hugs weren’t that common, either. Yet, I never doubted her love. Your story of the quiet five-mile walk really got to me. It is so authentic.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I just wish that I could remember my Dad ever saying to me “I love you” or giving me a hug. My Mum was the same. And yet neither of them were ever neglectful and they both always went that extra mile to look after me.
      I suppose I made up for it all by the hugs I gave my own daughter. It must have been a rare day when she didn’t get three or four big hugs.

      • I am the same way. We say we love each other whenever we depart and plenty of hugs all around. My mom thought I was overly-sentimental. She was bracing me for the harsh, cold world and physical touch was “spoiling”. I’m telling ya, it’s that generation.

      • Chris Waller

        Your experience resonates with mine. My parents were very diligent in discharging their duties as parents and did what they thought was best for me but my relationship with my parents was what one might call ‘businesslike’, certainly not emotionally close. Beyond the generational gap my dad and I were very different temperaments. My parents had also lived through a war which blighted their lives. It was when I researched my dad’s family history and discovered the circumstances that he grew up in (one of three families in a terraced house in Derby) and his father’s early life (in the workhouse, aged 5, with his mother and three of his siblings following the death of my great-grandfather) that I began to understand him better. In one of my last conversations with my late uncle Arthur, one of my dad’s two brothers, he said that their childhood’s had been blighted by my grandfather’s fragile mental state following his time in the trenches. I think Larkin put his finger on it, albeit rather brutally, in ‘This Be The Verse’.

  5. That lack of affection was very much a generational thing going back beyond the Victorians. How many fathers would show their feminine side in front of, or even to their sons? I think the 60s probably saw it relaxing, it was much more widely accepted to be affectionate, I often used to sit on my father’s knee. I noticed in the picture Fred’s trousers pulled almost up to his armpits! Such great fashions!

  6. Judging by his shirt, I think Fred must have pulled up his shorts and belt as high as they would go. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grandma had bought him a pair of shorts which were pretty well a pair of longs, and covered his knees when he wore them at the proper height.
    Around 1985 we had a young man in the school football team who wore his shorts up under his arm pits like that and he endured a lot of mickey taking for it. Since then, such a strange way to wear shorts appears to have died out, thank goodness.
    I agree with your interpretation of the apparent “lack of affection” as being a legacy of the Victorians. I would even take it one stage further and say that when you add a strict class system to it, you produce generals who can accept the huge casualties we had in WW1. I think that, certainly by our standards, they just did not care about the fate of the men under their command.

  7. Jan

    Your grandfather’s “co-respondent” shoes were racy choice of footwear. And what more appropriate place than Blackpool (well maybe Brighton) to sport them!

    • No, you were right first time. It was Blackpool. My Grandad always wore quite flashy clothes although nothing too outrageous. I’m sure that if he’d seen those shoes in a seaside shop, he would not have hesitated to buy them if the price was right.

  8. I thought of the affection and love between my husband and his father, both cannot express it but it is there.

  9. Yes, it is. But I just wish that my own father had expressed his love to me in three simple words, but he never did.

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