Monday, November 8, 2010

30. Alone again and Passage to Egypt.

Recently I saw a programme on television about the families of refugees who escaped from Poland after the war, and there was this good looking man, obviously very successful and very well educated, talking about his parents. I did not recognise the name because I would not have remembered the girl’s name anyway, but the fact that the man’s father had escaped from Poland with his mother and rejoined the RAF, and the fact that he had was born at St. Athan in 1949 made me pretty certain that he was the baby boy I had held, not long after he had been born. Survivors, that is what they were, and I have always been interested in survivors, and how they manage to come out on top.

My beautiful little boy, named Thomas James Winter (tradition decreed that the eldest son of the eldest son should be so called) weighed in at a nice 7lb 2oz. Unfortunately, he suffered from a condition called pyloric stenosis, or projectile vomiting, which meant that as soon as he had taken a feed he threw it all up again, and with some force! The result was that while the other babies put on weight and thrived, my baby did not. He was almost three weeks old before he was well enough to leave the hospital. I had been away from home almost eight weeks.

Tom was very unwell when the time came to collect me, so he arrived in a chauffer driven car, heaven knows where he found the money to pay for the trip. Tom had been very quiet during the drive back to Pershore, but I put that down to the fact that he was feeling ill. However, when we finally reached home and I had made a cup of tea I thought there was something odd about his manner. Had he been having an affair while I was away? I doubted it very much, Tom was not a philanderer although he had plenty of opportunities, he was a very attractive man, but something was wrong. I kept asking him what was wrong and finally he told me that he had been posted to Egypt and was now on two weeks embarkation leave. I was devastated.

A week later, we took the baby to Milford Haven to show him to Tom's family, and to say goodbye. There were no fast, through trains to Milford Haven and so the journey there and back, within a week, was very tiring. Tom spent his last evening with me polishing the heavy iron kettle we had been issued as part of the inventory until it shone like silver. The following morning he was gone, and I had no idea when we would be together again. Apart from my dear friend Trotty, there was nobody to talk to and nobody to advise me about looking after a baby. No post natal clinic, no visiting district nurse, I was again on my own. I think that Tom could, under the circumstances, have had the posting postponed or even cancelled, but for Tom the Service came first every time.

A few weeks after Tom had left, I took baby Tommy to visit Jane in Bury St. Edmunds, but before I left I offered a young couple the use my married quarter for a long week-end. They were having marital problems and the husband thought that if he could get his wife away from her family and talk to her they might be able to sort things out. I knew the husband slightly, but had never met his wife. I told him they were very welcome to stay in my house for a week-end and to use all my stuff, but please to be very careful with the oil cooker and to make sure it did not smoke because the result would be too awful.

Tommy and I returned late at night to find the house thick with soot. There was a cupboard in the kitchen with a wire door in which we kept cups, saucers other and things and the soot had even penetrated that. There were tea cup rings on the little mantelpiece and, what angered me most, was to see the kettle that Tom had polished so beautifully, black with soot. Because the internal doors had been left open, there was not even a clean surface on which to put the carry cot. I took the baby over to Trotty for safe keeping, cleaned the wicks, put water on to boil and worked through the night. The next day I put the soot blackened kettle into a box and sent it up to young husband with a note saying that at least he could clean the kettle. A couple of days later he came to see me and, with abject apologies, returned the cleaned kettle. There had been no reconciliation and the week-end had been a disaster in more ways than one.

Little Tommy was a beautiful, healthy five month old baby when we set sail for Egypt on the troopship, SS Windrush, and all our worldly goods fitted into one tea chest and one suitcase.

This was my first time on board a ship and it was all very exciting, we had a tiny cabin to ourselves and the food in the dining room was amazing. Well, it was a troop ship and probably not that marvellous, but after living through ten years of rationing and shortages I could not believe my eyes! Butter and Jam and Eggs. Wow!

The Windrush had been taken from the Germans after the war and was said to be a very unlucky ship. In peacetime it had been used to take high ranking Nazis and German Officers on holiday cruises. One night, just after dinner, all the electrics failed and I was in a panic. How could I find my way down to the cabin and find my baby in the dark? It seemed like ages before the lights came back on and I rushed below decks, never to let my precious baby out of my sight again. On a later voyage an explosion and fire in the engine room killed four crew members and the Windrush sank while being towed to port. Apart from the crew members who were killed in the explosion, there was no loss of life and this was attributed to the fact that the passengers were military personnel, or military related, and so well disciplined that nobody panicked; however, passengers and crew spent many terrifying hours in the water before being rescued.

We sailed into Port Said and I rushed up on deck, with Tommy, looking frantically for Tom among the servicemen coming on board to meet their wives. I waited on deck all night, but he never came. I did not know that Ismalia was many miles away and that there would be another journey by road the following day before I would see him. When we did meet I proudly placed our son in his arms and the bonding was instant and forever. Since Tom could not buy me roses, he brought me a box of Cadbury Roses Chocolates that had melted in the heat and were all congealed together, but the thought was nice.

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