Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Our Good Life In England

I started this some time ago and periodically added portions of text and pictures only to experience the computer magic that more mature (not old) folks encounter and subsequently lost about a dozen pages of our experiences and pictures never to be found again. This is another attempt at that story, the story means a great deal to me.

I was going through old photographs the other day and came across some that were taken during a vacation in Paris way back in April of 1961 and our happy years in England.
The pictures took me back in time (as almost everything does recently) to reflect on our life there and our rewarding life experiences preceding, during and after we lived in England.
We, my wife and friend, were (in our minds) mature, we were world travelers at the ripe old age of 25 and 26 respectively. We had the opportunity to do, see and experience things that were well beyond our means and economic status as young, Midwest kids that had never gone much beyond Kansas City and Wichita. Oh, Rosemary had ventured to Florida, Alabama and Texas with her parents and I had been a few places in my early Air Force career but we never had, as a married couple, tasted the world as we did then and subsequently.

My Best Friend Jim, His Wife Betty and Rosemary

Betty and Rose
The chronology is a bit fuzzy but this adventure started in 1960. It took us across the country from Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina Kansas to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. There we were processed for our soon to be new life in England, RAF Station Sculthorpe. We dropped our 1959 Pontiac Bonneville off at the port to be shipped to England and awaited a midnight adventure on an Air Force C-118 (DC-6). We had a one year old son who was the best traveler one could ever wish to have. We boarded the aircraft with rear facing seats and started a 24 hour adventure to RAF Station Mildenhall where we would claim our worldly possessions and meet the Family Services representative to embark on a trip North to our new home in North Norfolk County in the country known as England.

To further frame this adventure I must tell you that we had been up for a day and half and our young son had been the victim of projectile vomit from an obnoxious kid seated in back of us who kicked the seat back and yelled as his over weight Mom stuffed chocolate down his throat to keep him quiet. Of course that didn’t add to the pleasantness of the journey. My dear wife took Stu to the lavatory to scrub the stuff from his little body and change him into clean PJ’s. It was an agonizing flight and Rose held up like the trooper she was.

Well back to the chronology of the story- -We gathered our stuff, loaded it onto the van along with about three other families and Northward HO! Seems like it took forever and to exacerbate the already bad situation we had to endure an over- powering fragrance of Rosemary’s spilled bottle of Shalimar perfume, the lid came off while in the baggage hold and we didn’t know it until we were under way. Did I tell you that it was a bright sunny Easter Sunday morning when we arrived in Jolly ole England-- at least the sun made the arrival better. We pulled onto the base and dealt with the Family Services representative and were informed of our temporary living arrangements then boarded another van for another hour’s journey further North to Cromer By The Sea. We were accommodated in an old hotel in Cromer that had been purchased by the NCO Club and was contracted to house incoming personnel until they could find housing somewhere on the English economy. As we entered the drive we could tell it had been a stately place in it’s day. We thought well, this is going to be something very nice for a change. The van stopped and I gathered our stuff and we entered the hotel to register.

We were immediately greeted by the unmistakable smell of stale musty carpet, the remnants of years old oriental carpet. As I signed in I looked at the poor old floor covering and it had signs of years of visitors, it was thread bare. Behind us was a beautiful wide stairway that led to the second floor and we were invited to follow the clerk to the third floor to see our home for the next several months. As we reached the top of the stair way we went down a hall to another stairway that resembled a, a, a how can I describe it! It was a little wider than my shoulders and not wide enough to carry my B-4 bag any way except in front of me. We climbed to the top and were shown a small dark corner turret room and were cheerily told that this was our home. Rose was crestfallen and sat on the corner of the bed and fell silent. Not a good sign so I thought I would help by offering to unpack so we could make ourselves comfortable. I was sternly informed to not touch those bags and that she was going home.

She said she had to get out of there and left to I know not where. The weather was turning cloudy and it had started to rain--I looked out of the narrow window and saw her sitting on a fallen tree crying her heart out and thought what do I do now? I was afraid to make her angry or should I say more upset by inquiring about how she was so as any good courageous husband would do, I delayed. When I looked again she was gone--now I‘m really concerned. Here we are, in a strange country, thousands of miles from home, strangers to all and everything around us and then someone was pounding on the door. I opened it and it was Rose! She was full of determination and ordered me to follow her and bring the bags and that she had arranged for a different room and wondered why I had not done it earlier. Now I am relieved, I think she might stay. We moved the crib, baby and all and she started to unpack. The room was twice as big as our previously assigned nook and was considerably brighter. We had three big windows and could look out onto the North Sea--what a relief. I put several Shillings into the gas meter so I could light the heater and remove the chill and then we settled in. In retrospect we had a delightful stay for the next three months while searching for a suitable home on the economy. The hotel was old in every way, right down to assigned tables in the dining room and whiskey at the bar afterwords.

When considering that Rosemary entered into the hotel arrangement with a certain level of controlled rage and a near broken heart, I found it amusing that after three months there and on the eve of moving into a beautiful cottage by the sea that she would cry again but this time it was because we were leaving. I will never understand women. Then it was "On to our new abode"!
Rosemary and our new home

What a change a day can make. We now had an upscale English cottage that had once been a summer retreat for the president of the Black and White scotch company. It was furnished of course (in England a rental was always furnished even if only a chair, otherwise they could not evict the occupant) with nice furniture of the antique vintage and had big fire places in every room. We had four bedrooms with private baths, colored plumbing fixtures all of which were relatively modern. Then there was the kitchen, OH MY!!!, we had a small gas cooker (the oven would accommodate one small cooking pan) that required shillings in the meter box for the gas. Nickels worked OK you just had to buy them back when the meter man came around to collect the metered coins. We had a coke (a solid carbon residue from bituminous coal) hot water heater along with an electric immersion heater. The heated water also provided a small source of heat for the hall, living and dining area. We used coal for the main source of fireplace heat and kept it going through June. The solid brick and masonry structure absorbed enough heat to make the house quite comfortable and we nearly always had a pleasant fire while we watched BBC, British Tellie. Rosemary loved Coronation Street, a typical British soap.

Yes, we had arrived and were the proud occupants of a beach cottage (see the North Sea in the background) in one of the summer vacations spots in England. Great memories that will live forever in my heart. Rose was just 24 when we lived here. I was an old man of 26 and had been around Great Britain since I was 22 (Temporary duty at Greenham Common for four and a half months in 1956, during the Suez Canal war) and several other one month trips to pull nuclear alert tours) certainly a seasoned world traveler. All of this for 36 Pounds a month plus another 10 Pounds for a full time gardener (was required in the lease about $130.00) I think I received about $110.00-$120.00 a month for quarters as a First Lieutenant so it was a bargain. As you can see the gardener was worth every penny we paid. He always kept fresh blooming flowers through the entire growing season. The roses were in bloom through early December so there was always a good floral show. We had flowers in the front of the house and a manicured lawn in the back. The lawn went back to an apple orchard then a hops field after which was the North Sea. Sea spray splashed the house during stormy days and nights. A great experience.

1 comment:

  1. very pleased to see some reference to the Sculthorpe NCO Club's hotel in Cromer. My father was transferred to Sculthorpe from McGuire AFB in the summer of '59 and the family followed in Dec 59. When we first got there we stayed at the hotel for a short period of time until we obtained a rental house in Sheringham where we stayed for a few months. Suspect this was principally a rental for summer visitors because we then moved to a much larger rental home in East Runton where we stayed until about Oct '60 when we moved on base. Dad was in the 47th A & E Squadron (on the Electronics side). We were part of the mass gaggle that returned stateside in the summer of '62 when the base closed for all practical purposes. I graduated from Lakenheath HS in 1962, in the second graduating class at that school. Nothing but fond memories of my time in England and a good part of them were from the time we lived on the economy.