Wild geese bring pleasure; the death and funeral of a beloved King bring sadness.
Gran often mentions a flock of Golden Plover, regularly seen near Eastleigh Airport during the winter, for instance, on January 6th 1952, when she notes that Barry saw a small flock on a field of plough there:
…which he saw from the coach on his way to a cross-country race. Incidentally, as a result of his performance in this race, when he ran 10th, and was a member of the winning team, he has been selected as first reserve for the County, and is almost certain to run for Hampshire at York in a fortnight’s time.
Clearly he does run at York, although we get no news of the result, because on the 20th Gran writes:
Barry came home just after six o’clock, having missed the last night-train from London, since the train from York, where he had run in his first race in which he was one of the Hampshire team, was three quarters of an hour late. He had run home from Eastleigh and said that it was very cold and the roads icy in places.
Indeed, the roads had been particularly treacherous with icy patches around this time, highways apparently not being salted in those days. Dad, on the 18th, fell off his bike on icy Fryern Hill.
Earlier, on the 8th, she gives a detailed and amusing account of courting Grey Squirrels, saying that as she “stood and stared”, she was “rewarded with the most interesting entertainment”:
…there were three gallants seeking the favour of one demure lady, who sat throughout the rivals’ antagonistic bouts with complete calm and apparent indifference. She was on the extreme end of a branch of a tall oak tree, and I was first attracted by the unmistakable scolding of a Grey Squirrel. When I first looked up into the tree there was a Squirrel with her and it was he who was chattering, his tail waving furiously up and down all the while. She, in contrast, was sitting motionless, her tail curled up over her back in characteristic manner, and they were facing one another. But as I watched, two others, presumably males, began to stealthily creep towards them from different directions. Suddenly the courting one was aware of them and turned on them like a small fury, swearing profusely and chased first one and then the other, round and round the trunk until they were far removed from the object of his affections… and then returned to her and appeared to be feeding her.
This routine happened several times, Gran being amazed by the speed and agility with which the Squirrels rushed about, never once slipping, and the victor returning each time to “his lady”, and feeding her, although, Gran says, “not once did she move or make any demonstration towards him, though accepting what he offered”.
The month of January passes with little of particular note; Gran works almost daily in the Park Road Garden, digging and clearing a large gooseberry bed, and working in the greenhouse there; she records the rare event of a Hawfinch in the Garden; the ice is “bearing” on the Cranbury Park Lake towards the end of the month, much to Jane’s excitement, and Gran’s beloved Green Hellebores are flowering at Compton. On the last day of the month though, she enthuses, “I achieved one of my ambitions – I have seen wild geese in numbers!”
She and Barry travel by bus to Ringwood, in the hope of finding wintering White-fronted Geese but they are initially worried that their quest will fail and their day be ruined:
…as the sound of shooting immediately assailed our ears and we saw, along the Avon, numerous supposed “sportsmen” lurking about the reedbeds with guns.
They make their way to another part of the river, gaining their best ever views of a perched Kingfisher and seeing innumerable wildfowl, including Shoveler and Wigeon, from a position to which they crawl through a fence and behind a hedge.
We were intent on observing all these delightful birds when we heard a shout behind us and there were those obnoxious “sportsmen” again, trying to move us on and creep up themselves upon “our” birds. We stood up at this, and I was delighted to see that by so doing we flushed the duck before the guns could be used, so they escaped. When Barry asked one man what they were after, he said, “Anything except hen Pheasants!” and told us they had earlier seen about one hundred and eighty geese! Not only had they spoilt our chances of seeing them but they actually had the impudence to tell us to creep back to Ringwood under the hedge! Barry told them we were going the other way, which annoyed them…
Given the disturbance and consequent unlikelihood of finding the geese, Gran and Dad decide to make their way home, but:
Suddenly Barry lifted his glasses and cried out, “There are your geese, Mum!” and, sure enough, there they were, flying over in great skeins, about two hundred of them.
Gran is thrilled by the sight and evocative sound of her first White-fronts and she and Dad, by crawling on hands and knees again, later get close views of the flock feeding on the ground, until the birds are flushed by a man cutting reeds on the opposite bank of the River Avon.
For me, I find this mother and son adventure together uplifting and moving – a shared experience shortly before Dad is to leave home, and one of many for Gran, which involved crawling on all fours, negotiating fences and skulking behind bushes – something I remember her doing, well into her eighties, if there was a flower or bird-related goal to be achieved!
Gran expands her knowledge a little on February 5th, attending a Southampton Natural History Society lecture:
…and though I am no geologist and know little of the seashore in general, I thoroughly enjoyed a most interesting lecture on this subject. I have spent little time on the shore, apart from bird-watching occasionally, since I am first and foremost, a lover of the countryside, the downlands, forests, mountains, rivers and farmlands, and the seaside as such, holds little appeal for me. Now I feel it offers great scope for interesting study but I also feel that I have more than enough to digest in the branches that already claim my attention.
“Curious”, Dad muses on reading this, “how Gran, the daughter of a sailor, never really liked the sea. Perhaps in the background of her mind was that her father had been torpedoed – the Cruel Sea”.
Events on the following day, February 6th, cause Gran to write many pages, her words giving a deep insight into her character and perhaps the characters of many people in this post-war period – one of pride in England, her people and The Commonwealth, belief in God and loyalty to the Royal Family. She starts:
A grey, chill day, and overshadowed above all else by the announcement of the death of our much-loved and honoured King, peacefully in his sleep, early this morning. Our thought and prayers go out to his dear ones, to whom we are unable to express the sympathy we feel, but we shall ever remember with admiration and affection this man, who, by his selfless devotion and exemplary behaviour, has left an example to his people, to whom he was so real a friend, of which all may be justly proud. And, whilst mourning the passing of our King, we offer our loyal affection and allegiance to his daughter, now our Queen Elizabeth II, under whose guidance we pray that this dear old England may prosper as she did under the rule of that other Elizabeth so long ago.
And the next day:
The early evening brought the reassuring news that our new Queen Elizabeth had arrived safely from Africa, from whence she was, perforce, obliged to return before completing her tour. May God give her strength and support her in her arduous task which lies before her, a task to which I feel sure she will prove capable and will be helped by the unfailing loyalty of millions of her subjects.
And on the 8th:
This has been a somewhat overwhelming day, the wireless bringing very close to us the pathos and pageantry of London’s proclamation of the Queen’s accession, and the other fitting programmes of music and spoken tributes to our late King adding to the sense of desolation and loss which is never long absent from my own personal feelings.
And two days later:
Barry, Jock and I went to Evensong at Compton, where there was a special service for our beloved King. It was extremely moving, Mr Burdett speaking beautifully of him and saying that his Christian life was an example to all and that he had fulfilled all that God expects of Man, “to do his duty, to be kind and to walk humbly with his God”.
As usual, Gran has been feeding birds in the garden, recently hanging up in a tree, the carcass of that un-ordered Christmas turkey, attracting tits in particular. On this subject, before returning to that of King George VI’s death, she writes on the morning of February 13th:
The Chaffinches were most insistent, and nothing satisfies them except cheese. No wonder the ration does not seem to go very far! I went to work this afternoon chiefly because I wanted to see my employer about working on Friday morning instead of the afternoon, as I want to be at home for the two minutes’ silence in memory of our King.
King George’s funeral takes place on the 15th. “This”, says Gran:
…has been a wonderful day, though one of deep mourning for a beloved monarch, but the loyalty and affection in town and village alike stirred me to the depths. Our own postman, once a sailor in His Majesty’s navy, gave me first-hand evidence of this loyalty and affection as I met him at he gate this morning. Somehow we spoke of the King’s funeral today and I asked the postman if he had ever seen the King. The sight of his face was something to remember! “I served in the Vanguard when the King went to Australia”, he said proudly, “and I have talked to him and to the Queen Mother.” He told me how his wife had impressed upon him to notice all the details of the Queen’s dress, but how he could not take his eyes off her face, for her gracious personality held his attention completely.
And he spoke of the King, and said how he made him feel he was a fellow human being and not someone far above him, of the fun the had “crossing the line”, when they were allowed to take photographs, and many other little personal memories. The postman had also served in one of the escort ships when the King went to Canada, and had been among the naval men who lined the streets of London for the Coronation. There were tears in his eyes as he said what a good man the King had been and he smiled a little when I said we were a sentimental people really, in spite of our fighting spirit, and I told him that anyway, we need not be ashamed of it since we were all alike.
Soon after this, Gran listens to the broadcast description on the wireless of the funeral procession as it left Westminster Hall, and she describes the measured tread of those walking before and behind the gun-carriage, the clip-clop of horses hooves and the deep martial music of Handel, Beethoven and Chopin played by the various bands. The beaten drums are muffled, Big Ben is tolled by hand – once each minute for each year of the King’s life – and there is a salute of guns in Hyde Park. Gran says she “weeps unashamedly for my King, my heart overflowing with sympathy for the new Queen, so young and so beautiful, the very embodiment of the best of British youth….
And later in the day she:
…listened again to the wireless, this time broadcasting the funeral procession from Windsor station to the chapel…my emotions became quite out of control when the bosuns of H.M.S. Vanguard “piped” their Admiral ashore for the last time and the silence which followed was broken only by the tolling of the Sebastopol Bell, heard only at the burial of a British monarch, from the Round Tower.
And finally, on a day when, owing to the wet weather, she is disappointed not to be able to make a visit to her favourite Snowdrop site at Hursley, she writes:
I have, however, something which I think is well worth recording in my book of beautiful things to remember. It is a letter which friends of mine received from a Swiss girl from Zurich who stayed with them for a time, and I quote it verbatim…
“My today’s letter won’t be very long, for I would only tell you about my very deep sympathy I feel for the Royal family. Not only me but everybody to whom I speak cannot believe it and we all feel with them.
You know how much I am fond of the Royal Family and so I express to you as representatives of the English peoples my sincere sympathy. I can of course, not write to your Royal Family my letter wouldn’t probably arrive there, but at least I can tell you what I feel and that is the main thing. Believe me, when the speaker on our radio announced this sad news on Wednesday noon, I started really crying and with me my mummy too. Dad was very much impressed by this unexpected death.
You know the Royal Family is also in Switzerland very much popular. We are sure that Elizabeth and Philip will be of the same kindness as their parents and they will be a fine Royal couple. I still admire Elizabeth and I am ever so interested in her live. I think she is a wonderful woman and will be a good Queen. God bless her and her family.
There is fortunately Mr Churchill who will be of a great help to the new Queen and that is good.
We are happy that Mr Churchill has become Prime Minister again, you can be sure of it. We all hope he may live yet a very long time.”
The sincerity of this tribute more than compensates for the quaintness of expression in places and it does one’s heart good to know that our late beloved King was reverenced in other countries also.
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 33)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 34)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 35)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 36)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 37)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 38)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 39)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 40)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 41)