Coming Soon July 2021
I did not know my father very well, I knew I was the apple of his eye and I knew in his own way he loved me with all his heart. I guess my father never really knew what love was or how to show this. Mum and dad divorced when I was four years old. I saw my father when he babysat while Mum was working or when he tagged along on my Mum’s planned outings with the family. Although I was a lot closer to my father than my mum, there was so much no one spoke about and remained a mystery. In 2009 when he passed away this started to change. Being the eldest child I was left to clear out his belongings from the rest home he had been living in the past few years. I found a book he had written and never published. This book was called “Johnathan.”
While reading the book I learned that “Johnathan,” was the character of my Father. This was his whole life story till the age of 16. The mystery of my father unraveled as I learned of his struggles growing up and why he found it so hard to express his love.
The story starts in Yorkshire, England in the 1940s. At the age of four, his father, a Navy officer, was called to fight as World War Two broke out, leaving my father in their mother's care, his older brother was moved off to boarding school. One night, the famous Barton Docks were bombed, including the house, they lived in, and they were lucky to be pulled out alive! My father and his Mother moved to Manchester to live with his Aunty, time past and his mother became more and more unwell, she was admitted to hospital for the foreseeable future. This left his elderly Aunty and Uncle to look after him. When his Uncle got sick and required more care the Aunty could no longer look after my father and sent him to a place called “Oxley Hall.” A Lord and Lady lived here and helped out families of Naval officers in need. It was not long before events beyond my father's control meant he was kicked out and moved on again. My father was now moved halfway across England to a place he referred to as “The Institute.” My father, it seemed, had nowhere to call home. He suffered from loneliness and felt he didn’t belong anywhere at the tender age of just 14. The “Institute” was a strict old-fashioned boy home, which my father described as prison! No one was allowed to leave the isolated country premises unless they had a visitor or went home for the holidays. My father never received any visitors and had nowhere to go in the holidays he, was stuck there! Until one day he decided to change that…
This is the story of a boy, living in England during the period of the second world war. It is not a war story, but the war has a strong influence on the life of the boy. As we progress through the story, we share in his life, and as we do so we share his worries, his hopes, his fears, and his frustrations.
We share the effects that the war has on his life and the community in which he lives. We share, also, his search and longing for that which many take for granted, but which is denied Johnathan; the search for security and love.
My name is Johnathan- Johnathan Miller. My friends call me Johnathan. It’s not John or Johnny or anything like that. Nope! I was christened Johnathan and I reckon that if my parents wanted me to be called by any other name they would have given me another name, eh? So, Johnathan, it is.
I’ll start my story with the beginning of the war, World War two that is, cause that’s when things really started to happen, I reckon. Er, check me if I begin to waffle on a bit, won’t you? I like talking and I tend to digress a bit at times.
Well, at the time I was just less than five years old, and I was not yet going to school. Just a wee fellow, yes. I remember the day the war started quite clearly, almost every detail. I guess it must have stuck in my mind!
We lived on the outskirts of Huddersfield at the time. (That’s a large town in Yorkshire, England.) I was in the garden, I remember, at the time. I was playing with a caterpillar that was crawling on a nasturtium leaf, actually. Mum was talking to our neighbor, Mrs. Truckle, over the garden fence. Suddenly the whole air seemed to be filled with a mighty wailing noise. A heck of a racket it was, I can tell you! Well, I didn’t know what the heck it was! I looked up at Mum and she and Mrs. Truckle were just looking at each other. Then Dad, who was home from work for some reason or other, came running out of the house like a mad thing and shouted,
“It’s happened- the Germans have invaded Polland! We’re at war!”
Well, I don’t suppose that I understood what was happening at all. I was still crouching down with my caterpillar crawling over my hand! I doubt if I’d ever heard of the Germans and not much of war, except what I had been told from my older brother, or from books- and kids' books tended not to mention much like that in those days.
Anyway, Mum called me over to her and I guessed that something was wrong. Mrs. Truckle left and went inside her house. I still had the caterpillar crawling on my hand when I went to Mum, so I showed it to her.
“Look, Mum,” I said.
“Yes, dear,” says Mum, and she brushed it off my hand and took me indoors. Dad was, by then, pacing around in the kitchen, and I could feel that something was wrong.
“I’ll make a cuppa,” says Dad, and that always meant trouble cause Dad never made a cup of tea, or anything else, unless there was trouble! I began to wonder what I’d done, for any trouble was normally my making!
Anyway, I sat quietly on a kitchen stool, not daring to say a word. Dad made the tea, and Mum set the cups and saucers out. There were three cups, so that meant that I was to be allowed one too! That was a privilege not normally extended to me if I was in trouble. So I began to think that maybe I was not in trouble after all!
The tea was poured, and still no word was spoken. I decided to test my luck a bit. I asked if I could have a biscuit, and blow me! I was given two–of my favorite ones–homemade ginger biscuits!! That was a treat! Things must be all right, for me! But I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t silly; you know. But what was wrong?
After a while Dad said,
“It was on the wireless – they’ve invaded Poland and so we’ve declared war. We’re in it like it or not!”
I was beginning to get some of the picture.
“What’s going to happen, then?” Mum asked. That was just what I was going to ask too!
Dad just shrugged his shoulders, and then he said,
“I’ll have to go! They’ll need me.”
Mum just nodded her head and looked at me. I was still a bit confused, so I said nothing. There was another long silence, and I waited to see what was going to happen next. I was trying to figure things out in my little mind, but was still very confused.
Then the unexpected happened. The door opened suddenly, nearly making us jump out of our skins! In rushed my older brother, Philip, looking very excited.
“There’s a war on!” He said excitedly.
“And they sent us home early from school! There’s going to be fighting and guns and that!”
“Yes dear, we know, we heard it on the wireless,” Mum told him.
“But it won’t be here. It’ll be abroad.”
“We hope!” Dad said, “We hope!”
There was another silence, and I tried to think this over, trying to understand. I suppose that I was a little disappointed that the war was not going to be where I could see it. Eventually, I had to ask questions; I had to find out a bit more.
“Is there going to be guns and soldiers and stuff?” I asked.
Actually, I think I was beginning to feel quite excited at the prospect of war and all that. I don’t know what I thought it would be like, though.
“Yes, silly!” Philip told me in his big brother voice.
“That’s what war is!”
I hated it when he put on his big brother act, but he was nine years old!
“Well, we hope it’s not going to be in this country,” Dad corrected him.
“The war is in Europe and we have to make sure it doesn’t come here!”
Philip and I were quiet for a while then and Dad looked at Mum and said,
“I’ll go to join up tomorrow, in the Navy of course.”
Dad had served in the Royal Navy in the 194-18 war, as a Midshipman and then as a Sub-Lieutenant. Mum made no reply but quietly cleared away the tea things. We boys went outside to play in the garden.
I asked Philip, “Is Dad going to go away and fight in the war?”
“I suppose so,” he answered.
I was still pretty confused about it all and I asked again,
“And will he come back again, then?”
“Of course he will!” My big brother assured me.
I just smiled. I was glad that Dad was going to be all right. I decided to go back down to the flowers again to look for my caterpillar, but I couldn’t find it anywhere and I was a bit disappointed at that. I remember I did find a red ladybird with black spots on it! I guess that was some consolation.
A few days later, Dad arrived home with a large box containing his Naval clothing. He had been accepted as a Lieutenant in the R.N.V.R. Mum and we boys were keen to see him in his uniform, so we managed, without much difficulty, I might add, to persuade him to put it on for us to see. So he went off to his bedroom to change, and we all waited eagerly for him to return.
While we were waiting, Mrs. Truckle from next door arrived. She said she wanted to borrow some sugar or something. Anyway, Mum invited her to stay to see Dad in his uniform. She said something about her Jim enlisting in the Army and they were waiting to hear from them. So, when Dad came back, he had an extra person in his audience.
Dad did look smart in his uniform, resplendent with the two gold rings on the sleeves. Everyone remarked on how smart he looked and I felt very proud.
It was about a week later when Dad had to leave. Philip was allowed to stay home from school to see him off. So all the family was together on the day of his departure. We boys spent the morning quietly playing with our toys in the living room. Everyone was rather subdued as we awaited the time for his departure. Even I wasn’t my normal raucous self! I think I was paying quietly with my toy cars.
The taxi arrived shortly after lunch to take Dad off to the railway station. When it arrived, Dad’s bags were loaded into the taxi and he quickly, but fondly, said “Goodbye” to us all. He cautioned us, boys, to be good for Mum and to look after her, and we promised we would. Then Dad turned away and left in the taxi.
I could tell that Mum was a bit upset as the taxi drew away. I was feeling a bit sad, too. I took hold of Mum’s hand and gave it a squeeze. I told her not to worry, we would look after her- and I am sure I meant it too! Mum squeezed my hand and we returned to the house.
It was really quiet in the house after Dad had left. I guess we were all a bit sad at the prospect of not having him around for a while.
I asked, “Will he come back soon?” and Mum smiled, a bit sadly as I thought.
“We don’t know how long he’ll be away,” she said.
“But maybe it won’t be too long.”
I was rather nervous about Dad. He was pretty strict with us, but I didn’t want him to be away too long all the same!
“Dad has to fight in the war!” Philip said in his know-all way.
“I know that!” I said. “But I was just wondering.”
Mum put her arm around me and gave me a squeeze.
“We’ll be all right!” She said.
But I was not too sure. I nodded in agreement, but I had a funny feeling about it all.
Philip wanted to go outside and called me to come with him, but I didn’t feel like it just then, so he went off on his own. Mum went into the living room. I suppose she wanted a bit of peace and quiet, but there were things I didn’t understand, so I followed her.
I asked her, “Mum, why does Dad have to go?”
“Well, because he’s needed for king and country,” Mum tried to explain.
“Aren’t you proud of him?” She asked.
Of course, I was proud of him, but I didn’t really understand.
“But why Dad?” I asked.
“All able-bodied men have to go,” Mum tried to explain to me.
“Even Mr. Truckle next door?” I asked.
Mum was being very patient with me.
“Yes, even Mr. Truckle,” she answered.
“Now why don’t you go out to play for a while?”
I was still puzzled and worried. There seemed to be so many questions, so many things I didn’t quite understand – I guess what I really needed was reassurance. Mr. Truckle was a trolly bus driver, and it worried me that he would have to go away too.
“But who’s going to drive the trolly buses when Mr. Truckle is away?” I asked Mum.
“Oh! I expect they will find an older man to do it, or someone who is not fit enough to fight in the war,” she tried to explain to me.
I could tell that she was rapidly becoming more exasperated with me by then, and the trolly buses must have been the least of her concerns at the time, but for some reason, these were all important issues to me.
“Why don’t you go outside and play or something?” She growled at me.
I could tell she was beginning to get rather cross, so I conceded and quietly went outside.
I still felt worried about things; my little mind just did not seem able to grasp everything. I guess that I was just one confused little kid! Still, we still had Mum, and she would look after us. Mum was good. She was kind and gave us hugs when we needed them, and that was always good. Even little boys need hugs, you know!
Elise and Richard Brooke