First Meeting

By Kath

I didn’t meet my father until I was two and three quarters. This wasn’t because of some interesting family drama but because I was born during the war when such experiences were common place.   He had been sent to Kenya shortly before this event and in the diary he wrote regularly throughout the years he spent there he recorded his activities on the day of my birth;

‘After a spot of drill in the morning – we spent the afternoon being issued with extra kit – bush hats – bush jackets  and a second pair of shorts – this last in my case being noted for length and shape.  They would suit a young elephant who wasn’t too fussy about his appearance. This effort was too much for us.  We had a quiet evening in the canteen and had another early night.’

He did not receive the telegram telling him of my birth until exactly a month later on March 11th.  It said ‘DAUGHTER BORN ANXIETY UNECCESSARY’, a proposition that, sadly, I have not been able to live up to since.   His diary records that the next day he sent me a telegram congratulating me on my choice of parents.   The rest of his war passed peacefully and seems to have involved quite a lot of tennis, occasional visits to Mombasa and, on one occasion, an expedition to the Congo.  He always said that the closest he came to combat in the Second World War was having his hair cut by an Italian barber.

So for the first two and three quarter years of my life ‘Daddy’ was a person I only saw in the tiny black and white photographs of the time and who wrote me letters scattered with little drawings of the animals and birds he saw about him.  He eventually returned home on the 30th November 1945 and my mother and I went to meet him at Birmingham Station.  I remember parts of this day quite clearly.  I remember getting dressed in my grey pleated skirt, my red jumper, white socks and black shoes with buckles.  Then I remember being at the station holding my mother’s hand and seeing a large number of men, all wearing uniforms and tropical hats pouring off the train.  I remember my mother’s hand tightening on mine as we tried to spot him amongst the melee and then her saying,’ There he is’, and looking up what seemed to me a long flight of stairs, although later she told me it was only five steps high.  There I remember, with equal clarity, my father standing in those tropical shorts holding a large banana leaf in his hand.  This of course cannot be what happened but it is the image on one of the photographs he had sent us.  It must have been what I expected to see and that is what I remember.

I don’t remember anything else about this happy event but apparently I was delighted to have my father home and followed him around like a little shadow in wondering admiration.  Only one thing was different about him from the photographs.  On the passage home he had grown a moustache.    This led to my causing first consternation and then amusement at a social gathering when I asked, loudly and clearly, during a lull in the general conversation, ‘But when is my other Daddy coming home?’

Read more about Kath


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