FRANK COLLINS - HIS MEMOIRS
My earliest memories are of Winnersh Farm, between Reading and Wokingham, where I was born. This was a dairy farm run by mother's parents, Charles & Fanny Potter, her brothers and sisters and a number of outside casual employees. Milk was delivered direct from the farm, in churns, by a number of ponies and traps where it was ladled out into customers' jugs on the doorstep. The M4 motorway now runs straight through the middle of where this farm used to be.
At haymaking time all the family were involved and when I was about eight I used to clamber up onto the cart to help stack the sheaves that were thrown up by the men down below. I was then allowed to ride back to the barn astride one of the horses.
Bertha, my mother, was one of thirteen children, ten boys and three girls. Nine of the boys were involved in the Great War of 1914/18 and only one returned unscathed - the rest being killed or seriously injured, often mentally and physically. So great was the loss to this family that a special telegram was received from Buckingham Palace.
My father Cecil's parents lived at Fleet in Hampshire. We know for certain that he had one sister but the other children were of dubious descent as his mother brought up, for money, a number of children who were born to ladies who should not have had them! Granny Collins was quite a character and very tough. Grandpa Collins was a coachman and very placid.
My father was apprenticed to a joinery firm but gave up his job to join the army in 1916 - having said he was older than he actually was. He was a member of the Machine Gun Corps and although he was involved in some of the bloodiest battles in France he came home without a scratch.
My parents were married on the 15th April 1922 and I was born on the 19th March 1923. I was named in memory of my mother's brother who was lost at sea, together with Lord Kitchener, on HMS Hampshire under very odd circumstances off the Orkneys. My sister Joan was born two year's later on the 13th March 1925.
For a few years we continued to live at the farm but eventually things began to go wrong, possibly due to the ravages the war had inflicted, so we moved to our own bungalow a short distance away, Elm Cot. The farm was then taken over by an ex-army officer who had a son, Peter, with whom I became friendly and was consequently allowed to re-visit the farm frequently, which I enjoyed. Peter joined the RAF as aircrew in the 1939/45 war and was lost, presumed killed, in a raid over Germany.
I have fond memories of living at Elm Cot. Although this was the time of the economic depression my father was fortunate to have a good regular job as a foreman shopfitter and the family felt secure and happy. His firm was in Reading and when he was not away working I used to walk some distance to meet him and then have a ride home on the tank of his motorcycle. We kept ferrets and a dog. My father had a twelve bore shotgun and at the weekends he would take me, together with the ferrets and the dog, to shoot rabbits on the farm.
My sister Joan was not a normal child and after my parents had tried various private schools for her I was landed with having to take her on the bar of my small bicycle to the local council school - a distance of about three miles each way. Even in those days this was pretty unusual and the other children would mock and jeer at this spectacle which resulted in some horrific fights in the middle of the road!
On the credit side we used to go away camping as a family on a motorcycle and sidecar, (combination), mostly to Hayling Island. During the school summer holidays we would often join my father in other parts of the country. On one occasion we camped on a farm just south of Shrewsbury and on another occasion we joined him in 'digs' in Liverpool.
Upon returning from one of the trips to Liverpool I was found to have diphtheria - allegedly from kissing the landlady's daughter! In those days this was an extremely serious illness and I still vividly remember my bumpy journey in an ambulance from Winnersh to an isolation hospital in Maidenhead. My parents were very distressed and at weekends would come and just look at me through a closed glass window. I was in hospital for about two months.
Soon after I returned from hospital we left Elm Cot and bought another bungalow, named Rose Cottage, at Three Mile Cross, just south of Reading.
I went to Grazeley council school and in 1934 joined the school football team and played what was known in those days as the left half back position.
Rose Cottage had a large garden with a spinney at the end. We kept chickens, goats and pigs - had a fruit orchard and a large area where we grew vegetables. We were largely self-supporting. Our first car was a Singer 8 and this was used not only to transport the family but the animals as well!
It was here that, at the age of eleven, I learned to smoke. I used to buy five Will's Woodbines for two and a half old pence and take them up into the spinney. Any that were unconsumed were wrapped and hidden in a rabbit hole. Inevitably they became so damp that they were un-smokeable as there were no plastic bags in those days!
Come to think of it there were many other things that were unavailable. There were no televisions, videos, computers, washing machines, dishwashers, electric blankets, credit cards or ball point pens and the atom was still in one piece. Everywhere also seemed very much colder as very few houses had central heating.
The bungalow was small and as Joan and I grew up we desperately needed more space. Eventually, due to a legacy of £40 left by one of mother's aunts, we were able to add an extra bedroom, a bathroom and an extension to the kitchen - my father doing most of the work in his spare time. So far as I can remember there was never any piped hot water into either the bathroom or the kitchen!
I was said to be quite good at school, so it came as a bit of a shock to my parents when I failed my entrance examination for the local grammar school. After much debate I was accepted as a fee paying day pupil at Reading Collegiate School which purported to provide 'a sound commercial education for boys'. There were about as many boarders as there were day boys. The emphasis on commerce proved to be invaluable to me throughout much of my life and from my reports, which I still possess, I did quite well. The only things I didn't like were the half an hours drill before lessons every morning, which was conducted by an ex-sergeant major from the Grenadier Guards, and having to go to school on a Saturday morning. I used to get to school on my bicycle - a round trip of about seven miles, much of the journey through the busy Reading streets.
My mother and father were quite religious. They had little time for Roman Catholics or what they described as the 'high' church and their interests were centred around the non-conformist evangelical community. This resulted in us attending, as a family, a mission hall called the Mitford Hall - connected with Mary Mitford who wrote a book about Three Mile Cross called Our Village. The minister was an insignificant, nervous little man and the organist was his rather large domineering wife. This lady, not surprisingly, had lost the use of her legs which meant that she was unable to manipulate the pedal that supplied wind to the organ, so a large wooden lever was fitted which protruded from the side of the instrument enabling the bellows to be pumped by someone sitting at the side. Usually the pumping was done by the village idiot, who, much to my amusement would nod off during the sermon and then fail to provide the organ with its vital initial puffs in order that the minister's wife could strike up the opening notes of the last hymn. This was real life - much better than television!
At the age of fifteen I was given the choice of taking a job offered by one of my Mother's past employers or staying on at school. Initially my parents tried to make the choice for me but eventually it was left for me to decide and I opted to take the job.
I worked as a junior clerk for wholesale meat importers alongside the river Thames in Reading. The firm were agents for two South American companies, Armour and Sansenina, who were shipping chilled, (as opposed to frozen), beef into the UK via Avonmouth.
Our depot opened at 4 am, Monday to Friday, when 'pitching' of the meat from lorries arriving from Avonmouth would commence - hind quarters into one side of the depot and fore quarters into the other. By about 5.30 am the depot would be full and the porters would stop for breakfast. At 6 am I was due to arrive and would take up my position, winter and summer, on the pavement between the two sides of the depot with a large sales ledger perched on top of a rickety old desk in order to record the sales to the various butchers.
Thinking back the whole picture must have taken on a Dickensian look, especially in the dark and frosty winter months when I had difficulty in holding my pen, let alone writing with it! Added to this there was the problem of trying to hear sales details being shouted at me from both sides of the depot at once and recording them quickly and accurately in the ledger. The sales were so fast and furious that by 10 am both sides of the depot had been cleared out and now came the revealing task of seeing if what had gone out tallied with what had come in!
Once this had been agreed I would have a short break before climbing the stairs to the offices above the depot in order to dictate the sales details from my ledger to a senior female clerk who would enter them into hers - priced, extended and written by hand on to an invoice and then a statement. This continued until about 2 pm when I would ride the three miles back home on my bicycle.
The routine was the same, day after day, winter and summer. Occasionally, when it was exceptionally cold, my father would get up and take me in the car and I would then catch the bus home. There were many occasions when I realised that I had made the wrong decision and should have stayed at school to finish my education.
In 1939, when I was sixteen, we found ourselves at war with Germany again. My parents, who had seen the repercussions of the previous war only 21 years earlier were devastated and now, having two sons of my own, I can well understand their feelings of despair. Three years earlier, on our way home from the Mitford Hall on a Sunday evening, we watched the glow in the sky as the Crystal Palace burned down. My parents regarded this as very ominous.
I continued to work at the meat depot, being made a temporary civil servant with the grand title of Trade Supervisor until 1941 when I joined the RAF at the age of 18. Although I was in a reserved occupation I actually volunteered to join up, preferring to have some choice in the matter rather then be 'drafted'.
Many of my contemporaries who joined the RAF at the same time did not survive the war. Most of them were accepted as aircrew but, much to my disappointment, I was not accepted due to childhood damage to my eardrums with scarlet fever - so they decided to train me as a Wireless Operator!
My initial training was at Blackpool followed by a longer period at a Radio School in Wiltshire, Compton Basset. Apart from the technical training I found that I had a natural aptitude to send and receive morse code at quite high speeds. Later in the war, when I was broadcasting five figure weather reports to the airfields from 83 Group headquarters, I could not only make the transmission sound mechanical but my mind would wander off on to all sorts of other subjects without any adverse effect on the morse! More about that later otherwise I will have omitted the most important event of my life.
During the summer of 1942, when I was in Blackpool, a group of us used to go dancing in the Tower Ballroom. Finding the right partner was not all that easy as most of the girls were either in WAAF or ATS uniforms and as they all looked roughly the same on the outside it was hard to tell what was underneath! However, there was one particular girl in ATS, (Auxiliary Territorial Service), uniform who took my eye because she was not only very pretty but she was much smarter than most of the others. I cannot say that it was love at first sight but she was a very good dancing partner and we appeared to get on very well together although our backgrounds could hardly have been more different. I had been brought up in a rural area with a very close family whereas she had been brought up in the city with her mother having to go out to work as her father had died when she was very young. Her name was Barbara Hailstone.
In August of that same year I was moved down to Compton Basset and a few weeks later Barbara was moved to Hastings. I believe we both felt that our relationship might end there but we continued to correspond.
I left Compton Basset at the end of 1942 having successfully completed both my Wireless Operator's course and an additional Direction Finding course. My first posting was to an airfield near Swansea as a D/F operator. Aircraft would call me up in morse asking for their 'magnetic course to steer with zero wind to reach me' (Int QDM?). At times it seemed that aircraft were coming at me from all directions at once and it would have been all too easy to give them a reciprocal, sending them off in the opposite direction, which was a courts martial offence! To my intense relief this nightmare lasted only a few months and in April 1943 I was posted to Chigwell in Essex where Mobile Signal Units were being formed in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.
By May 1943 my unit had joined 83 Group Headquarters, Second Tactical Air Force, down at Gatton Park near Reigate and as Barbara was still in Hastings we were able to meet. A month later we both managed to get leave at the same time, (a near miracle!), and on the train going to meet Barbara's Mother, who was now living in Chesham, we decided to get engaged. We were married on the 6th November 1943 at St Mary's Church in Castle Street Reading.
There followed a short honeymoon in Torquay before returning to our respective units. Barbara had by this time been posted to Datchet near Windsor but I remained in Reigate to continue vigorous training for the D-Day landings. Fortunately we were not too far away from each other at this time and we were therefore able to meet occasionally - albeit for very short periods.
The Mobile Signals Unit to which I was attached consisted of about a dozen vehicles most of which carried the communications equipment, the remainder carrying things like the traffic office, a generator, codes & cyphers, numerous stores and spare parts and, of course, a mobile cookhouse. The personnel were mostly wireless operators but in addition to that we had wireless mechanics, codes & cyphers operators, transport mechanics, a warrant officer who was responsible for discipline (!) and a completely useless commanding officer who frequently got us lost because he could not read a map! Some of those who were with us would later become well known show business personalities - Eric Sykes, Dennis Norden and Bill Fraser.
When our units were initially formed we carried two transmitters in a 3-ton truck and towed two matching receivers in a trailer at the rear. The transmitters were extremely heavy and required huge valves to operate them. As the war progressed the transmitters and receivers were carried quite separately and we also, at that time, swapped our antiquated British equipment for more modern RCA equipment from America. Having established that all our technical equipment was working satisfactorily then began the task of 'waterproofing' the vehicles in preparation for a wet landing on the French coast. A visit to Salisbury Plain dealt with the modification of both the engine air-intake and the exhaust system - various other parts of the engine being encased in what appeared to be a type of plastascine. This done we then went off to a reservoir at Hampton Court to practice putting the vehicles in and out of six feet of water.
In the spring of 1944 we moved from Reigate down to Purbrook, between Waterlooville and Portsmouth. Our 'sister' unit, identical to us, was also with us and there was considerable integration with regard to the management of the frequencies and the formal handing back and forth procedures.
In late May our sister unit went off on, what was by then, yet another routine practice exercise onto a landing ship in Tilbury docks. We next heard from them early in the morning of the 6th June from the other side of the English Channel - they had landed on the Normandy beaches!! They had crossed the channel in an LST (Landing Ship Tank) - quite a large vessel- but a few days later we went across on a small LCT (Landing Craft Tank) which was very unstable but had the advantage of being able to discharge us into about three feet of water rather then the customary six. We had landed at Arromanches with very light casualties in terms of both personnel and equipment and soon met up with our sister unit a few miles inland at Creuilly where we were able to take over the frequencies which they had operated so successfully since early on D-Day.
Our communications were with Air Ministry in London, HQ Second Tactical Air Force, HQ Fighter Command and the airfields within our Group. With the exception of the 'met' traffic to our airfields, which was the current and expected weather in five figure groups, all our communications were encoded through a Type-X machine and transmitted in morse code. Although we had 'cracked' the German Enigma code early in the war, it was alleged that our Type-X was never cracked by the Germans.
We operated on both the HF (high frequency) and MF (medium frequency) bands and our high powered transmitters achieved quite long distances and as we were using morse our signals could penetrate both static and other interference so that our messages were rarely corrupted. However, the power output proved quite popular with the enemy as he used to 'home in' on our signals and come and shoot us up! This did not last for long as we then put our transmitters about a mile away from the receivers and we then had only to replace one set of equipment if it was shot up.
For a number of weeks we were stuck on a relatively small strip of the Normandy coast due to heavy German armoured divisions in the Caen area. Eventually we were able to break out and managed by a clever manoeuvre to trap large quantities of German armour into the Falaise Gap where it was virtually wiped out by rocket firing Typhoon aircraft from our 83 Group Squadrons. The horror of watching the crews who had survived the onslaught trying to escape from their battered and burning tanks, some with their clothing on fire, haunted me for a very long time.
After Falaise we then began to move very rapidly across France, into Belgium and eventually as winter set in, to Eindoven in Holland. Here we took over a Montessori school and the poor Nuns who ran it were turfed out of their dormitory to make room for us! This was very welcome so far as were concerned as we had spent almost six months under canvas with a move coming about every other day. Here we could at least get a decent night's sleep with good food, plus the fact that our radio equipment worked much better in a static mode rather than a mobile one. However it was very cold, particularly on night watch in the back of a radio van, but apart from a freak raid on New Years Day 1945 we were relatively untroubled by the enemy.
With the winter behind us the Spring offensive began and it seemed that in no time at all we were in Germany. I clearly remember the devastation as we passed through Hamburg on our way to our new headquarters in Schleswig-Holstein. We took over what was previously a German Luftwaffe base on the edge of a beautiful lakeland area just south of the Danish border. The majority of the German personnel were taken to a POW camp but a few remained on the site and were able to teach those of us who were interested, to sail. Over fifty years later I remember very clearly my first trip in a sailing boat with a Lufwaffe officer instructor! The bug has never left me!!
The war in Europe was now over and eventually, a few at a time, we were allowed to go back to the UK on leave. It must have been in the autumn of 1945 that my turn came and I was able to see Barbara again after an absence of about 18 months. Barbara had either left the ATS or was about to, and had managed to find us a little house to rent in Essex Street Reading. It occurred to me that I could do my RAF job just as well in the UK and as Barbara was now pregnant I would have good grounds for a compassionate posting nearer home. My posting was to HQ Technical Training Command in Reading but by the time the posting came through the unit had moved up to Huntington!
David was born in June 1946 at Watford hospital as Barbara had gone to stay with her sister, Margaret, in preparation for the birth. I was able to get leave and although I was delighted to have a lovely wife and a new born son, the prospect of being discharged from the comparative security of the RAF into civilian life, which was full of other discharged forces personnel all competing for the few jobs available, was a big worry. The government's promise was that those of us who had left our employment to join the forces would be reinstated into the same job when we returned. In my case this was impossible as the older people whose jobs I had taken when they joined the forces ahead of me, had been discharged ahead of me and wanted the jobs back that they had left. I had little choice but to go back to a very junior position with the wholesale meat importers I had left in 1941.
Barbara and I, with our new son, remained at Essex Street and although Barbara was an extremely good manager on our very limited income, and the princely sum of £200 discharge pay between us, it was obvious that our income had to be supplemented from somewhere else. The National Deposit Friendly Society were advertising for a secretary in our area and after an interview I was appointed and dealt with this work in the evenings from home - as well as keeping my day job! The work was boring and tedious and many of the members were anything but 'friendly'. Thankfully this situation did not last for long, as my parents had decided to buy a business near Aldershot and offered us their bungalow at a reasonable price out at Three Mile Cross.
So, with the purchase of my parent's property, which entailed a mortgage and with only my poorly paid 'day' job to support it, I began to look for a more lucrative occupation. Venners of Reading, who were customers of the firm I was already working for, were looking for a sales representative to call on hospitals, hotels, work's canteens and the like, selling meat products and a large range of other items to the catering trade. I cannot say that I was cut out for the job but I did increase my income and there were a couple of side benefits, which were a company car and a free pound of pork sausages every Friday!
In May 1948 our second son, Stephen, was born. Barbara's Mother had come to stay with us in preparation for the birth, which was to be at home in the bungalow and she would also stop and look after us all following the event.
With our two young sons, our own bungalow out in the country with a lovely garden and a company car to use at the weekends it should have been ideal. My job was secure and my turnover was increasing but unfortunately I was not happy as the routine had become boring and I felt that the job was very much a 'dead end' one. Up at Ash my parent's business was prospering and knowing that I was unhappy in my job they offered me a fifty fifty partnership. Obviously this needed to be discussed with Barbara as in order to buy my share of the business the bungalow would have to be sold, the mortgage repaid and we would have to find low cost rented accommodation.
Going into the rented accommodation proved to be the hardest bit. All we could find which was convenient to the business and which we could afford was part of the ground floor of a large country house - Shawfield House. Barbara's memoirs describe this accommodation much better than I can. It was pretty awful! She had to cook on primus stoves, it was infested with mice, there were problems with the drains and she had two young children to look after. I was reasonably happy with the business and although it continued to prosper tensions were beginning to develop which resulted in my parents offering to sell me their share of the business and they would move down to Weymouth.
My parents moving out meant that we could move into the living accommodation behind the shop. This was a little better than our previous abode but not much! It was really only a couple of rooms, one of which was the boy's bedroom and the other was our bedsitting room\living room\bathroom etc. There was no drainage and no hot water or heating system. Again it was pretty awful!
Fortunately the business continued to prosper. There was still food rationing which meant that customers were 'registered' with us and there was also 'retail price maintenance' which ensured that the same products were the same price everywhere therefore there was no competition from multiples or anyone else. It was still possible to lose customers if the service was not up to standard because they were free to register somewhere else. In those days we were obliged to offer a weekly delivery service, most of which was done by Barbara - together with Stephen in the passenger seat. Quite a large box of groceries for a family would average between £1.50 and £2!
The business was now thriving and producing a net profit of about £1500 per annum with all our food taken, without payment, from the shop. It meant that when the house next to the shop was put up for sale we were able to purchase it outright. This was heaven compared with the basement at Shawfield House and the two rooms behind the shop.
In 1954, after a very hazardous journey in deep snow in the early hours to a maternity home in Guildford, Hilary was born. We were delighted to have a little girl following the two boys.
Soon after the birth of Hilary we sold the business and moved into a rented bungalow in Mytchett, near Camberley. I managed to get a job with Nestle's as a sales representative covering south west London and Surrey. I was told that there had been more than 300 applicants for the job so I considered myself very lucky. I worked from some very plush offices in Bruton Street, next to Hartnel, in Mayfair and a company car was provided with unrestricted free private use. Unfortunately, although I did quite well, after a short period of time it became boring and uninteresting and I left to develop a van selling business which I had bought from one of my Nestle's customers.
My purchase of the van selling business coincided with the Suez crisis and in next to no time I was severely restricted for petrol supplies! As if this wasn't enough, we began to have problems with the neighbours objecting to the heavy lorries delivering goods to our garage at the side of the bungalow and it was hard on Barbara who had to deal with these deliveries.
It was obvious that we could not go on like this, so we sold the business, and made a surprisingly good profit. I then found another job as a shop supervisor for Cow & Gate. With a colleague, I had 30 shops and depots to look after. Four sites were in the Blackpool area, another four were on the Isle of Wight and the remaining twenty two were in London. This entailed very much travelling but again there was a company car and this experience of running a group of largely grocery outlets would prove invaluable in the future. By now we had moved out of the very damp bungalow, which had caused Barbara to contract pneumonia, into a much nicer freehold detached house.
In 1958, about a mile from where we were living, a failing village stores came onto the market at Frimley Green.The vendors were hardly making a living and their weekly takings were no more than £100! We could see the future potential to expand both the grocery section as well as the off-licence attached to the business, so we made them an offer of considerably less than they were asking, which they eventually accepted. After all the years of feeling unsettled, I at last felt 'at home' in this business although the work was very hard and both Barbara and I worked very long hours - often until the early hours of the morning when the children had gone to bed.
Within five years we had separated the wine business into it's own little department, had made the grocery department self-service and joined a voluntary group called Spar. Our takings were now well in excess of £1,000 per week. Although we were now able to employ staff, it was still hard going because the business was expanding so rapidly that quite a large slice of our profit had to be used to increase both the volume and range of the stock.
Rosemary, our second daughter, was born in 1962. We found it hard to believe that we now had two boys and two girls! Barbara now had six of us to look after and in addition to this she would still help in the business whenever she could.
The pressure eventually began to tell and we came to the conclusion that if we could build another shop on the spare ground at the side of the existing one, we could then move the wine business into it and sell the grocery business. To our surprise we obtained planning consent for two shops - one either side of the existing one! The new wine shop was built first, at a cost of £3,000 - which included the living accommodation above. We had hardly finished building it when Harvey's of Bristol came along and offered us £20,000 for the just the wine business - we could retain the freehold and they would take a fourteen year lease with me as manager. We now moved into the flat above the wine shop, sold the grocery business but retained the freehold and gave the new tenant of the grocery shop a fourteen year lease also. Phew!!
At about the time we moved into the flat above the wine shop, we were fortunate enough to buy about two and a half acres of land with an old house on it called Lake House in Wharf Road, Frimley Green. Here we obtained planning consent for nine building plots. We sold seven of the plots to a builder and on the remaining two we were able to build ourselves a large family house which we again called Lake House. At last a secure family home away from the business with room for all the family - we had been waiting far too long for this!
The second of the two shops for which we had obtained planning consent was now built and this was let on another 14 year lease to a ladies hairdresser. In those days there was very little inflation and the two 14 year leases we had granted to the two new shops together with the lease of the original grocery shop, contained no rent reviews at all! When the three leases eventually expired we lost no time in making the new leases for a 21 year period with rent reviews every three years. This proved to be a prudent move in view of the inflationary period that was to follow.
With rents from the three properties, my manager's salary from the wine shop and our new house fully paid for from the proceeds of selling the seven building plots, we began to feel financially secure for the first time in our lives. We had already formed two limited liability companies in order to protect our personal finances from those of the business and I was also a director of a new private employment agency - Camberley Agencies. Everything seemed to be going well and we had even taken short holidays which was impossible in the previous years.
My parents had now returned from Weymouth and were living quite near us in the same village.
I now began to look for other business possibilities. Working as a manager for Harvey's of Bristol gave me a good insight into the working practices of a multiple wine merchant and their weaknesses were only too apparent. I knew that as a private individual I could offer a much more attractive service to the public and it was only a matter of time before I found some new premises being built in the village of Frimley, only a few miles away.
We formed a new company, Frimley Wine Company Limited, and within a few months we had fitted out the original shell, put a shop front in and filled the place with wines from all over the globe. A man who had been working for us part-time in the previous wine business was appointed manager and a number of other staff were engaged as the business built up.
At this time quite ordinary members of the public were beginning to travel abroad much more than previously and would come home possibly having tasted wine with their meals for the first time in their lives. The multiple manager's attitude was often to talk down to these people or to try and impress them with his superior knowledge. We used to think that our 'secret weapon' was to listen rather than lecture and to let them find out for themselves which wines they wanted to drink with a particular type of food and to talk to them on their level. We also showed them a great deal of respect and told them quite clearly that they were the most important people in our business, not us.
The business just seemed to 'snowball' and I enjoyed every minute of it. I used to regularly attend wine tastings at Claridge's Hotel in London and on one occasion was introduced to Vyvyan Holland who was one of Oscar Wilde's sons. Oscar's wife had changed her name to Holland soon after she had fled the country with her two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, when her husband was sent to prison.
So far as business was concerned I think this was the happiest time of my life but unfortunately cracks were beginning to appear in my marriage - but more about this later.
As our reputation in the wine trade grew, both with our suppliers and the public, our turnover level exceeded our wildest dreams. We were holding wine tastings both in the shop and the civic hall in Camberley, we were taking part every year in the Beaujolais Race from France and I had the opportunity to visit wine growing areas in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Cognac, the Rhine and Moselle in addition to Spain and Italy.
Our premises were now bursting at the seams and by another stroke of good fortune the shop next door to us closed down and we were able to take over the lease. We were already delivering to restaurants and hotels so the new premises were ideal to develop further our wholesale trade. We also started a 'cash and carry' service for wholesale quantities in our extended premises which was available to the public as well as the trade.
In the middle of all this happening I had a visit from a solicitor friend who told me that he had a client 'in trouble' who was desperate to sell a freehold shop site in Frimley Road Camberley! My first reaction was to tell him that I had more than enough on my plate without getting involved with yet another business. However, as Barbara and I were passing the site one evening, we stopped and had a look at it, and it was obviously a bargain at the very low asking price. This became Beaucare Limited and when we had extended the premises we had two more shops in the form of a professional dry cleaners next to a self-service launderette.
For a time, our eldest son, David and his wife Heather, ran the launderette for us - living in the flat above. When they moved out we turned the living accommodation into offices.
We were now into the late sixties and early seventies, both my father and my sister's husband had died and my sister had gone to live with my mother. My mother died in the mid eighties and my sister moved to Poole where we could look after her. She is currently in a rest home and either Barbara or I pick her up once a week and take her for a short outing.
I referred earlier to my love of sailing.
There had been little time in our early years for me to
pursue this but with a more stable financial situation in the
late sixties and early seventies I was able to take this up
again. The National Sailing Centre at Cowes on the Isle of
Wight was just opening and I attended numerous courses here
which enabled me eventually to obtain a Yachtmaster
Instructor's Certificate. Over the years sailing has given me
tremendous pleasure and I am sure with some of the pressures
of running very active businesses, sailing helped to keep me
sane! As I write this in the late nineties I have fond
memories of the many people I have taught to sail, together
with those who have been foolish enough to accompany me on
some of my very hazardous delivery trips. I cannot say that I
have enjoyed every minute of the tens of thousands of miles
that I have travelled on the sea but the good times far
outweigh the bad ones and the mind is inclined to forget the
bad times anyway. I have owned a number of boats of my own
and currently sail a 36 foot Sadler Starlight which is an
I have now digressed a little and must go back to the late seventies at Lake House. I referred earlier to cracks beginning to appear in my marriage. Barbara and I are two very different people, having come from entirely different backgrounds and upbringing, but having said that, we had worked tirelessly as a team to bring up our lovely family and earn a living to support them. So, it was with great sadness on both our parts that we decided, in 1976, upon a trial separation. At that time only Rosemary was still at home so she and Barbara went down to Poole and I remained at Lake House to continue running the businesses. Most weekends I would go down and visit them and it was not long before I realised that to spend the rest of my life without Barbara would be impossible.
We found a lovely split level house in Poole, overlooking the park and very near the town. We moved in during August 1978 and were finally back together again. Barbara calls this her dream house and although it took me sometime to get used to living in a town for the first time in my life, I have now got used to it and being near the sea is an added bonus!
When we moved to Poole I was still only 55 years old and far too young to retire so I began to look for other enterprises to keep me occupied. I ran a fishing boat and taught sailing for some years but eventually found shop premises where I could open a chandlery business. This was called Harbour Chandlers. It was quite successful and we sold it as a going concern. We then bought a block of holiday flats which in time we extended and modernised, turned into leaseholds, sold them off separately and then sold the freehold. Not long after this venture property prices collapsed, so we were lucky to 'get out' when we did. Since then I have occupied my time running VHF Marine Radio Courses and Examinations but I recently said 'enough is enough' - and now in 1997 I have retired! I am 74 years old.
Our four children are all married and we have nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. All appear to be happy and healthy and are financially independent. We believe we are so very fortunate to have them all. They have given us, and continue to give us, so very much interest, pleasure and strength over the years. All this and Barbara too - how lucky can you get? On the 6th November 1993 we celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary.
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