I’m an old man now. I’ll be Eighty One in two weeks time. Still fit and healthy though. Walk to the shops everyday to get my shopping. Shoes polished, trousers pressed and always a clean shirt and tie. “Standards” as my old Mum used to say.
Mum was a stern lady. Some would say fierce. I only ever saw her cry twice and both times they were for my Dad.
I was born in 1936. I was just a baby when Dad went off to war. I remember him, but not sure if that’s from actual contact or from photographs.
We had an old dining table in our front room. It had seen better days so Mum covered it with a big table cloth that touched the floor on all four sides. It became my play tent. I would get under that table and pretend I was in a magical cave.
And that’s where I was in November 1943. Just seven years old when the man from the Army came to see Mum. I didn’t hear all the conversation but I did hear him say “I am sorry to tell you that your husband has been lost in Acton.”
That’s when I heard Mum cry for the first time. It continued long after the Army man had left. I just sat in my tent not wanting to come out until Mum had stopped. It seemed like an age before I heard her stand up and walk into the Kitchen.
I was confused. Why was Mum so upset? We lived in Ealing and Acton was just a short bus ride away. If Dad had got himself lost then we should try to find him. Me and Mum had been there shopping loads of times. It didn’t seem like a big place so finding Dad should be easy.
The next day was a Saturday so no school. I told Mum I was going out to play with Billy Jennings from across the road. I remember her words as I opened the front door “Don’t go far and if you hear the sirens you come straight back. You hear me?”
Of course I had no intention of playing with Billy Jennings, the snotty nosed kid with the lazy eye from number forty six. I was going to find Dad.
When me and Mum went shopping in Acton the bus ride only took a couple of minutes so I knew it wasn’t far. The number twelve Bus took one long straight road then dropped us at Acton Station. So all I had to do was follow that same road and I’d get there. I’d search the whole town and find Dad. I was certain of it.
It took half an hour. I walked some of it and ran the last few hundred yards. I saw the Station up ahead. I was in Acton.
I wandered around the town for hours. I looked in every shop, every store, every doorway and even every alleyway. But there was no sign of him.
Some shopkeepers asked me what I was doing. They obviously thought I was up to no good.
“Looking for my Dad!” I shouted, then ran as fast as I could into the next shop.
I was in the Butchers when I was aware of a large man in uniform standing in front of me. He reminded me of Dad. But it wasn’t him. He looked down at me and smiled.
“So young man. What are you doing here on your own? Where’s your Mum?”
“I’m looking for my Dad. He’s got himself lost. Mum’s indoors.”
He took me to the Police Station and gave me a cup of hot Bovril.
“Now then son. You tell me what’s going on.”
So I did. I told him about the man from the Army coming to see Mum and how she started crying. I told him about what the man said about Dad being lost in Acton. He came over and put his arm around me.
“Let’s get you home son. Your mum will be worried.”
He put me in an old battered car and drove me home. When we got outside our house, he turned and looked at me.
“I’m going to speak with your Mum. Tell her what’s happened. You sit there for a few minutes.”
I watched as he walked up our path and knocked at the door. I saw him talking to Mum on the doorstep. Then Mum started to run towards the car. And that was the second time I saw her cry…