April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     A series of essays on growing up in the 1950s - 1960s


Editor's note: I've split the Growing Up page into several different chapters which you can access by clicking on the links in the list below. Previous "Growing Up" articles:

The next update of this page will be in the May issue...

(April 2022): The daytime book I'm reading at the moment is Steven McGann's Flesh and Blood. A word of explanation first, though: I always have two books on the go, one for the daytime, one for when we go to bed. The daytime book is almost always nonfiction; the nightime book is always fiction - a Stephen King, a Stuart MacBride, a Bernard Cornwell. My nighttime book at the moment is Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell, and it tells the fantastic story of Thomas of Hookton, an English Longbowman. I've read it many times before, of course, but that doesn't matter to me. Books are meant to be kept and read over and over again, if they're any good. Bernard Cornwell is the very best historical story writer there has ever been, in my opinion.

Steven McGann plays Doctor Patrick Turner in my favourite TV drama, Call the Midwife, and he's a very good actor; he's also very good at writing. Having now re-read the original Call the Midwife companion, the ten year anniversary companion, Call the Midwife: A Labour of Love, which was excellently compiled by Steven, and Steven's own Call the Midwife book: Doctor Turner's Casebook, I thought I would re-read his Flesh and Blood, which traces the origins of the McGann family back to the Irish Famine of the mid-19th century. First and foremost, it's about genealogy, and it makes the point, early on in the book, that although there are millions of records we can access in order to build our family tree, there is no substitute for quizzing your own family members.

In my case, I left it far too late to do that with my family, and by way of a digression from my normal reminiscences of family life in the fifties and sixties, I thought I would try to remember how, when it came to compiling the family tree, I came up woefully short because I hadn't ever asked the right questions of the family members I grew up with on a daily basis. It's now too late, of course, because they're all dead. First of all, every member of my immediate adult family that I knew when I was old enough to be aware of them, came from London. This was a given fact: Dad was a true cockney, Mum was born in the East End, in Camberwell. The nuclear family that existed in Gloucestershire in the late 1940s comprised the following members: Mum, Dad, my sister Jean (born in Brockworth) and me (born in Brockworth); in the next street lived my Gran, my uncle John and my uncle Ernie; at the end of our road lived Uncle Bill and Aunt Elsie, and their two boys, Brian and Peter (Both born in Brockworth); in the same street as Gran and the two uncles lived Great Uncle Ernie and Great Aunt Grace. We all lived in the village of Brockworth, whose population in 1950 was c4,250, and all of the adults in our family were from somewhere or other in London. We younger members of the Norman/Kimber family were all born in Brockworth, the village where they roll the cheeses down Cooper's Hill on Whit Monday. In the next village along, Hucclecote, going towards the city of Gloucester, lived my youngest uncle, Uncle Leslie, with his wife Grace, and their seven children. Of course, not all of their children were yet born in 1950. In fact, as far as I can remember, they were all younger than me, and I was born in 1946, so only my cousin Gail would have been born in or around 1950, the other six following on during the 1950s. In the village of Matson, which was out near my grammar school, the Crypt Grammar School for Boys, which I, Brian and Peter attended, lived my Dad's young brother, Uncle Eddie, and his wife Aunt Joyce. These were the Normans and Kimbers at the mid-century stage.

The other side of the family, Dad's three sisters, Aunt Florrie, Aunty Ivy and Aunt Doris, started out as Normans but became, respectively, Chorleys, Sleets and Eldreds. They all lived still in Greater London, or rather in what we thought of as Essex: in Rainham, in Hornchurch etc. Aunt Florrie, my favourite Aunt, married Leslie Chorley, who died, and she subsequently married Leslie's brother Stanley, but not before giving birth to my cousin Colin, who married a "Bunny" Girl, Dawn, one of those attractive blonde girls who cropped up in the Playboy clubs of the 1960s. They had a son, but I don't know what happened to him. Aunty Ivy and Uncle George had two daughters, Eileen, and Sylvia. Aunt Doris and Uncle Ernie had a boy, Stephen. Looking back, at a time when I was a toddler getting ready to start school (see the March 2022 essay below), I realise now that I accepted everything. Absolutely everything about my family. And to the best of my knowledge, no one ever offered other information about my family unless I asked. I never asked, for example, why I only had one grandmother, and no grandfathers. I never asked what happened to my two grandfathers, and it was only after I started to delve into the family history by means of censuses etc., that I discovered that my paternal grandfather, Arthur Robert Norman, had "joined up" in the second half of 1915, and had died at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Here is the point at which I also realised that a census form or an electoral register entry could only tell you so much. Of all the family members I encountered during the several months Wendy and I were compiling our two family trees, Arthur Robert Norman (1882-1916) was the one I desperately wanted to know more about, mainly because he, along with millions of others, had died in the First World War. And finding out more about him also unlocked family secrets that somehow resolved themselves into some kind of Edwardian drama such as you might read in an historical novel - of which more later.

I discovered other documents that gave me clues as to what might have happened to my paternal granddad and how he had died. I knew that he was a rifleman, a "tommy" in the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment. I found his medal records; I found the diaries of the regiment and learned that on that fateful day August 18th 1916, my granddad was one of 70 "other ranks" who died. Here's the actual transcript of the regimental diary that records his (anonymous) death:

August 2nd: Moved off at 4:30am by road, reaching Sailly-le-Sec 7:30am. Rested by river for day, moved off at 6:30pm to HAPPY VALLEY reaching there at 10:30pm. Camped there. Training each day 5:30-9:00am.

August 8th: marched across ridge to camp.....(there is more, but it's not important)

August 17th: Battalion moved up into trenches...(there is more, but it's not important)

August 18th: Lieutenant Burt first wounded by own shells then killed while going down to dressing station. 2nd Lieut. de Pass wounded in shoulder by own shells. Capt. Middleton & Reeves and Lieut. Parkes buried in Teale Trench and were dug out. Capt. Middleton and Reeves went to hospital.

2@:45pm Battalion attacked Guillemont trenches but was held up just outside them... Capts. Reed, James and Vaughan killed; 2nd Lieuts. Adam, Birch and Black killed... about 340 O.R. casualties. I later discovered that of the 340 Casualties, 70 died, my grandfather amongst them. It was a chilling moment when that final "reveal" was made and I knew how my grandfather had died.

Of those O.R. casualties, my grandfather, Arthur Robert Norman, was one of around 70 who died. I was immensely proud to have uncovered this document, when other family members who were also attempting to compile family trees had failed, even after employing professional genealogists to help them. I don't believe I was ever able to show my findings to cousin Eileen, who was the main amateur genealogist in our wider family, as I've now lost touch with her. But for me, the most significant thing about what I've found is this: the 1911 census sheet entry for my granddad, Arthur Robert Norman, was that it recorded him as a husband, a father, and his employment as a bricklayer. That's it for the official census information - he's on previous censuses, of course, but no other information is on those official sheets, and if I hadn't dug deeper and found the war diary of the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Wessex) Regiment, all I would have known was that he died at the Battle of the Somme. The Battle of the Somme wasn't just one long massive battle like you see pictured in films like Lord of the Rings - it was a series of "skirmishes" and encounters, at which hundreds of thousands of "tommies" died and were recorded as "other ranks". There was nothing left of my granddad, and his is one of the many thousands of crosses at the Thiepval Memorial - his name is carved into the stone of the memorial. From that I deduce that he may have been blown to smithereens and his body never found or recovered. A professional genealogist might be able to confirm that but the official records do not record it. My Dad never spoke of his father or his mother to me or to any other family member, and I doubt he would have told me anything about that family secret I subsequently uncovered, not by querying official records or anything like that, but more by piecing things together and remembering conversations from family visits, as follows:

My paternal grandmother, left with four children after the death of my granddad at the Somme in 1916, could not cope. She abandoned her children to one of my granddad's brothers, Leopold Septimus Norman, and his wife. My gran went on to marry a man called Matthews and they had my Uncle Eddie, who came to Gloucestershire to live in Matson with his young wife, Aunt Joyce, as I mentioned earlier. We saw our uncles every week, several times a week - Uncle Eddie was a frequent visitor to our home in Brockworth, and reunions with my Dad were always joyous and boisterous and involved pub visits and getting drunk, which my Mum described as being "merry". It put me off alcohol forever, but I was always ready to wait for my Dad to sober up and join in the general family fun when he was ready. He wasn't an alcoholic, but he loved strong drink and it often made me feel uncomfortable. He was a brilliant Dad. But he never spoke about the family rift (his Mum abandoning him to Uncle Leo). Not ever. And there was no one else to ask about it. I do recall hearing from one family gathering, that Uncle Eddie had been "rescued" from the Matthews family and brought into the safety of Uncle Leo's family to be brought up, and that was why there was such a special bond between my Dad and Uncle Eddie.

Similarly, I never asked Mum or my one single Gran (whom I adored) about her husband, Henry William Kimber, who died in 1943. I see, from reading what I've just written, that there are important family members whose wartime experiences (including dying, of course) I still have to investigate. I never asked. Steven McGann's book makes this point many times - the best source of genealogical information is family. Ask your family what they know, what they remember. For me, it's too late. As far as I know I'm the oldest surviving member of the Norman family, and it's therefore too late. One of the reasons for writing about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s is to uncover memories that I may have forgotten, memories that may fill in some of the gaps that still remain in the family tree. And I still have no idea wbout the wartime exploits of the uncles who came back: Uncle John, Uncle Ernie, Uncle Bill, Uncle Leslie, and Uncle Eddie. Why, for example, did Uncle Leslie come back with malaria? Where was he during the war? Japan? The Middle East? More "growing up" next month, but I wanted to make the point that maybe, just maybe, one of our children might want some day to know about our family history (in all its glory), and even if they don't get around to asking me, it will be here for them to read. I will make sure this page about my childhood and about the nuclear family of Norman-Kimber will be recorded for them to read to the best of my ability. I'll put a printed copy of all of these notes in the fireproof/waterproof document holder in the folder that contains the two family trees, and I'll know I've done everything I can to remember as much as I am able. So, starting next month, (May 2022), you'll be able to read my complete life story (so far) in proper chronological order, if you want to, together with various asides about my ancestors and what I know and have been able to find out from my researches. This is how it will start, and this paragraph will be repeated at the top of the Growing Up page in May:

I was born Paul Edmund Norman on Friday 13th September 1946, at number 72 Boverton Drive, Brockworth, Gloucester in the county of Gloucestershire. The district nurse who delivered me, at 8lbs, 10 ounces, was Nurse Doyle, and she told my mother that she believed I might be a German baby, because of my square head. (Germans were known as "square heads" during WWII because of the shape of the infantrymen's helmets. Although there were no German prisoners-of-war in Brockworth, there were Italian prisoners-of-war in a camp of Nissen huts immediately backing onto our rear garden at number 72, although in the year I was born, those prisoners-of-war had been released; many went back to Italy, some remained in Brockworth and elsewhere in Gloucester. I do not believe that I was anything than a genuine English "baby boomer", probably the result of my parents' activities the previous Christmas... My nuclear family at the time of my birth comprised... (to be continued in the May 2022 issue of Books Monthly)

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.


  In this issue:

  The Front Page

  Children's Books

  Fiction books

  Fantasy & Science Fiction

  Nonfiction Books

  The Silent Three

  The Four Marys

  Living with Skipper


  Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes

  Pen and Sword Books

  Sundays with Tarzan

  The Back Page

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