THE HOWLETTS - A FELTWELL FAMILY - Part 3
'The Author is Born'
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The Feltwell doctor lanced the swellings on Robert's neck but there was no improvement. He was taken to Kings Lynn hospital where an operation was performed but he did not return home for several weeks. During that time a medical board in the hospital awarded him a full disability allowance of two pounds a week but this would gradually be reduced after eighteen months. Recovery was slow.
Robert led a quiet life, but often visited the YMCA close to the Oak Hotel for a game of snooker or billiards. Whilst there one evening a dance was in progress at the other end of the building. Having finished his game, Robert strolled over to watch a rollicking set of Lancers which was in progress. Some of the girls were being swung round with such abandon that four of them became detached and were flung in all directions. One of them landed at Robert's feet. She was very pretty, sixteen years old and Robert fell in love with her.
Robert was now twenty-two years old, quite ready for romance but hardly an eligible suitor with no job or prospects and poor health. However, he ignored all those shortcomings, went to Cambridge to buy two new suits and concentrated on the courtship of Miss Edna Violet Harrison. She was the second of three sisters and also had four brothers, but Albert, the much loved eldest in the family had been killed in France. A Hockwold family, they lived for most of their lives at Bell House where their father, William George Harrison, was a farmer, butcher and coal merchant. Soon Robert took Edna to the Chequers to meet his family. Edna was so nervous that she stood her cup of tea on top of a plate of jam tarts. She was never to feel completely at ease with Florence, but Edna and Robert were by now inseparable. We don't know which mode of transport Robert used for his frequent visits to Hockwold but we do know that he would bribe Edna's young brother to leave the room so that courtship could progress.
At last, with Robert's health restored and a job with Mr. Barley Porter, they were married. A quiet wedding as were the weddings of Edna's older sister Maud and brother George, but in the aftermath of war perhaps this was understandable.
The first home for the newly weds was at Lode Farm, Hockwold, where they rented rooms from Edna's Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Vic Rolph. It was there in February 1923 that I was born, light in weight, but soon to be saddled with a collection of family names - Florence Edna Pearl. At the time of my birth, my great grandmother, the brave and dearly loved Rebecca was dying. I was taken by my parents to her home to be admired and cuddled for the first and only time. She was 88 years old. Rebecca left several small legacies. Robert and Edna spent theirs on a sewing machine. Rebecca's grave is in the churchyard at St. Nicholas Church, Feltwell. My maternal and paternal grandmothers both had the same maiden name with a slight difference in spelling. Florence Rolph of Martin Place, Hockwold and Florence Rolfe of Fair Hill, Methwold.
Robert, the happily married young father at Lode Farm, soon found that his long working days, and considerable journey home, left very little time for family life. Hearing that the aerodrome at Feltwell was closing down and that some accommodation would be available for renting, Robert and Edna decided that a move to the Wilton Road would ensure extra time together. Robert was often given the job of roundsman at his work. Driving a horse and cart and with no protection from the weather, he travelled round the outlying fenland and farming areas soliciting and delivering orders. He must have been glad to reach home a bit earlier. Very soon after the move he was rushed to hospital with appendicitis, an operation requiring three weeks of treatment in those days. He was overjoyed to go home again, but it seems that happiness for Robert would always be short-lived.
Now he had to cope with a sudden and terrible tragedy, the accidental death of his beloved father Bertie. Robert was never to describe the day in detail, just the following few words. "My mother sent a messenger with the tragic news that my father accidentally shot himself while jumping a small dyke. He was after a hare." We have the newspaper report in more detail. On a Monday morning, Bertie had gone with his son Ralph to the Fen and while chasing hares Ralph had forged ahead, unconcerned at the sound of gunshot behind him, but had returned to find his father crouched and silent. Sadly I was not to know the grandfather who rolled pennies along the corridors of the old aerodrome for me. He was fifty-five years old and his grave is in St. Nicholas' Churchyard. Soon Ralph was in charge of the butcher's shop and Florence was running the Chequers. She had always been involved in this work. Robert remembered her with a gypsy customer deciding how many pegs were worth a glass of beer. He helped his mother when possible but was soon to be the father of a second daughter. My sister Helen Joyce was born at the old aerodrome in February 1925. A bonny and cherished baby, shortly after her birth we all moved to Entry House in Feltwell.
Just as Robert had done I went to school at an early age with my Great Aunt Connie. On the first morning there were long black ribbed stockings hanging on our fireguard - I expect they were to be attached to my liberty bodice! We used slates and chalks at school for our writing and arithmetic lessons. Miss Knight was the Headmistress. A fine storyteller, she surveyed us all as she sat on a very tall chair. There were music lessons where we played small musical instruments. Surely they were not all drums or triangles? I have strong memories of hopes being dashed, and each time tapping gently on my triangle as we sang. We had a tree and presents each Christmas. There was great consternation one year when there were no presents on the tree. We searched in vain for them, until it was pointed out that on a high shelf Father Christmas had emptied the musical instruments box, and put all the presents in there, just to trick us.
The least happy memory of Infants School was the very unusual visit of a dentist. He arrived for business in a caravan which stood in the playground. We went in turn up the steps, quite unprepared and unconcerned, never to recall any pain, but to be put off dentists for life by the sight of so much blood. I was only five years old when my dear Great Aunt Connie died suddenly in her sleep. She was fifty-five years old. She had taught at the Infants School for almost forty years, starting as a monitress when the Headmistress was the disagreeable Miss Jarrett, justly renowned for the caustic remarks she made about her teachers and school governors. Eight years passed before Miss Jarrett resigned in 1894. By then Aunt Connie was a certified teacher. She was much loved, sadly missed and long remembered.
A year later my youngest sister was born and christened Barbara Constance. She was beautiful, the only one with curly hair. My granny Harrison arrived with a layette for the baby. A very rare happening, Grannies seldom went visiting in those days, but we often went to her house. Occasionally now I went down the alleyway beside the house, running my hand along the corrugated fencing, and up to Uncle Ralph's shop for meat. As I passed Commerce House one day Mr. & Mrs. Grimmer came out. They offered me a sweet from a box with a most wide selection; it was hard to choose one. Their daughter Constance was soon to marry my Uncle Ralph, and great changes were lying ahead for all of us.
Soon after the birth of Barbara Constance, new management took over the shop of Mr. Barley Porter. Robert was promoted to assistant manager. With a rise in salary, he was able to buy a few luxuries, beginning with a new piano. The Coronation Hall stood at the bottom of the garden and our piano was always borrowed for village concerts and other events. The hall was the hub of village life. At Christmas there would be a wonderful Sunday School party with a huge tree on the stage and a present for every child. Our favourite game was "The Grand Old Duke of York" - a cross between country dancing and a line dance. All over the hall were groups of children playing different games, some of them accompanied by singing (no music). Cookery sessions for girls of the big school took place in the hall, using oil stoves and ovens; and who could forget the one night a week cinema shows? We paid our money, ducked under the screen as we entered, seated ourselves along rows of hard wooden chairs (expensive plush seats were on the stage). Halfway through the film the reel had to be changed, the lights came on, the boys whistled and shouted, music was played during this interval but always the same record - "The Teddy Bears Picnic". I sat in the best seats with my parents to see my first Charlie Chaplin film. I had been well wrapped up for the outing. Mrs. Brown was our babysitter, a widow who lived close by, but our years at Entry House were coming to an end.
Continued in, "Mutiny in the Classroom"