Mabel Brown (née Smith)SRN SCM West and East Sleekburn Northumberland
Published in “A Creeful of Coals” in November 2007,ever a great Northumbrian,these words were written two years before she died in 2000.
HOME THOUGHTS at random about my Colliery Village At the ‘top’ Methodist chapel (Wesleyan) in West Sleekburn we had a large and thriving Sunday School. I was one of the teachers and remember Jack and Sydney Howie as keen members along with the Hindmarsh boys whose uncle, Henry Heatley, was an outstanding member of the Chapel. Mr Heatley was also a teacher in the Sunday School and sang tenor in the choir along with Jack Johnson and George Gleghorn, who was on the baritone side. Robin Ferguson was the organist, who needed the assistance of one of the boys to pump air into the organ.Many of the families from West Sleekburn will remember Sunday School anniversaries that were held on Whit Sunday, when in the morning the teachers and children went around the streets singing the loved Hymns of friends and neighbours. We had a little portable organ which Willie Woods kept accompaniment. At the afternoon and evening services in the Chapel, the Sunday School would sing special songs and recite poems. Of course the occasion was enhanced by the girls wearing new dresses and patent leather shoes. The boys well scrubbed.The local branch of the Bedlington Co-operative Society was beside the Chapel and almost everyone shopped there, not only for the dividend that was paid to members but, in the days of limited transport, it was a most handy shopping place. It had grocery and drapery departments and overhead it had a large hall which was a convenient venue for dances and also for our school productions as the old school did not have a hall.Every summer we had a Sunday School trip which chose over the years a number of various places to visit, the buses picking up the children at the Chapel. At Eastertide the children were given hard-boiled coloured eggs and often a large Jaffa orange by their neighbours and friends.We had carol singing at Christmas, which was regularly held until the 1950s. My poor husband, after a day’s work and a journey from Edinburgh by train and bus to East Sleekburn, would have something to eat and was then ‘commanded’ by my father, Pearson Smith, to get ready to join the carol singing party, which toured West Sleekburn starting at about 9 pm and finishing at about 3 am at East Sleekburn for tea and mince pies. Eddie Holden, Jim Sealey, Margaret Tait and George Gleghorn were amongst the regular carollers. My husband remembers as they went from house to house the response to the invitation “What carol to you want?” was most likely to be “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” which had to include the very tuneful chorus of ‘The Bells!’ These were happy days!My thoughts go back to walking on the Longriggs with my grandfather, Jim Smith, and he could always be persuaded to make my brother and myself a whistle, which he carved out of a branch. His warning still rings clear : on Easter Sunday you must always wear something new or else the craws will’cackie’ on you. . . happy days indeed!
Born West Sleekburn, then in the Parish of Cambois, on the 20th June 1925, Mabel was the second child of Pearson and Sarah Ann Smith (nee Johnson). Her brother Jim had been born just over four years before on the 1st March 1921 at East Sleekburn where Mabel’s parents owned a house. They had temporarily returned to West Sleekburn to a colliery-owned house at 22 South Row to allow her father to be more readily accessible as the honorary treasurer of the local trade union at the Winning Coalmine, listed as Bedlington ‘E'(West Sleekburn) started in 1864 and nationalised in 1946 until it closed down in 1965. It had been known locally as the ‘Winning’ because its reputation as the ‘top’ producing coalmine in the area. West Sleekburn was a village created for the coalminers working at the Winning Colliery, with colliery houses built in rows in three streets named South Row, Institute Row and North Row. Later, and a bit out of the village, newer blocks of colliery houses were built at Church Avenue. At the heart of the community was an enterprising branch of the Bedlington Co-operative Society which had been started in 1861 and there was a sub-post office in one of the houses. There were two Methodist Chapels, one Wesleyan and the other Primitive, becomg united in 1932.The village had a school, and Mabel’s father now an Alderman on Northumberland County Council was mainly concerned in having it replaced with a new school. He was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI for services to his community. J. G. Hindhurst, in his poem My Village, writes: It was only a villagewith three long streets, Two chapels, a shop, and a store, A Park, a School, an Institute, And a Pit to provide the chore.Large stone heaps were the backdrop, Torn out of the earth below, As the miners tunnelled within for coal, In conditions man shouldn’t know. Mabel would recall that 22 South Row where she spend her early childhood, was approached from a yard where there was a large water-barrel to collect rain water from the roof of the house. The door led directly into the livingroom and kitchen which had a small room off for personal washing equipped with table, bowl and water jug. Although there was electric light, no water was pumped into the house until about 1935 when a sink was installed. Water before that had to be collected from an outside water tap placed to serve several houses.The livingroom had large windows which looked into the front garden. There was a large coal fire with an oven at one side and it also heated an iron water tank on the other side which had to filled and emptied by hand. There was large walk-in pantry with a heavy iron urn for home-bread baked each Thursday. It was furnished with a three-piece rosewood suite with dresser-cum-cabinet, a dining table, china cabinet and a piano. A carpetted step-ladder led to the the first floor where there were two bedrooms. The main bedroom had a light rosewood suite, of double bed, dressing table, a wash-stand with marble top and two matching chairs.Their East Sleekburn house at 4 South View by contrast faced the main road and the garden had a monkey-puzzle tree (coniferous with broad leaves, native to Chile). The front door opened to a hallway with a sittingroom on the right, and a lobby led to the livingroom (the family room) with two bedrooms upstairs and there was a plumbed-in bat
Mabel’s parents came from large families: Pearson Smith had three brothers and two sisters; Sarah Ann Johnson had three brothers and three sisters. Their families were close knit with regular visiting and meeting up a strong feature of family life. This allowed the creation of happy life-long friendships with her eight cousins – all girls, seven around her age – making her early years of growing up a very happy experience with countless memories of family and friends (which included the families of the Grays, Cleghorns, Tubbys, Taylors) and a life centred around West Sleekburn, Bedlington Station, Ashington, Morpeth and Blyth. Mabel remembered her first day in school. The classroom had a doll’s house but the day was not given over to play but rather it was conducted in a more formal fashion than nowadays. Pupils were seated in rows, indeed at very long desks, and although she cannot remember using slate pencils she did use an individual sandtray for writing work. The school day began with the singing of a hymn during assembly at nine o’clock and at twelve midday everyone went home for lunch and re-started again at 1.30 in the afternoon. Her first teacher was Miss Grand, who became a very good friend of our family and a frequent visitor to our home in Edinburgh. Both Mabel and Jim had piano lessons and Mabel attended elocution classes, she loved teaching in the Sunday School and occasionally playing the Church organ in the absence of the regular organist. Each Armistice Day during our married life her thoughts invariably turned to the West Sleekburn School as she remembered with great sadness Mr Douglas, a young Scotsman, who took up his first teaching appointment during her last years at school, fondly recalling the great interest he took in the pupils. Sadly, it was only a brief career because he was killed whilst serving in the Second World War.Leaving school at 15 years of age, she became a junior in the office of the Bedlington Co-operative Society but then in 1943 when 18 she was accepted for training as a State Registered Nurse at the Newcastle General Hospital.
‘Off duty’ listening to the Royal Wedding Nov. 1947
Presentation of Awards by Dame Katherine Watt, DBE; Miss Gibson (Matron); and Dr Hurrell (Medical Superintendent). Staff Nurse Mabel Smith, SRN, next to Dr Hurrel.
It was a wrench to be away from home as nurses – Sisters, Staff Nurses and probationary nurses – were required to reside in the Nurses’ Home, but when she could her visits home were made at week-ends. However, her first six weeks were spent on preliminary training and therafter was introduced into the hospital wards where she coped with bedpans and other menial tasks in caring for the patients. The Newcastle General was then under the management of a Medical Superintendent and a Matron with each Ward with its own Ward Sister who by tradition managed the same Ward with a constant dedication. The strict regimes that were followed were founded on the principles of Florence Nightingale and gave nursing its high sense of vocation and professionalism.Although fortunate in having an individual room in the Nurses’ Home it did not have heating facilities, except in the corridors. She was initially paid £2.00 per month and from this had to buy whatever textbooks she required. However, the uniform was supplied but had to have a watch with a second-hand, a fountain pen and a pair of scissors. Meals in the diningroom were strictly formal, everyone standing for Grace at the beginning and end of the meal.After preliminary training, she progressively moved to various wards to gain experience in the nursing of the Ward’s particular specialisation and whilst doing this demanding work had to keep up studies and sit regular examinations. Part of the training involved duties in the operating theatre as well as undertaking long periods of night duty and even then tuition classes had to be attended during off-hours. She was third in her final year, gaining the Heath prize, and qualified as a State Registered Nurse (SRN).
Completing a year as a Staff Nurse at the Newcastle General Hospital, was then accepted for a year’s training as a Midwife at the Royal Simpson Maternity Pavilion in Edinburgh. In 1949 she gained her second qualification and was now a registered certified midwife by the Scottish Cental Midwives Board (SCM) and returned to the Newcastle General to practise midwifery.
We cut the cake with my Regimental Sgian Dubh of the 7th/9th (Highlanders) Battalion The Royal Scots
Visit to East Sleekburn
Pearson and Ann
Visit to West Sleekburn
We met in Edinburgh in October 1948 and knew right away we would be partners for life and were married in 1950 in the Methodist Church at Bedlington Station and began our life together in a flat at 12 George Place, Peebles, my home town. Whilst Mabel practised midwifery at the Peebles Morelands Hospital I travelled each day to Edinburgh where I was on the staff of The Scotsman Publications. After six months we bought a house at 15 Grierson Crescent in the Granton Area of Edinburgh in late 1950 in time to make a home for the arrival of our son, Pearson, born on the second last day of that year at the Royal Simpson Maternity Pavilion. In 1953 our daughter Ann Barbara was born, again at the RSMP. Usually it meant a stay in the Maternity Hospital for about ten days, but after day one Mabel was up and about helping to look after the other mothers, taking temperatures and helping them with their babies.
Coventry: ready for another garden party this time at Buckingham Palace
Early in the year following our marriage, we suffered a most grevious loss when Mabel’s Mother Sarah Ann died. With a new baby and deeply mourning the loss, it was especially hard to bear for her not to be able to share with her Mother the joy she was experiencing at the start of her married life. She bravely faced the future, and now looked to support her Father in whatever way she could. Her strength of character stood the test during those early years, and she truly was the daughter of a fine principled Mother and Father and all her life she was a credit to them both. After ten years in Edinburgh, I was appointment director and general manager of a newspaper company in Coventry. We moved to a different environment and began a new phase of family life, buying a house at 72 St Martins Road in the Finham district of Coventry named ‘The Sheiling’ (a safe place) and so it was: a haven for both of us from the busy lives we were now leading and a loving home for our children Pearson and Ann at new schools. The move to Coventry meant new responsibilites for Mabel. When I was interviewed by the Proprietor in London we both travelled by air from Edinburgh and after I had lunched with my new employer, Mabel went on her own later that day to have tea with him. We both got the job! She quickly obtained her driving licence and loved to drive. Many years afterwards she told me she would have liked to have piloted a plane! Family life centred on schools and a growing social life as the rôle of a newspaper director required being out and about at all kinds of events and in this capacity Mabel was a natural as she was interested in people and in life around her. She liked people and this showed, especially as she had the facility to remember names, a skill from her days in charge of a hospital ward and the need to know every patient, their diagnosis and treatment. She took on the task of visiting a number of old employees of the newspaper company which was very much family-orientated, many having worked with the newspaper during the Coventry ‘blitz’. She offered to take a retired couple out for a drive, the husband having retired from the newspaper many years ago and was now blind. He quickly suggested he would like to visit the ‘Rollright Stones’ which he had heard about on a talk show on the radio; they date from about 2000BC and these 70 upright stones now tend to lean towards each other and referred to as the ‘Whispering Stones’. Mabel found she had to undertake a long drive to Long Compton on the Warwickshire-Oxfordshire border and then had great dfficulty of locating the site! Mabel proved to be a superb partner when we attended social functions and the number of these increased when I became managing director. She always had a tremedous capacity to absorb and to make many friends and so was equipped to responded to every challenge we faced in our busy life.
She loved cooking and was a marvellous baker with a good hand for pastry. When Mabel moved to Coventry she extended her skills as she enthusiasticaly attended Cordon Bleu Cookery classes. She always thought she had inherited the cooking skills of her Grandmother Smith, who enterprisingly took orders from neighbours in West Sleekburn for Steak Pies which Mabel or her cousins would deliver on Fridays! During our time in Edinburgh when she gave up nursing to provide a happy home life for me, Pearson and Ann, she enlisted in the National Reserve of Nurses and prepared to respond to any national or local emergency. She also did clinic work at the Edinburgh Birth Control Centre, ever longing and missing working in the hospital environment. In the 1950s, nurses when married were not retained in hospital employment but that changed in the 1960s and whilst in Coventry she responded to an appeal for former nurses to return to the National Health Service to make up for a shortage of trained nursing staff. She returned to do night work and to up-date herself in the new dosages and techniques, and was immediately appointed a Sister and then asked to take on Night Superintendent of the Warwick and Leamington Hospitals. However, she could not pursue this with the increasing demands on her time to be with me as we undertook the public relations aspect of my job. Attending our first Royal Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, on the visit of The Queen immediately after her Coronation in June 1953 This greatly increased when I was appointed Chairman and Managing Director of the Birmingham Post & Mail, which necessitated moving house, leaving 72 St Martins Road with much regret as we had been very happy there. Since we were married we had spent 10 years in Edinburgh and then another ten years in Coventry. Now we removed again, to ‘Westerly, 37 Mearse Lane, Barnt Green, in Worcestershire and some 12 miles south of Birmingham, where we would have thirty more years of married life together.
During our ten years in Edinburgh our home became a welcome holiday place for friends from Northumberland, usually when we had Grandpa Pearson staying with us. Local jaunts to the South Queensferry and Cramond on the Firth of Forth, across to Burntisland by local ferry boat from Granton, days in Peebles by the River Tweed and many journeys north to various parts of the Highlands. Train, coach and steamer trips well remembered. Restaurants fondly recalled. When Northumberland didn’t come to us we journeyed south by train to Morpeth and red bus to South View: all our early Christmases were spent with Grandpa, and often summer days, too, with visits to Whitley Bay, Bamburgh, Alnwich, Morpeth, Seahouses and, of course, to Whittingham to see the wrestling. A trip to London was a special occasion.
It was the same in Coventry, our Northumbrian visitors followed us south and their visits occasions for visiting Straford-upon-Avon, Warwick and London. Early in the 1960s we made our first trip abroad as a family when with Pearson aged 12 and Ann just 9, we spent ten days in Paris. Mabel’s first holiday , aged 1 year: Scotland in 1926 – year of the General Strike – with Mother Sarah Ann, Grandmother Margaret Johnston and Jim aged 5. Mabel instilled in the family that it was important to get abroad as a family and together see the wider world, having herself been brought up by parents that despite the economic circumstances of a mining household in the 1920s and 1930s (even during the General Strike of 1926) always found the means to enjoyed a family holiday each year. Sarah Ann, Pearson, Jim and Mabel always had a week away from West Sleekburn; holidaying in Harrogate, Manchester, Peterborough or sometimes to Peebles to stay with Sarah Ann’s sister Chrissie who had a cooked meat shop.Mabel encourage Pearson to take a six-month break in Paris before he attended Cambridge University. He rented a flat and worked in the library of Le Parsien and has always looked back on this experience as preparing him for the wider world of study, work and leisure. It was apparent to his parents that he knew all the best and reasonably-priced eating places! It was a providential six-months stay as Pearson settled in Lyon and ran his own business for some twenty-five years. Ann, too, in the period waiting to go to Teachers Training College spent six weeks in Western Australia. Undertaking this very long journey in the early 1960s and her time spent in Perth meeting Mabel’s distant relations were a real challenge for someone so young. What pleased her parents and made them particularly proud was her idea to go on a jeep safari northwards to Port Headlane. It was a journey of a thousand miles or so from Perth and visited a nature reserve, a ghost town, mountain and gorge areas, a gold mine, precious gem workings and a visit to a flying doctors’ base! It was a trip that her Grandmother Sarah Ann and her Mother would have loved to have made and Ann going was the next best thing for them … Our family holiday in Paris encouraged us to travel further afield: Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Germany, and a marvellous tour of Italy spending a week on the Isle of Capri and then travelled down to Florence, Pompeii and stayed a couple of nights in Rome. Mabel was right, it gave the family lasting memories of our time together as we journeyed to see different parts of the world.
Whilst we were in Coventry I was elected a director of the Press Association, the domestic news agency of the United Kingdom, it was the year they were celebrating their centenary. I was the first director to join the Board of the new century being appointed at the annual general meeting which was held The Crypt at The Guildhall in London in 1968 and that evening a reception was held in The Guildhall, attended by The Queen. When the Directors and their wives were presented to Her Majesty, the Court Correspondent of the Press Association announced our names and we had to walk across a dias to meet The Queen. Mabel and I had not been alerted beforehand that we were to be presented and somewhat alarmed when we heard the arrangements and to know that our every movement would be watched by a large gathering of guests invited from all over the country. Mabel was superb and coped to the manner born as The Queen spoke to us for a few moments.
During the 1962 we attended Press Association celebrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Dublin and Mabel met many distinguished political leaders, including Captain Terence O’Neill (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) and also Eámon de Valera (President of Éire). We also heard but were not introduced to the Revd. Ian Paisley. Years later in Birmingham we were again presented to Her Majesty when The Queen opened the National Exhibition Centre. I was then a Vice-President of the Birmingham Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham when he formally presenting us made a rather fulsome introduction about myself, ending by saying to The Queen ‘He really is Mr Birmingham!’ The Queen with a smile then looked to Mabel, and asked ‘And who are you?’ Mabel with a broad grin replied ‘I am just his wife!’ You can see from the equally broad grin on The Queen’s face mere man being put in his place . . .
Despite the demands of a busy family life and supporting me in my job, Mabel found time for Church, friends and her own interests. In all our years together I knew she dearly missed her mother, and this was shown in the kindly, loving and very special way Mabel befriended four older women during our life together. The first in Edinburgh had never married and when she first came to Scotland from Ireland her crossing was in a sailing ship! Frequent visits to each other’s home and when we moved to Coventry she took a flight down to the Midlands to spend some time with us. When she moved into a care home in Edinburgh, Mabel always made a point of calling in to spend time with her. She was a great companion and friend of the family. When we arrived in Coventry and whilst looking for our own house we were for a short time in a company-owned property and we lived close to a couple in there early sixties. We became friends and they quickly became surrogate grandparents and ‘baby sitters’ to our young family. Sadly, they had lost their only child when their baby girl died during childbirth. We were to learn that during the heavy bombing of Coventry they courageously gathered their cat in their arms and walked many miles out of the city to shelter with their relatives in Measham, Leicestershire, a distance of about 30 miles. Over time Mabel had a close and affectionate bond with her and after we had moved a distance away Mabel would call in on her and every time there was a hospital appointment would go with her and latterly this was quite frequent. When at Barnt Green we attended the Methodist Church at nearby Blackwell and very early on we came into contact with a girl in her early twenties who taught in the Sunday School but tragically died of cancer. Mabel became very close to her mother and the family and paid regularly visits. Often afternoons were spent with her and when the grandchildren were at ‘Westerly’ on holiday they would go down to meet her. She was an excellent knitter and gave many gifts of knitwear to raise funds for St Mary’s Hospice. When she and her husband died, Mabel kept in contact with their son who had moved down to Devon. Another lady, Muriel, again not married but living with a sister, in the Barnt Green area. When the sister was ill Mabel frequently went to help care for her and roped me in to help her carry the bed-ridden sister down from the upstairs bedroom to a more comfortable room on the ground floor but sadly in a matter of weeks she died and Mabel helped to attend to her burial arrangements. We kept in constant contact and Muriel often stayed with us when Mabel would tenderly look after her as she badly suffered from acute arthritis. It was an endearing instinct, inheriting the character of her Mother, Sarah Ann, and I loved her for it.Equally endearing was Mabel’s practice to ensure a retired Methodist Minister who was a very good friend, when invited with his wife to lunch would have a bedroom at his disposal so that he could retire to rest after lunch. Mabel invariably arranged this knowing that the Minister having preached that day would need to be able to relax. 1949: ‘Courting’ in the Lake District It would only be done on Sundays, and not when being entertained to lunch at ‘Westerly’ during week-days! Although I am sure it dates back what her parents did, to me it lovingly reflected her great sense of generosity and hospitality. All her married life she kept in touch with an ever-widening circle of friends, including mine from my War-time days and my many business acquaintenances. She loved writing letters and it was never a chore. Whenever we travelled she liked to send postcards and it was a tease between us about how many cards she needed to buy. She was most particular in sending a postcard to those whom she knew did not get out and about. As each year ended she dealt with something like 150 Christmas cards and all with a letter and often a request to me to ‘write something at the bottom . . . after all its your friend!’ When she died I readily kept up her loving practice – and still do, although ‘time’s rolling stream’ have taken many of our friends away! – resorting to typing whereas she loved sitting with her writing pad and scribbling her spontaneous thoughts to her friends. In 1976-77, I was The President of The Newspaper Society (the Association of all the provincial morning, evening and weekly newspapers in the United Kingdom). During the year Mabel would always send a card to the Staff at The Newspaper Society Offices in London keeping them in touch with how things were going and often when in London accompanying me to some meeting or other, she would drop in to see them. Her thoughfulness was greatly appreciated, as can be read in the extract of the letter she received during our year of office. It illustrates her great personal warmth and charm. With the marriage of Ann and Andrew and Pearson and Caroline our lives were greatly enriched with five lovely grandchildren: David and Sarah born in Redditch (Worcestershire) and Kathryn, William and Sophie born in Lyon. Mabel loved them dearly and it was always a great joy for her when they were with her and especially when they all met up in Westerly in Barnt Green for the month of July when they took over our large house and gardens and Mabel couldn’t do enough to show her love for them. Christmas time, too, was just wonderful when with them we relived all the Christmases Mabel and I ever had as we share in their the joy.
I remember when we had The Rt. Hon Edward Heath at one of The Birmingham Post Literary Lunches. He was travelling by train and unfortunately it was running late. A message reached me that he was not best pleased and when I met him in the Front Lobby of the Metropole Hotel at the National Exhibition Centre, he brisquely said I need a telephone and a private room. The Manager who was waiting to be introduced, quickly said he could use his office. I waited outside the door and had a malt whisky ready for him, and then introduced Mabel and ushered him into the main reception room where over a hundred people were waiting to greet him. Mabel was seated next to him at lunch and she told me he was difficult to talk to and did not seem to want to talk. But Mabel saw that everyone was looking and clearly it was not good for him to be seen sitting sullenly and silently at the top table, so in his interest she kept at him and was determined to get him talking! Challenged by this Northumbrian Ward Sister, trained at the Newcastle General, he didn’t stand a chance: and talk he did!Mabel was superbly good at these Literary Lunches and having met the authors would do her best to get as many people introduced to them as possible. She would ask little groups if they would like to meet a particular author, and armed with their names said come with me! Mabel made many friends for us both, and they would look out for her at these lunches, knowing they would soon be talking to one of the guest authors. On an occasion when sitting next to Sir Peter Ustinov she discovered he was travelling back to London that day and had not arranged any transport to the station. She at once offered my car and the next time I used it there was an obvious impression in the back seat where he had sat!
Mabel was always ready to help. At a conference with International Editors and Journalists in London, she at once responded to the wife of delegate who was seeking a family that would look after her daughter when she came to this country to improve her English language skills. It was a kind gesture that was to establish a long and happy relationship with the Belanger family.
Summer in Deauville
Claude Belanger was the chief director and president of the largest daily circulation newspaper in France Le Parisien (established in 1944 as Le Parisien libéré) and Madame Belanger was a distinguished French writer, her first book I am Fifteen and I Do Not Want to Die was about her life and escape from Budapest during the Second World War. Claude Belanger was credited with having produced the first underground newspaper in Paris during the German Occupation. First their daughter Christianne stayed with us in Coventry then her two brothers Pierre and Francoise Belanger spent many holidays with us in Barnt Green. Mabel took a close interest in them and continually helped the boys with their use of the formal and colloquial English language. Pierre Belanger became a successful entrepreneur of commercial radio in France. When Claude Bellanger died, Mabel and I attended his Memorial Service in the Temple son Marcelle, Port Royale, Paris, representing the National and Provincial Newspapers of the United Kingdom. Christine Arnothy stayed at ‘Westerly for a few weeks after the death of her husband and started writing a new novel which she hoped would become a stage play.
One of nicest things that happened to Mabel and I during our long life together was when Pearson and Ann suggested that for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary they would take us on a celebration trip to France, provided we accepted we stayed at the places they choose. We had a leisurely and lovely drive down the Loire Valley, and at overnight stops Pearson and Ann would checked the rooms to ensure they were suitable, culminating at a memorable little hotel in Biarrritz.
It was a most lovely way to celebrate our vows made at Bedlington Station.
A special moment for Mabel when I was managing the newspapers in Birmingham occurred during my year as President of The Newspaper Society when she was by my side when I was host to 650 newspaper directors and their guests at a banquet in the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, London. It would be the culmination of my year in office and as it was the Queen Silver Jubilee Year I was particularly honoured to have His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales as our Guest of Honour.
Our Guests were seated and we were being ushered into to join them, the orchestra from the Welsh Guards greeting The Prince with the anthem ‘God Bless The Prince of Wales’. The Prince had just reached his thirtieth birthday and there was at that time no hint at about a forthcoming marriage. Before dinner I presented the wife of the previous president who had only recently died. Buckingham Palace advised that I should try and present to groups of four to faciltate conversation but I presented her on her own. I explained how courageous my predecessor had been in his last months in office and how pleased I was that his widow had honoured us by her presence. I was not privy to what he said to her as my attention was taken up by being informed that the VIP Guests were now being shown to their tables and I should be ready when called to escort The Prince into dinner. Mabel and I were privileged to enjoy the company of a most agreeable and sensitive young man. When at just after midnight when Mabel and I were escorting The Prince across the ballroom floor he veered towards a table where he had seen the widow of my precedessor and went to say goodnight to her and heard him say: ‘I am very glad to see you smiling. I am sure it is the way to face up to these kind of things.’ Out of a company of 650 and some four hours after he had first met her, he could remember her and say such kind and understanding words greatly impressed Mabel and myself.
Making The Prince laugh when mentioning his friends ‘Major Bloodstock’, ‘Bluebottle’ were unable to attend as they were locked up in the BBC Sound Library but ‘Neddie Seagoon’ (Sir Harry Secombe) had escaped capture and will be here not just for the beer but to sing for you … not for his customary fee of four million yen nor for two million, not even for two goonies but for the sheer pleasure of entertaining us.
Mabel got on splendidly with The Prince, and told him she was the same age as The Queen, and that as a small girl she had admired and desired the same kind of dress worn by the young Princess Elizabeth which had layers of frills. She told him that dress was then on display beside Queen Mary’s doll’s house in Windsor Castle.
Trade Mission ready to go to a Trade Reception at the British Embassy in Manilla
We also were privileged to witness how kindly and lovingly concerned was his future wife, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. On the first visit to Birmingham of the Prince and Princess of Wales (soon after their marriage) I was asked by the Lord-Lieutenant to be the Deputy Lieutenant to look after The Princess on her programme for the visit, whilst he attended the Prince of Wales. When I have to undertake a Royal Duty which involves one of the Royal Ladies my wife accompanies me, and she did so on this occasion. We escorted the Princess in a cavalcade of cars to St Mary’s Hospice, Birmingham, which I had been involved as Chairman of the Appeal to set it up, being the third of these modern hospices to be established in the United Kingdom. The visit was a great success as she was most warmly welcomed everwhere she went, by crowds lining the streets and especially by the patients and families as well as the staff of the Hospice. When visiting a single-bedded ward she met a young man beside the bed of his grandmother who was comtose; he had been sitting on the bed holding her hand. The young man after being presented to the Princess resumed sitting on the edge of the bed and again held his grandmother’s hand. After asking his permission she sat on the other side of the bed and took the grandmother’s other hand as she quietly spoke to the young man. There was just the four of us in the small room but I was not privy to what she said to him but that picture of these two young people holding the comtose grandmother’s hands as they spoke to each other remain with me as a most moving moment. Later when we had completed the visit and back at the home of the Lord-Lieutenant where she was to rest before preparing to go to an engagement later that evening, she was most gracious as Mabel and I spoke to her and when I asked permission to withdraw she wanted us to stay on to tea but Mabel was aware of the time pressure facing both her and the Countess of Aylesford in the next few hours and asked her permission to decline. However, she wanted us to take back to St Mary’s Hospice all the flowers that had been presented to her that day and it was a duty we were privileged to carry out. We found both The Prince and Princess of Wales to be a most kindly and loving couple, and we were greatly sadden when they separated.\
Presenting to HRH The Princess of Wales the Lady Mayoress of Birmingham at St Mary’s Hospice HRH The Princess Royal in the West Midlands Mabel was also with me when I did duty with HRH The Princess Royal, which involved a series of engagements that started at 11 in the morning until 5.30 in the afternoon, with only a very brief buffet luncheon. When I retired from my executive role at the newspaper publishing company I stayed on the main holding company board for a couple of years and carried out a number of activities as a director of BPM (Holdings) plc. I was involved with the University of Birmingham as a member of its Council and with the setting up of St Mary’s Hospice. Also started writing A Letter to Our Grandchildren with the memories of our life together, intending it to be privately produced. I also had duties from time-to-time as a Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands. Undoubtedly, the main assignment was President of the Birmingham Chamber of Industry and Commerce and that again involved Mabel in a range of social events, which culminated in leading a British Trade Mission to the Phillippines and South Korea, which was extended to Japan on Birmingham Chamber business as we were concerned at the announcement that Honda inconjuction with British Leyland were to produce a British version of the Honda car in the Midlands. So it was arranged I would meet the Vice-President (Manufacturing) of Honda in Tokyo for discussions.
Two outstanding memories of our time in Manilla. We were provided with a jeep and Mabel in asking the Filopino driver about his family and being particularly interested in how they fared during the Japanese occuption, was deeply moved to learn that his mother had been bayonetted by the Japanese. He told her he was quite young at the time but recalls the family being driven out of their home by the Japanese and they had to hide up in the hills and about his mother’s concern about their property which they had hidden in Manilla. Despite the father’s and families concern for her safety, she would from time-to-time sneak back into Manilla during curfew to check their possessions were safe. Mabel was moved to tears as she related to me how the man tearfully told her that his mother had been caught doing this and when the family went searching they found her lying dead in the street from bayonet wounds. Mabel’s tears for the man were also shed for his mother to whom she could closely relate, as surely as I knew her, that is what Mabel would have done in her concern for her family. Another memory of our visit to Manilla recalls when we had to undertake an official trip in a hovercraft into Manilla Bay. When we were well out to sea the hovercraft, alas built in England, broke down and the hovercraft started drifting out of control! First there was some tinkering with sissors and then spanners which was followed by the appearance of a man with a hammer and then it was announced it could not be repaired and another hovercraft was being sent out. In the middle of a choppy sea we had to transfer from one to the other by means of walking a plank! Mabel, despite her fear, nevertheless gallantly faced the challenge and later we were informed that back home in Birmingham the evening newspaper had carried a bold headline ‘Birmingham Chamber President and his wife rescued in Manilla Bay’!
In Seoul we attended the British Embassy for a briefing and they kindly held a reception attended by many of the business interests the members of the Trade Mission wanted to meet. It was an evening that led to many successful business deals being made. We became readily aware that South Korea was a country still very anxious about its North Korean neighbour and whilst there were informed about two landings by armed maurauding North Koreans soldiers. We became aware, too, that the National Anthem was played very loudly each day in the streets of Seoul at 5 p.m. and everyone one would stop until it had ended. On one occasion whilst I was being driven to an appointment an air raid alarm sounded and the car stopped and we went to the nearest air-raid shelter. Of course I was worried about Mabel who was on her own and later discovered she had gone to visit a large shopping complex but she had coped marvellously during the air raid alert. She told me she saw everyone crouching at the top of the nearest esculator so she tried to do the same and someone kindly brought her a stool so that she could sit. She was impressed by the extreme courtesy of everyone who would bow whenever anyone entered the shop. She went back the next day and was stopped by a Korean man who asked her if she could explain what diapers were as he had just received a large order to supply diapers but didn’t know what they were! We took a short plane journey to Pusan, the business centre. It was at Pusan that the secretary to the Mission approached me to ask if Mabel would mind if he arranged dinner for her in the hotel restaurant where he would make sure she would be well looked after, as the Mission members had been invited to a special dinner in our honour which would be a ‘male occasion’! Mabel was intrigued and couldn’t wait to find out what I had gotten myself into . . . We sat on cushions at a low table and each delegate had a girl sitting by his side whereas my host and I as we sat opposite each other had a lady on either side. One girl made sure my glass was full and the other assisted me during the meal as chopsticks would reach out for whatever food I wanted to eat. There was also the ritual of the host coming round accompanied by one his girls and squatted down beside me as he drunk a toast to my health. I returned the compliment and made my way accompanied by a girl plus a bottle and glass to drink his health! During the course of the evening, the girls did traditional dances and groups would sing, and to my horror my host also got up to sing. Various Members of the Mission having experienced this ritual before also did ‘a turn’ and then I with one of the older lads (also a Scot!) did a duet on the lines of ‘I belong to Glasgow’ which came across as ‘We belong to Pusan’. Mabel laughed her head off when I related this saga to her. Not at all what we were accustomed to in Ashington or even Blyth on a Saturday night . . . In Tokyo we met the director of the British Chamber and visited the Sun City Exhibition Complex. Later at the offices of the Honda Car Company we had an agreeable meeting, obtaining all the assurances we had hoped to get on behalf of the component firms in membership of the Birmingham Chamber. The day ended with an invitation to a most memorable dinner at the British Embassy with H.M. Ambassador along with a small party from British Areospace also visiting Japan seeking business. Mabel was delighted to meet a young member of the Embassy Staff at dinner who was a Northumbrian and when he mentioned that he had been tardy in writing to his mother, Mabel armed with the address of his parents telephone them when she got back to Barnt Green!
Whilst in Tokyo a friend Mabel had made en route invited us to meet her family and have an evening meal in their home. We later understood this was a special honour as an invitation to a Japanese home was a rare privilege. She came to meet us and accompanied us on the underground journey which we wanted to make and we found this to be an exhilarating experience.
When we arrived at the house we were greeted by her mother and shown into a western furnished sittingroom and then we did not see the mother until we had been served during our visit with various dishes of fish and other delicacies brought to us at intervals in the sittingroom by the girl and her sister. At the end of the meal the mother joined us and later she invited us to see her bedroom. We had removed our shoes and put on slippers when we first entered the house and now as we entered the mother’s bedroom we removed the slippers. It was sparsely furnished and dominated by a long low table in the centre of the room which was her bed. On the wall at each end of her ‘bed’ was hanging the death-masks of her parents. The only western item in the room was a small television set mounted on a wall-bracket.
When I retired I was invested by The Queen as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to British newspapers which was the occasion for my family to attend Buckingham Palace. Mabel and I then quickly set off for Australia to enjoy a three-month holiday to celebrate our retirement from Newspapers and Publishing responsibilities. Overlooking Hong Kong Floating Restaurant, Aberdeen Harbour in Hong Kong It began in Hong Kong where we spent four nights. It was our second visit and Mabel and I found it a city that never disappointed. It pulsated with life. I had to do an interview with the local radio station as I was then a Vice-President of the Birmingham Chamber and it had been arranged by our High Commissioner’s office that I should talk about British trade. Whilst I was doing that Mabel took the opportunity to go on a trip which took her to the borders with China and looked over into Kowloon and the New Territories. Land ahoy! On Board the Cruise ShipWe then boarded a Russian cruise ship, MV Fedor Shalyapin, 21,000-ton passenger liner formerly owned by Cunard liner, to Sydney which would take two weeks and stop for a day at Manilla and also Papua New Guinea. When we sailed from Hong Kong the ship was carrying about half the usual number of passengers but that all changed when we reached Papua New Guinea when there was a great infux of families returning to Australia for the Christmas Holiday. It was said the Russians operated this ship and others like it to earn ‘hard currency’.
It was also our second visit to Manilla but enjoyed returning to have a more relaxed visit. The previous time we were there with the British Trade Mission and it had been punctuated by formal engagements. Mountain region Papua New Guinea walking along the Kokada Trail Eating again! . . . this time in Manilla Market in Papua New Guinea We found our stop at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, was a particularly memorable part of our tour. As we walked from the ship into the centre of the town we were struck by its beauty and simplicity. It was an intriguing island with lovely exotic flowers. We especially enjoyed an organised outing up to the Highlands, a mountainous region. Whilst on that trip, we went along a track through the dense forest area in the company of three former Australian soldiers who had fought against the Japanese. Mabel had got to know them and their wives when on board ship and found out they were anxious to find the exact location on the Kokada Trail where they had been fighting as part of an Australian defence force. Mabel and I were deeply moved as they described how after an epic battle when 2000 Australian lives were lost and 13,000 Japanese killed they forced the Japanese to retreat. They had seemed invincible, as they captured island after island, but now for the very first time during the Second World War they had been defeated and halted in their advance to get a foothold on Australian soil. .The cruise took fourteen days, passing the Great Barrier Reef before arriving in Sydney where we stopped for a week and celebrated Christmas Eve by attending a dinner which had an Old Time Music Hall cabaret but spent Christmas Day on Bondi Beach. Whilst in Sydney we were invited by Australian Press Association friends to picnic on the Hawkesbury River (shark infested!) With friends on the Hawkesbury River, Sydney Shoes off on the banks River Yarra, MelbourneJourneying by road we visited Canberra to see the Parliament buildings then on to Melbourne where we had another enjoyable week. A special trip was made to Phillip Island to see the hoards of fairy penguins coming in from the sea at dusk as they did each evening at the same stretch of beach. Their young were ready for them, peering anxiously from the burrow entrances dotted all over the sand dunes. We also attended two receptions in Melbourne: one with The Agenewspaper and the other at the offices of the Melbourne Herald and met a number of senior journalists. Mabel enjoyed meeting up with a woman reporter who had just returned from Queensland and told her about her family and of the crocodiles and reptiles that were commonplace. Then to Adelaide by coach where we had hoped to book sleepers on the train to Perth but told that had to be done six months in advance. We spent another seven days exploring Adelaide and its lovely unspoilt beaches and making friends with a lady whose house was close to the sea who collected shells and with a power saw cut into these to expose their lovely colours and made then into brooches and ear-rings. We then had to undertake a journey of some 36 hours by coach, supplied with pillows and blankets, to Perth crossing the Mallabar Plain and the ‘Great Australian Bight’. The year before it had been a red dirt track but now the road was tar-macadamed, and around midnight we stopped at a large hotel complex which was crowded with cars and caravans as their occupants used the showers and had a meal. When we reached Perth we stayed with Mabel’s Aunt, who had a property on the edge of the city. Mabel had two uncles, brothers of her Mother Sarah Ann Johnson, who emigrated from Bedlington Station in the 1920s. George married a Bedlington girl before going to Australia had worked as the Superintendent of the Parks in Perth, but sadly he died suddenly when back in Northumberland on holiday in 1948. The youngest of Mabel’s Uncles was Stan and he worked as a sheep-shearer but during the Second World War had served in the Australian Army and saw service in Darwin in the Northern Territory. He had married Elsie, now his widow, and Mabel was now meeting her for the first time and planned to stay with her for about six weeks as we took her out and about. Mabel would relate her mother’s story that when Stan had left Bedlington Station his mother had sewn a number golden sovereigns in the lining of his coat so that during his early days in Australia he would always have some money to fall back on! Sarah Ann’s sister Elizabeth married George Colpitts in Bedlington and they, too, emigrated in 1929 but to America where they both worked in large retail stores. Emigration is a sad reflection of the economic times in the years following the Great War. We had a wonderful time in Perth, a beautiful city, picknicking in the extensive parklands on the banks of the Swan River. We attended one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, ‘Night and Day’; a ‘Glyndebourne-style’ event in the grounds of the University of Western Australia for an open-air performance of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’; and a Searchlight Military Tattoo which had The Scots Guards Military Band and their Pipes and Drums. Perth was a place where many from my home town in Peebles in the Scottish Borders emigated to in the early 1950s, including a nephew, so it was great meeting up with many well-known faces. However, it was terribly hot and at midday the temperature was unbearable and on beaches not much shade for shelter.
Boarding at Freemantle, Western AustraliaSingaporeAfter nearly six weeks we sailed from Freemantle in another Russian ship M.V. Turkmenia, a smaller vessel, to sail through the Indian Ocean and thence the Java Sea to Singapore. We found the contast remarkable; Perth was burnt brown by the hot sun but Singapore was beautifully green. I was invited to a meeting with the British High Commissioner to discuss trade and drove in his car with him to attend a luncheon of businessmen at which I was to give an after lunch address. It was a unique experience to drive through the streets of Singapore with the Union Flag flying on the front of the car, my thoughts going back to the time not long before when Singapore had been occupied by the Japanese. Mabel was the mainstay of our retirement years and centre of enjoyment in the years we shared with our family. We took immense pride in the way our son and daughter faced up to challenges of life and thoroughly enjoyed the enormous privilege of sharing in the lives of their children – our five grandchildren. We wanted to reach out to our own parents and have them share in all this love that surrounded us.We kept active in ‘public’ life as Mabel supported and worked hard beside me when I was chairman of appeal to raise the money to build St Mary’s Hospice in Birmingham. She helped with the letters we sent out, roped in her friends and held ‘At Homes’ at Westerly. She also loved working for the Methodist Church and when I became Church treasurer was active in all the efforts to keep our little corner of the Methodist Ministry well-funded for the work it had to do. We still had official functions to attend but travel was part and parcel of our life together.We were fortunately to be able to travel extensively in America, a country she loved to visit and once declared she could happily settle in San Antonio, Texas. Mabel always enjoyed New York found it exciting place to visit, but was full of interest in whereever she went and usually added to her long list of friends. When crossing in the QE2 we met a family from Long Island and Mabel corresponded regularly with them and in due course spent time at their home of several acres just an hour from the centre of New York! Mabel also liked Bermuda.
In South Africa when we visited Cape Town she was appalled at the inhuman regime of apartheid. Whilst waiting at a bus stop on our way to go to the top of Table Mountain, got in conversation with a coloured lady and she and Mabel were obviously delighted to meet each other. When the bus arrived Mabel urged her forward to enter the bus ahead of her but the lady said ‘Oh, no! I have to use the rear entrance!’ Mabel was so concerned and during our time there fretted at the injustice which could thrive in such a beautiful country.One of the many interesting holidays we had during our ‘retirement’ was a couple of weeks in Israel: we wanted to visit the Holy Land. We stayed in Netanya, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, our hotel on the cliff-top with magnificent views over the Mediterrean. We walked a lot and travelled on various tours, including a visit to Jerusalem and many of the Holy places, but in Jerusalem we were sadly disappointed by the rampant commercialism at the Holy sites. It was only when we stood by the Sea of Galilee that we could feel the special peace of the Holy Land and feel that you were close to where Jesus had once walked. On another tour we passed a geat number of defensive sites and burnt-out tanks lying by the side of the road as we journeyed up to the Golan Heights which were captured from Syria the land of the New Testament.After completing my year as President of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, at which the Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher attended my banquet as guest of honour and when I proposed the toast to Her Majesty’s Ministers, we set off for a six-week trip to Canada and America. My wish was to cross the Rockies by train and Mabel wanted to visit America to see the Grand Canyon. We travelled by air to Toronto and then armed with Canadian Railway travelcards for three weeks unrestricted travel, we made our way to Montreal and then to the beautiful city of Quebec and visit the Plains of Arabham. We had decided as we would be in and out of trains that we should travel light and keep our bagage to the minimum. However a few days before we left we attended a dinner and were seated next to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and whilst talking to him about the first ever trade mission coming from Canada to Birmingham, he warmly responded to my suggestion that he might like me to hand a personal letter in to the Prime Minister’s office when we passed through Ottowa to say how delight he was as Lord Mayor that the Canadian Trade Mission had chosen Birmingham and was very much looking forward to greeting them. When I went to collect the letter found he had decided to send with it a set of engraved crystal goblets to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and suddenly we were encumbered with this delicate parcel which Mabel and I had fears of getting broken en route or mislaid or stolen at our various stopovers. We had a ritual of asking for the package to be locked up in the Hotel safe! When Mabel and I called to hand over the crystal goblets engraved with the Birmingham Coat-of-Arms a message was sent to the Prime Minister who was leading the debate about the transferrence of powers from Westminster to the Canadian Parliament. He sent his Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to meet us and to convey his apology as his presence was required in the Commons. We had coffee with him as we sat and talked about our plans to cross Canada he suggested we make a point of visiting Vancouver Island.
When the train pulled into the station in Ottawa to begin our trip across the Rockies, a porter alighted and he confirmed we would be in his coach. He took our luggage as we entered the darkened carriage, and looking down the corridor we could seen double-tiered rows of bunk-beds down both sides of the carriage with curtains drawn in front of them and the occasional arm or foot was seen hanging out. The porter pointed to a lower bunk which Mabel moved towards and I was directed some distance away to a top bunk. I climbed into it fully dressed and wondered what happened next: did I undress and to what extent, and decided to wrestled off some of my top clothes even though there was little room to hang or store anything. Mabel was facing the same problems and both of us (we discovered later) were wishing we had visited the toilet before these events had overtaken us. We settled down and it was a remarkable experience to have the sensation of lying in a bunk on this strange train with the window curtains partly drawn open and the Canadian countryside whizzing by.
At about six in the morning there was the sound of a dull gong being sounded up and down the long sleeping-coach and gradually the lights became brighter – a new day had begun! I lost no time in getting up and finding a toilet, shaved, and called in on Mabel and direct her to the ‘little room’. We then made our way to the dining car and had breakfast as we sped passed the Great Lakes: we both felt on top of the world! We laughed over breakfast as we likened our latest experience to being transported back in time into the middle of a Bing Crosby black-and-white movie of the mid-1930s.
We got off at Winnipeg (in Manitoba), once a fur-trading outpost was now a well-developed urban city with over half a million population. It was to this rich arable land that many Ukrainians settled in the early 1900s, and became known as the ‘wheat belt’. It was beginning of the Western Plains Region, extending from Lake Winnipeg to the Rockies. Our next move was to reboard the train and alight at Calgary, in the Province of Alberta. ‘Calgary’ was a name that had always conjured up thoughts of rodeo and cattle country.
Then after a couple of day reboarded the train again, our next stopover was Banff. The views from the observation coach were breath-taking. Banff was in the heart of the mountains and we specially remember a very happy day spent in visiting Lake Louise, about thirty miles from Banff. Lake Louise is beautiful and Mabel often spoke of our day there, surrounded by magnificent mountains and our time at the splendiferous Chateau Hotel. As a result of glacier activity the lake was emerald green due to the fine particles of glacial silt suspended in the water, but it was far too cold for swimming and only used for boating and fishing.
As we left Banff for our last leg of our journey to cross the Rockies, we passed through rugged mountains, the train for a time running alongside the broad Fraser River and it often skirted close to scraggy streams as we made our way to Vancouver. I was very sad when the train journey came to an end. Mabel and I will always remember the trip and the custom of walking up and down the make-shift platforms constructed from railway-sleepers when the train had to stop to refill with water. Passengers would alight and stretch their legs, walking and chatting. We were approached at one of these stops and asked our views about the Thatcher Government and its impact on the United Kingdom!
Vancouver the capital city of British Columbia, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, we found to be a dull city with long, straight streets. However we enjoyed crossing over to Vancouver Island and spent an agreeable week in Victoria. The hour and forty minute ferry journey took us across the Straits of Georgia on a most beautiful, memorable day with the sea a shimmery mirror – it seemed like another world. Mabel met up with a West Sleekburn friend who kindly showed us round Vancouver Island. We visited the Pacific Rim National Park and saw some of the huge girth trees that one associates with Western Canada and Mabel enjoyed visiting the famous Butchart Gardens with its collection of the most beautiful flowers in the world.
Returning to Vancouver we decided to make our return trip back through America and to visit the Grand Canyon. Booking to join up with an American party we had first to fly to Phoenix in Arizona. Surrounded by deserts, Phoenix had orginally been built as a base for the American Army. We relaxed for a couple of days and then a coach came to collect us and we joined a party of Americans from the neighbouring hotels and drove via Flagstaff to reach the Grand Canyon National Park. We stayed there a couple of nights in bedrooms in a wooden-built camp, having our meals in a central refectory.
We were taken on a tour round the rim of the Grand Canyon, said to be the world’s ‘mightiest’ gorge, and rightly described as one of the greatest natural wonders of North America. The rim is about eight miles wide and the Colorado River that flows through it is a mile below and about three miles out from where you stand. You look down on rock-formed turrets, spires and cupolas and we got an unforgettable view when we flew over and into the canyon in a six-seater aircraft. Mabel was quick to tell our family they must go and see it for themselves!
Night before we had viewed the Taj Mahal in the moonlight; now seeing it bright sunshine.
Riding in style.
India! It was our last ‘big’ trip together, so it is a very special memory. We went to see the Taj Mahal.Staying first in Delhi and then travelling to Agra to the Taj Mahal and then to Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’, visiting en route the deserted Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri built in the 16th Century and deserted after only seventeen years as the wells ran dry.Mabel wrote for the Blackwell Methodist Church magazine: “Old Dehli comprises seven cities, the oldest part dating back to the 15th Century, with its palaces, mosques and forts. New Dehli City was built by the British – sometimes described as ‘Lutyens’ Dehli (Sir Edward Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker were the chief architects) – with wide, tree-lined roads and also beautiful buildings. A seething mass of people, traffic, animals, beggars (particularly children bead sellers), snake charmers, dust and smells. A mixture of races and cultures. We went to see Gandhi’s memorial and was pleased to see this shrine because as a child I used to hear from a retired Methodist missionary minister the tales about India and his friend Gandhi. “When we drove from New Dehli to Agra, we passed through villages rather dirty and very dusty, the craftsmen working in lean-to shacks, the pigs foraging the wells with bullocks working the wheel. The fields were well cultivated with sometimes modern equipment, otherwise with bullock and camel power. There were small factories and the workers appeared to walk long distances to their work.”In Agra the beautiful Taj Mahal is a breath-taking sight whether seen by moonlight or by day. Constructed of marble, it is a wonderful warm colour at night but a brilliant shining white by day.” It was truly unforgettable to see this beautiful white shining marble palace basking in the dying rays of the sinking sun. Mabel and I were so immersed in what we were seeing that we got lost and were quite anxious as we tried to find our party in the darkening light. In our anxiety to rejoin our group we kept bumping into gesticulating groups of Indians, appearing to us to be threatening as they pushed their way towards us seeking to make us buy something or wanting to take us somewhere. We felt our situation getting more desperate by the minute as we wandered in the now gloomy darkness but eventually we recognised a couple from our party and followed them back to the group! The next day, all was peaceful: enhancing the beauty of this lovely Palace built by Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in 1684 in the memory of his beloved wife: a symbol of his eternal love.To my great sadness, Mabel died in 2000, after fifty years of married life shared together in great happiness. I shall never be able to understand how life’s richest blessing could be mine: that Mabel Smith would choose to share her life with me and be the love of my life, beloved mother of my children and adoring and loving grandmother of my five lovely grandchildren. Having survived nearly seven years of the Second World War when so very many brave friends who deserved so much to live but did not survive yet had so very much to give in fullfilment of their lives, that I should have a rich and full life with a loving and beautiful partner by my side. When I next see Mabel she will be standing with her back to me as she often did when waiting for me to come out of a meeting. She is standing looking round with great consuming interest at all that is going, and when she turns and sees me approach I know her face will light up and her lovely smile will melt my heart with love for this wonderful girl.
Joe BrownBorn 1921; began newspaper career 1936 with Peeblesshire Advertiser published by the Neidpath Press, Peebles: served with the local Territorial Battalion 8th Royal Scots (May 1939-43) and 7th/9th (Highlanders) Battalion The Royal Scots (1943-46). Post-War: executive posts with The Scotsman Publications, Coventry Newspapers and Birmingham Post & Mail; CBE for services to British Newspapers. Honorary Callant of the Royal Burgh of Peebles Callants’ Club. Warden of Neidpath 1983. BA(Hons). Publications: History of Peebles: 1850-1990 (J. L. Brown and I. C. Lawson) Mainstream 1990. Websites: www.lawlerbrown.com [Second World War Memoirs] www.john-lowrie.com www.historyofpeebles.com www.neidpathpress.com www.galashielshistory.com