Authors: Brian Darley
Chapter 1 –
Chapter 2 –
Kids for a Quid
Chapter 3 –
Legend of Honour
Chapter 4 –
A Right Little Sod
Chapter 5 –
Babies from Stations
Chapter 6 –
Chapter 7 –
Chapter 8 –
Mine Host Retires
Chapter 9 –
Play Me a Song
Chapter 10 –
Chapter 11 –
Here Comes Summer
Chapter 12 –
Can I Come Along?
Chapter 13 -
First Date Nerves
Chapter 14 –
Let’s Do It Again
Chapter 15 –
Chapter 16 –
Chapter 17 –
Growing Up too Fast
Chapter 18 –
The Promised Land
Chapter 19 –
Chapter 20 –
Chapter 21 –
Chapter 22 –
Meet My Sister
Chapter 23 –
Meet Me by the Car Park
Chapter 24 –
The Train at Platform 2
Chapter 25 –
Tiddler in the Ocean
Chapter 26 –
2 to 1 the Field
Chapter 27 –
Chapter 28 –
Double Gin and Tonic – No Way!
Chapter 29 –
Chapter 30 –
Chapter 31 –
First the Good News!
Chapter 32 –
The Saddest Day
Chapter 33 –
Chapter 34 –
Swearing Under Oath
Chapter 35 –
Friday Night’s Going to be Alright
Chapter 36 –
Silent Bells and Shotguns
Chapter 37 –
Leeks and Daffodils
Chapter 38 –
Honour of the Line is dedicated to
all abandoned children throughout the world
I would like to thank Mr Weeks, my English teacher from my Secondary School, which I attended in 1962-64. He encouraged me by saying that I had the ability to write good stories.
I would have been unable to write this book without the massive support of my wife Lynne who, not only encouraged me to pick up a pen but who also typed the manuscript.
I would also like to thank my friend Steve Gale for designing the front cover and would like to credit Clare Bloomfield for the eyes on the front cover.
In 1950 I was an abandoned child who was adopted into a very working class family environment, which has given me the inspiration to write this story.
This is a story of an abandoned child’s infant and turbulent teenage years. From adoption, to sport, a close friendship with his teacher, teenage sex and being detained in custody. Emotions and morals run strong during this story of love, heartbreak, fatherhood and the complicated feelings for two sisters. This is a story of working class morals.
The official records show that I was born on the 4
August 1950 and my birth place was unknown. At around 6.30 in the morning I was found abandoned on the steps of a home cum institute which still had undertones of the antiquated workhouse system.
It’s location was around 25 miles South of London, just north of a very working class town and close to the main railway route to the South Coast. Locally it was still known as The Workhouse but it’s official name was St Jude’s.
The building was massive and very grand from the front with large gardens and a chapel to the right of the main structure. However, if you ventured to the back the realities became only too obvious. There were long stable like blocks where the homeless were housed and families living there were required to work free of charge as either cleaners, carers or kitchen staff for the privilege. These blocks were divided into small rooms with a hanging light and usually an old worn out spring bed. At the end of the block was the kitchen which had a sink with only cold water for all to share, plus two gas cookers and all of this for thirty to forty families to cook with. There were two toilets, which were always bereft of paper and a clothes line in the yard.
The main building served as a cross between a care home and a hospice, basically somewhere for the old and frail to spend their last weeks. If an elderly neighbour was unwell and taken by ambulance to St Jude’s, invariably you would hear of their death before too long.
In the latter years of my childhood I would be destined to spend quite a lot of time visiting school friends who lived in the homeless quarters. By this time it was normally frequented by young mothers who had got themselves in ‘the family way’. Another reason I became familiar with this part of town was owing to St Jude’s proximity to the railway line and my fascination for trains. I used to love standing on the footbridge which led to the rear of St Jude’s, especially when steam trains passed underneath and I got covered in smoke and soot. In latter years most boys from my area became train spotters.
During my excursions back to St Jude’s I became only too aware of the appalling conditions in which families were forced to live. Indeed, one of my best friends, who was the product of a French/Canadian, lived there with his mother, four sisters and a brother. He never looked well and always seemed to be suffering from one ailment or another.
On the 7
September 1950 my time at St Jude’s had been duly served and I was off to pastures new where the grass was much greener.
St Jude’s finally closed in 1965 but the building stood derelict for a number of years before eventually being demolished. The magnificent clock on the main tower was fully restored and is now proudly in place outside of the new modern shopping precinct in the centre of town. There is also a small museum about the history of St Jude’s. One of the scripts in the museum reads ‘St Jude’s was a place for the sick and feeble to die in comfort and also a haven for homeless families and a dumping ground for unwanted bastards’.
What is not noted in the museum was the atrocious conditions people of that time had to endure. Hunger, lack of hygiene, inadequate sanitation and, for the great majority, no real future. Most of the children grew up to be poorly educated with little prospects and many turned to petty crime.
People nowadays still refer to the area as ‘the old Workhouse’, but it is now full of modern swish apartments where commuters live and the prices are sky high owing to the proximity to the main line railway station giving access to London and the major airports, a far cry from the darkest days just after the war.
Throughout my life I have always been really grateful that I was taken in and cared for during the first month of my life and at school I always had a real soft spot for those other kids who sadly weren’t rescued as I was, but I suppose they at least had one parent.
The traumas of my very early days were never a problem to me but have started to play with my brain as the years pass by.
Whilst I was still too young to remember a couple from the town named Joan and Jim were busy trying to find a baby to adopt. They were not able to produce children of their own and were told it was easy to adopt young babies from the Workhouse.
Those days, the rules on adoption were almost non existent, although prospective parents did eventually have to attend court to make the bond legal. I was led to believe that a couple were able to simply fill in a form after proving their identification and would be given a child for a trial period. However, if they donated £1 they could get to choose from the dozen or so who were always needing homes. I suppose it resembled a modern day rescue centre for unwanted cats and dogs, although animal rescues usually do a home check first.
On that wonderful day in 1950 I was the lucky one they chose and they officially adopted me on the 16
January 1951. At the Workhouse I had been named Ken but my new Mum and Dad named me Billy. On the 25
March 1951 I was christened William Samuel McFirley at our local church St Luke’s. I still possess a photo of my Christening, it looked bitterly cold and my Dad is holding one hand behind his back on the church steps, hiding a cigarette no doubt.
My new parents had met at the start of the War. My Mum worked in the N.A.A.F.I. and Dad was doing his initial basic training before being sent to the Middle East. He never spoke about the War and always said that those that boasted were false. He said that real soldiers knew them as Skin Back Fusiliers!
Mum had been born in our home town Colwood. Her mother had died whilst giving birth to her and so she was brought up by just her Dad (my new Grandad) and his sister who lived just up the street.
Grandad worked on the building doing plastering and was a master of his trade. Dad had left the Army after the War and was a coal man, we always had plenty of coal. Mum was a part-time butcher, a trade she had learned after being called up. Whereas Mum and Grandad were locals my Dad came from South London. His mum, a dressmaker by trade, was a Bristolian and his late Father came from Argyll in Scotland, hence my surname McFirley. It was fitting that my Dad served in the Scottish Regiment during the War. He was very proud to have been a Kings Own Scottish Borderer and his Glengarry was his most prized possession from those times. It is still in the family to this day. Dad was, to put it mildly, an honest rogue. He prided himself on being the Robin Hood of his time, being able to rob the rich and feed the poor. In my early days food was in very short supply but we always had fresh meat in abundance and I assume all the local businessmen did as we received many good turns from them.
Once every late Spring, the Undertaker would turn up in the hearse and deliver off-cuts from coffins for us to use as bean sticks. I remember him saying to my Grandad ‘“Frank, you have good kids, we all look out for each other”.
We all lived in Grandad’s rented house where his Mother had raised 12 children and had her husband not have been killed at the Somme in 1916 I feel sure there would have been many many more. It was a three bedroomed semi and we lived in the front room and Grandad lived in the back, but I was to have the best of both worlds, because I spent hours with him playing, he always had time for me when I was growing up. I suppose I was the son he had probably longed for. We had a shared scullery which had a sink with a cold water tap and an old fashioned gas cooker and the added luxury of a gas copper to do the weekly wash. In the back yard was a coal shed, outside toilet, a mangle for the washing and a tin bath hanging from a nail on the wall. All water had to be heated up, either on the kitchen range in Grandad’s room or on the gas stove. Needless to say the kitchen was always full of steam, necessitating the back door to be forever open. It was always freezing. We had quite a large rear garden which was used for growing vegetables and there was also a large rough grass area for us to play on.
The area in which we lived was known locally as ‘Between the Arches’, as it was a big town and the railway split just to the south of the town station. Between the Arches was effectively an area shaped like a triangle, narrow at it’s northern extremity and far wider at the south. The railway engine sheds were between the arches, as were the gas works and access to our close knit community was by going under one of the six arches which separated us from the rest of town.