My Dad, the soldier.

In a few days time, I will be remembering my Dad’s birthday, followed in just over a day, by the anniversary of his death.

Born into a very poor family, and one of seven children, George Denis Fouracres came into the world already suffering from rickets. His mother must have been very malnourished. Denis, as he was known in the family, was a bright child. In the street where he lived was a small chapel. Above the door was an inscription, “God is Love”. Denis, of course, could not read, He was only three, but he had an intelligence far beyond his years. They were not a particularly religious family, but he had heard of God. He asked his mother what the words above the door said. She read it to him, pointing to each word in turn. He said he thought “Oh, that’s what God means, it means Love…God is love”. As I said, a very bright child.

He did quite well at school, as far as it went in those days, but at fourteen he left school, and started work, in order to help his mother support the family. I think his first job was as a porter in The Bristol Royal Infirmary. He told me that when he was on nights, it could be very eery, especially when a ward had summoned him to transfer a patient to “Ward Thirteen.” This was the name given to the mortuary. They didn’t really like the other patients knowing that somebody had died, so they used “Ward Thirteen” in case another patient overheard the telephone conversation.

The route to the mortuary included some quite dark tunnel-like corridors, and his imagination used to work overtime. Not surprising, really, as at aged fourteen, he really was just a boy.

When he was sixteen, he lied about his age, and joined the Army. It was 1941. The Second World war had been raging for two years, and he wanted to be part of it. To him, it was a big adventure, exciting, and an amazing thing to take part in. He described how later, on the eve of their crossing over to France, they sat on the cliff top, just by the memorial to the young men who had left from there in the First World War, but who had lost their lives, and had never made it back to their loved ones. Suddenly it didn’t seem so exciting. He was beginning to grow up. Fast. 

The war was to be the period of his life that held most importance in his life. He had to deal with the loss of several good friends, whilst still trying to do his best as a soldier. No time for grieving then… that would come later, after the war.

In June1947, he and my mother married, and by December 1950 they had two babies. I was the eldest, at 18 months, and my brother was newly born. They were struggling to provide a home for us. They didn’t have much, in fact really didn’t expect much. They had both grown up in large, impoverished families. Britain was still trying to recover from the war. Food and clothing were rationed. The few bits Mum and Dad had were passed down from other members of the family. We all lived in the front room of the small terraced house that Mum’s brother rented and lived in, with his wife and children. My cot was two chairs pushed together.

Mum hated living there, and every day when Dad went to his job in a local factory, she would pile her two babies into the pram, and walk to her Mother’s house, only going home in time for my Dad’s return from work. I think that inevitably, living in such cramped conditions took a toll. Mum was depressed, Dad was constantly worried about how he could support us. Things were pretty bad.

One day he came home and told my Mum that he had rejoined the Army. This time as a Regular soldier, and that he had signed on for twenty two years. She was furious, angry and upset, and refused to listen when he explained that he had done it for her, and for us. She went up to her mother, crying, and for the first time, her mother took my Dad’s side, and told my Mum she had two bairns to think about, and that she should get on with it.

Later, Mum admitted that joining up was the best thing he ever did. Life for Army families meant a lot of moving house. In her case “marching in” to some pretty filthy quarters, and a couple of years later “marching out” of the immaculate home she had made for us.

Dad had been right. In the Army, we were guaranteed a house, with furniture, crockery, bedding…everything we could possibly need. Life was good.

World War One had been dubbed “The war to end all wars”. Twenty one years later people must have been stunned when they realised they had gone through all that, and now it was starting again. I think my Mother hadn’t felt able to trust that there wouldn’t be another war, a Third world war, and that was why she was so upset. That and the prospect of leaving her Mother.

Dad went to Egypt during the Suez crisis, but apart from that we counted ourselves lucky. He was part of a peacetime force. There was no fighting for him, and for that I’m so grateful. When he left the Army in 1972 the troubles in Northern Ireland were starting up again, though I always felt they had been simmering away just under the surface since about 1918. Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about him being deployed out there.

After the Army, Dad worked at Colchester Institute, teaching vehicle mechanics and Electrics. When he retired it was to a small village in Shropshire. After Mum died in 2001, he struggled to cope with his grief, and eventually informed us that he was going to have a trial six weeks stay in a British Legion home in Norfolk. After a week, he asked the matron if he could stay, He’d found somewhere he could be happy. A bonus was that there were other men who had shared his experiences of the Army in war and in peace. 

Dad had a stroke as he was getting dressed on the day after his birthday. He was 78 years old. He was a kind man. He was quiet, and quite reserved . He had a wry sense of humour. And right up until the end of his life, he was a soldier. 

I think about my Dad often. I miss him a lot. I knew him as a loving Dad, but when I see him in my mind’s eye, even, right at the end of his life, I see a soldier, still serving.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tania
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 09:20:35

    That is a really lovely post Mum xxxxx

    Reply

  2. Joy clixby
    May 06, 2017 @ 13:11:54

    Wonderful story Jennie and very well written. It’s strange how when you look back how hard it all was for people. And the best bit your talking about my aunt and uncle who I never really knew xx

    Reply

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