It was amazing that my Dad wrote his story, I’d never really known him to write anything until then. He was brilliant and we all loved him to bits. He never spoke about any of this, so if he hadn’t have written it down we may never have known.
Twice Lost, a personal memoir by Harry Milner Howard
Chapter One – Manchester
I can’t recall my father living at home before he left us all to live with another woman. We lived in a council house in Bowden Avenue, Princess Road, Manchester. We had decided as a family that we were going to emigrate to Canada, though we children were too young to make any decisions, so I presume it must have been my father or my mother and father. There were four children; my twin sisters Betty and Joan, who were about eight years old, myself, aged five, and my young sister Doreen, who was six months old. When the decision was made to emigrate, we all had our inoculations, got all our passports and all arrangements were made to go. The hardest part for my mother and for us children was leaving my grandma and grandpa. There didn’t seem to be anybody else too upsetting to leave, except a few friends who lived on the estate.
I was born on April 16th 1923. My father told my mother that he had two very good business customers and he would like to name me after them. One was called Harry and the other Milner. So that was me, Harry Milner Howard. It wasn’t until years later that my mother found out that I had actually been named after the landlord of the Alexandra Hotel that my father used to frequent. His name was Harry Milner Kennedy. Coincidentally, years later my sister Betty and her husband George became managers of the same hotel.
We had no contact with my father’s parents. In those days it was the old problem of religion. My father was a Catholic, and my mother a Protestant. My father, Sam Howard, had two sisters, who we had a very stormy relationship with. Aunty Polly was very nice but was completely dominated by her elder sister Fanny. Fanny was a terrible person. Though she did not do anybody any physical harm, she used foul language and didn’t care what harmful things she said. My mother’s parents were called Joseph and Phoebe Sophia Hall (nee Leicester – as my Grandmother always said, “spelt like the town”). They had two children, Jack, and my Mother. When my mother was born, Grandma had to stay in bed for a few months, so when they had to register her name she asked her husband, Joe, to do it. He was very partial to a glass of beer or two, so on the way to Manchester to the Registrar’s office he called at the Red Lion, his favourite pub. My grandma had told him that she wanted their daughter to be called Ada, but after a few drinks he forgot the name. He saw the Registrar and said “ah well, owd Phoebe, young Phoebe “, and that’s how my mother was called Phoebe and not Ada.
There is another story about my grandpa, whom I loved very much and the Red Lion pub. Many years after my grandpa died my grandma told me this story. Every Saturday night when my grandpa went to the pub, he always bought my grandma a quarter of Liquorice Allsorts. She thought this was marvellous. It wasn’t until many years later that she found out that he always bought the barmaid a box of Milk Tray chocolates!
When we were about to emigrate to Canada, just before the departure date it was all called off. I’m not sure why, but we were told it was something to do with my father’s war pension. Be that as it may, but it was at this time that my father decided to leave us. Five is a terrible age for a boy to lose his father, more so when he is left as the only male in the family. It was a very sad time for me. I can remember attempting to be brave in front of my mother and sisters, but crying when I was on my own, and many nights I cried myself to sleep. We had no furniture and no money. We were dirt poor. I recall my mother putting a newspaper on the floor and we children would sit around, cross-legged, to eat our meals. We didn’t know where our father was and he didn’t send any money. Fortunately my grandparents came to the rescue. They came to live with us, and looked after us when my mother went to work. She learnt ladies hairdressing – cutting and Marcel waving, then knocked on doors on the council estate off Mauldeth Road, Withington. I can see her now, out in all weathers, her leather coat down to her ankles and her Cloche hat. “Can I do your hair?”, “No thanks”; move on, try next door, knock knock, “Can I do your hair?” and on and on until somebody would say “Come on in” or “Come back tomorrow”. Cold canvassing, the hardest game in the world, but she did it. My mother was a lovely lady, good looking and smart, but she was tough. She went on and on until she had a clientele. My grandmother fed us and looked after us; dumplings, Lancashire hot pot, spotted dick, all good filling food. Our lavatory was just outside the back door – just a lavatory, no washbasin, with brick whitewashed walls. My Grandpa cut up the newspaper into 9″ squares, put a hole in the corner, hung it on a nail, and hey presto, toilet paper.
Grandpa was my favourite person. We had great times together. He taught me how to do many things. He made me wooden rifles and revolvers and taught me how to ride a bike. I loved him very much. He was on my side – two males in a house of women! Most Sundays I was sent off to Sunday school with a penny for the collection. On the odd occasion I would go to Plattfields and spend the penny instead. One Sunday I fell in the lake, so my little escapade was uncovered. I was dried off and told to go to bed, with a promise from my mother that she would be up to deal out the punishment. My Grandpa said he’d deal with this, and walked upstairs behind me, taking off his belt. However when we got into my bedroom and the door was closed, his belt was back on and a couple of apples appeared from out of his pocket. A discussion followed about not doing it again, and I didn’t. My Grandpa was the wisest, cleverest person in the world and I loved him. When I was seven he died; my second loss. Grandpa had a dreadful illness, he died of throat cancer. He was fed through his belly button and I took my turn in feeding him through a tube. I spent a lot of time sitting with him in his bedroom when he was ill, but worst of all I was not allowed to go to his funeral. They thought I was too young. I can vividly remember running by the hearse, wanting to be with him as long as I could. I kept running after the hearse until it was going too fast for my young legs. Two tragedies in two years. I thought my world had come to an end.
My Grandpa and I used to hold hands and go everywhere together. I remember how he used to make herb beer, and he would let Harry Milliard (my pal) and me have a few drinks. He had a big chest in the back garden, like a sea chest, full of tools. He could make everything. I have only one photograph of him, but can remember him as if it were yesterday. My grandma told me that he was a very handsome man in his younger days. He had a big moustache with waxed twirls at each end. No wonder the barmaid at the Red Lion admired him. When I was maybe three years old my grandparents had a farm and a pub in Turton near Bolton, called the Dog and Grouse. I have a few memories of this and stories told to me by my grandma and mother. I’ve also seen photographs of me walking hand in hand with my Grandpa going to feed the chickens and ride the horse and trap. The horse was called Kitty and my mother told me how I used to copy the farm workers when I was riding the trap and say “Pick your bloody hooves up Kitty”. She also told me that when the pub closed and the customers had gone home, I would go round the tables finishing off any beer that was left in the pint pots. I really used to think that my Grandpa and I ran the farm. After the pub closed, men from the village would let Kitty out of the field, knock on the door and say that she had escaped and that they had found her down the road., hoping for a drink as a reward. After it happened too many times Grandma tumbled to it and no more free drinks were given.
My mother had a brother, Uncle Jack who was married to Aunty Rose. They had four children, all younger than our family. They had two daughters and for some strange reason they called them Joan and Betty, the same as my twin sisters. We never knew why. The two boys were called Jack and Frank. Sadly, Frank died in a road accident when he was thirty five. The two families didn’t mix, I think that there was some kind of feud. When I got married and left the family home I made contact with them and I found them to be a very nice family. I was the only one from our side of the family to go to Uncle Jack and Aunty Roses’ funerals. I keep in contact with Joan, the eldest daughter to this day. Unfortunately, none of my children know any of their children.
I was now seven and still in Bowden Avenue. After the death of my grandpa I put a shell around myself. I didn’t want to be hurt so much again.
As a young boy, Bowden Avenue was a happy time. We had a gang, we knocked at doors and ran away, challenging the household to chase us, we played many innocent tricks on people, we collected wood for bonfire night, we raided rival gangs for their wood, they raided ours which we guarded as if it were gold. We played football, we played games, we rode our bikes and played polo on them, we skated round the avenue. When I was about nine or ten my father sent me a bicycle for my birthday. It was obvious he hadn’t seen me for years because it was a 21” racing cycle for a grown man! Fortunately we knew Jack Sibbert the famous racing cyclist who also sold bikes and he exchanged it for one my size. It was my pride and joy. Games had their seasons, Whip and Top, Piggy, Cigarette cards, marbles. Those were good days with good friends. It was also very exciting. All the boys followed Manchester City. They had won the Cup in 1934, but to make it special for us, quite a few of the players lived in our avenue. Matt Busby, Alex Hurd, Eric Toseland, Eric Brookes, Sam Cowan, Len Longford, the Goalkeeper before Frank Swift. Thinking about those times brings back memories of some of the gang members – Richard Benson (the leader), Trevor Smith (special friend), Harry Milliard (special friend), Teddy Walsh (a hero in Africa during the war), Vincent Pegg and Eric Rain – happy memories.
That was at home. At school it was a different story. I went to Princess Road Elementary School, in Moss side. I was the only boy in our gang who went to this school. I can’t remember learning very much. It was a brutal school, each teacher had his own special way of punishing the boys (it was a boy’s only school). I only remember one teacher who seemed to be fair and tried to teach, but it was fairly hopeless with the type of boys who went to this school. Some came from homes for delinquents. They fought each other and they fought the teachers (the weaker ones). I always tried to stay out of trouble, but wasn’t always successful. I remember one occasion when I was about seven or eight, I got into a fight and had my front teeth knocked out. My second teeth grew with a black line across them which I had for quite a number of years. Because of this, I started to get bullied. There was one certain boy, Feilding by name, red hair and bigger than me. One day I was playing marbles in the playground, when Fielding came up and started kicking my marbles and being generally aggressive, so I challenged him to a fight, after school behind the cinema. The news spread and after school half the pupils had gathered behind the cinema to see me get my head knocked off. Well at the end of the fight I hadn’t won but I put up a good show. Fielding didn’t look as bad as me, but strangely enough, nobody ever bullied me again.
Mr Waller was our chemistry teacher, not that I remember doing much chemistry. But I remember one occasion he was making some kind of explosive and something went wrong. There was an explosion all right, but it blew off two of his fingers. The boys all cheered, some sort of revenge for all the times he had belted us with a piece of tyre. When I was eleven, by some fluke I passed my scholarship, but unfortunately I was unable to go to the High School as I had to leave school at fourteen to earn money for the family. The only other thing I remember about school was getting knocked down by a car. I had to travel by tramcar number 44 along Princess Road to Moss Side, and I ran behind a greengrocer’s horse and cart to get to the tram without looking to see if anything was coming. I was hit by a car and the next thing I remember was my mother and Grandma sitting on me with the doctor giving me chloroform. It was an awful experience. When I was under, they stitched up the wound in my leg and I stayed at home until I was fit enough to go back to school. Can you imagine that happening now? I would have been put in an ambulance and taken to hospital, into the operating theatre and back to the ward to be looked after by the nurses until I had recovered!
About this time (1934/35) my twin sisters were in a dancing troupe and were appearing at all the main theatres. My younger sister Doreen joined the troupe but she didn’t like being away from home, so she came back and that was the end of her stage career. I was quite proud of my sisters when they told me about the big stars they worked with. I remember one was Paul Robeson, the famous black bass singer My sisters told me that every night after the show poor black people would gather outside the stage door, and he would give them some money. Betty and Joan always had great birthday parties, with lots of friends and entertainments. I cannot remember myself or Doreen having parties. I think that at that time, Betty and Joan were favourites as they were older and used to go out with my mother. They all three smoked and drank and swore a bit whereas Doreen and I never did at home. During the war my mother and twin sisters were in a concert party. Mother played the piano and Betty and Joan sang and tap danced. The concert party did over 100 concerts for the troops, mainly at anti-aircraft gun sights around Manchester. Frank Swift, a famous goalkeeper for Manchester City was a special policeman during the war. He was always a showman, and on one occasion he saw my sisters, dressed very smartly and exactly alike waiting to cross the road. He stopped all the traffic, and gallantly escorted them across. Frank died in the Munich air crash with the ‘Busby Babes’, where he had been reporting for a newspaper.
I left school at fourteen and my first job was at a travel agents which lasted a few weeks. I didn’t like it so I left and as my mother always insisted I get an office job I got work at a textile firm, ‘Henry Bronnert and Co.’ on Princess Street. Later this move made a complete change to my life, for the better. About this time my father (Sam) was making occasional visits to us. He had three brothers, and two sisters. The brothers were Bill, Jim and Tom. They all lived in Canada, though they came back for occasional visits, staying at our house. One night the four of them went off in a taxi for a few drinks. Drink was the big problem with the Howard brothers. I was in bed when they came back. They all came into the house, but in a very short time they all tumbled out again, all fighting each other in the avenue. Í don’t know what the neighbours thought but in those days on our estate a bit of tussle was not unexpected. No wonder my father and his brothers were known as the Fighting Howards. One time one of my father’s brothers came back to start a business with my father in London. They were starting a security business, burglar alarms etc. My father travelled all over the country selling, whilst my uncle looked after the office, the administration and was cashier. My father got back after being away for a week and found the office bare of furniture, no money in the bank and his brother missing – back in Canada with all the money! I was told that Uncle Bill and Uncle Tom had a particularly bad relationship. They had a fight and Tom was put in hospital for a few days. When he came out, Bill was waiting for him on the hospital steps, not to apologise but to put him straight back in hospital! With four brothers like that and the two sisters I’ve already mentioned – what a family! I never knew my father’s parents and only know that they came from County Cork, Ireland.
When I was in my teens, about sixteen, we moved into a beautiful big house on Wilbraham Road. My father was in business in Newhaven in Sussex (living with the ‘other woman’, Vera), and must have been doing well for himself because he helped pay for the new house. Betty and Joan at that time were courting Fred and Jack Fosbrook. They were twin brothers, both over six feet tall with fair wavy hair. However Betty fell for and later married one of his friends, George Smith, who during the war rose to the rank of Colonel via Sandhurst and spent the war in India and Burma with the Punjab Regiment. I was now working at Bronnerts in the buying department. My job was making tea for the other four people in the department and keeping the office clean – sweeping the floor with sawdust every night. The desks were high and we sat on tall stools or stood at our desks. We didn’t post local letters, the office boy (ie. me) took them round to local firms in the town centre. I was paid ten shillings a week, which I took home to my mother. She gave me back one shilling for my ‘spends’ or pocket money.
When World War 2 started I was sixteen years old, and my mother, much to my disappointment, said that I would not be able to go into the army as the war would not last that much longer. Everybody was issued with gas masks as we were convinced that the Germans would drop poison gas on us. Air raid shelters were built – we had an Anderson shelter in our garden. We expected to be bombed and gassed but for twelve months nothing happened. Then the air raids started. They were usually at night, and during the winter people would rush home from work, get something to eat, wait for the sirens then go to the shelter. If I’d gone to bed, I would not want to get up and I’d say that I’d take my chance, but my mother or Grandma would insist. On one occasion my sister Doreen was singing ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ when a bomb dropped near our house, breaking a few windows. Ever since I can’t hear the song or even hear someone saying Berkeley Square without ducking! I must say that I was not really frightened, and in fact found it quite exciting. I wanted to get away from this boring office life and get into the army to fight for my country. At that age I’d obviously got a lot to learn. Most of my friends wanted the glamorous life in the Air Force – the ‘Brylcream boys’ as they were known – not my style at all. My idea was to go into the army, the Infantry. I didn’t know that there was anything else, but soon enough learnt why they were known as “the poor bloody infantry”. During the time of the air raids we had ‘blackouts’. Every window had to be blacked out and not a light to be shown anywhere. There were air raid wardens to check on this and the cry “turn that bloody light out” was regularly heard after dark. Motor car lights were shaded and covered with just a fine slit showing – not that there were many in those days, especially since petrol was rationed to people with priority.
The worst time was the Manchester blitz. It was a Sunday night in December 1940, and I was at the Odeon in the City with some friends watching a show. One of my friends was Dougie Fidler. I had met him at work. He was one or two years older than me but we became very good friends. Although I was under age, we could both sink a good few pints. Our favourite Pub was the Horse and Jockey on Chorlton Green, where I had had my first pint. Maybe I had good training at the Dog and Grouse when I was four! Dougie was very unhappy living at home with his step-mother, so I asked my mother if he could live with us and she agreed. He moved in and stayed just like one of the family. Anyway, we were watching the show when the sirens went off. As usual it was announced that the show would carry on so we decided to stay. Quite a lot of people left and the bombing and noise from the anti-aircraft guns got louder and louder. Eventually the show was stopped and an announcement informed us that it was very bad outside and that they were closing. We went out onto Oxford Street and couldn’t believe our eyes. Practically every building except the Odeon was either bombed or was burning, and the air raid was still in progress. Dougie and I decided to try to get home. Some people headed for the shelters. There were no tramcars or anything so we decided to run the 4 or 5 miles back home. Off we went through bomb craters, skirting around burning buildings. Many people had been caught in the raid, and dead and injured people were lying around with ambulances and fire engines trying to get through. Eventually we arrived at Bowden Avenue and dived into the shelter at the bottom of the garden. The family were pleased to see us. They knew where we had gone, and in those days you prepared yourself for the worst. The next day Dougie and I went to work. What a terrible mess. Bombed buildings all around, some still on fire. The rescue people were digging dead and injured people out of the ruins – children and adults. Glass was everywhere. When we started bombing their cities, people wanted revenge. You hear now about how bad it was to bomb Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden, but then you thought ‘What you sow, so shall you reap’, and I’m sure the people of Poland who were the first to get bombed in the War felt no sympathy for the Germans. When I was eighteen, I joined the Army.
I went for my medical and passed A1, and when they asked what service I wanted to join I said the Army, Infantry. At the medical I met another young man, Ken Holmer, who we will hear more of later. I was called up to the East Lancashire regiment at Squires Gate holiday camp, Blackpool. Believe me, it was no holiday. It was February 1942, and I was sweet eighteen with only one experience with the opposite sex. This was with a young lady who was a few years older than me and for once she went for me instead of Dougie. All the girls fell for Dougie. He was like Paul Newman and could turn a girl’s heart just by looking at her. I can’t even remember the name of the young lady who went for me, but she called for me one evening wearing a fur coat. It caused quite a stir in the family because in those days the saying was “fur coat and no knickers”. I’ll always remember her as the girl in the fur coat! She was my first real experience with the opposite sex. I’d played ‘truth and dare’ with the local girls, all very innocent – “I dare you to go behind the hedge with Rita or “Tell the truth about what happened with you and Laura”, but the girl with the fur coat was something different.
So here I was in the army in February 1942. We were billeted in chalets, no heat and the winter of ’42 was a very bad one. When I arrived at Squiresgate station there were other boys waiting too, and we were met by a soldier who turned out to be a Sergeant Major. We wondered what had hit us when he started bellowing and shouting orders, “Stand to attention, form up in fours” we didn’t have a clue what he meant, and somehow shambled into the camp. We were allocated our chalets and told to get on parade. Every order was shouted at us, and we were constantly told what a terrible shower we were. I was allocated to the 136 platoon where I met Alan Knowles, who became known as Stoney, because he was always broke. He came from Cumbria and we became good friends. Our Platoon sergeant was Sergeant Archer. He was big, rough and horrible. He was a regular soldier who’d been at Dunkirk. It was his job to put us through our basic training and teach us how to kill. If he told us to jump off a cliff, we’d be expected to do it. It was terrible at the time, but I expect it was necessary. Iron discipline made good soldiers. At that time I was about 5’6″ and eight and a half stone wet through. Most of the seventeen and eighteen year olds in my platoon were similar. Sergeant Archer was about thirty, over six feet tall and about three feet wide! I remember him once saying that if any of us had a personal grudge against him, he would be quite happy to meet us in the gym and go a few rounds in the ring. No one took him up on it.
I was lucky that I was well coordinated. I could march well and do army drill, but some of the boys couldn’t even get their arms right. Some tried to move their right arm forward at the same time as the right leg and so on. The problem was that everyone was kept drilling until everybody got it correct. God help the boy who dropped his rifle or threw it over his shoulder when he sloped arms. Many times I was so tired and at the end my tether that I thought that if it went on any longer I’d have to drop out, but somehow I always made it. We used to have runs on the beach and up and down the sand hills, wearing only shorts and plimsolls during the coldest winter for years. On one run my penis was that cold that I think it had frost bite. It was excruciating. I remember holding it as I was running along to try to warm it up. It took a long time to get right, and I just remember wishing that I had the ‘girl in the fur coat’ waiting for me in my chalet!
For the first few weeks we were confined to camp, then we were allowed to go into Blackpool at certain times. Blackpool was mainly an airforce town. We were the only squaddies or ”brown jobs’ as the air force called us, outside Squiresgate camp. On the Blackpool side there was a large pub, I think it’s still there. During the war it was a Billet for the WAAFS – we referred to it as the Waffery. Well when we were allowed to go out we made a beeline for the Waffery. I think we had an advantage over the Airforce boys as we were in the minority. The first weekend I was allowed out to Blackpool I decided that I would risk hitch-hiking to Manchester. Strictly this is classified as going ‘AWOL’ or ‘Absent Without Leave’ quite a serious offence but I thought that if you don’t take a chance you never get anywhere. I was never really frightened or nervous about anything, maybe it was this shell that I’d put around me when I was seven. Anyway, I walked nearly to Preston without getting a lift. I was working out whether I could afford to get a train or bus from Preston – we were paid fourteen shillings a week and I sent seven home to Mother, and another shilling was taken out for barrack room damages leaving me with six. As I was thinking about this a car appeared on the horizon, so I desperately wagged my thumb and the car pulled to a stop. “Get in” said a voice from inside and to my horror as I climbed in the car I saw that it was none other than Sergeant Archer! He talked to me as if he’d never seen me before, asking me where I wanted dropping and so on. I just sat there petrified. Eventually he dropped me off without a word. I certainly didn’t enjoy my weekend much worrying about what would happen to me. I got back to camp on Sunday evening and waited for the fateful Monday Reveille. When it came I got up, shaved especially well, sorted my equipment, and did everything better than ever. I paraded to the mess room for breakfast then back to the chalet and waited to go on parade. I thought about what might happen to me, such as being sent to the ‘glasshouse’ or army prison where soldiers had been known to die. I went on Parade and waited. Sergeant Archers’s voice seemed louder and harsher than ever, but he said nothing except just before he dismissed us for P.T. he said “I don’t want any of you fucking off home for the weekend, because if you get caught it can have some very serious consequences”. He didn’t look at me once, but for the next week I got more reprimands for my drills and marching than ever before, and I got more mess room fatigues than usual!
I was beginning to realise that the Infantry was a mistake, but I certainly didn’t want to go through the war without seeing action, so I decided to follow up a notice asking for volunteers to become glider pilots. I thought “that’s for me”, put my name down and got an interview. I passed my fitness test with flying colours but unfortunately my education (or lack of it) let me down, and I was sent back to the regiment. From there I was quickly transferred to the Royal Sussex Regiment in Chichester. More training followed, target practice, making us tough and teaching us how to kill. I was very proud to earn my cross rifles on my sleeve. This meant I had passed my target practice as a marksman and would be able to become a sniper. I’m happy I never took this on as the life expectancy of a sniper is very short. One day I was called off parade and told to report to the Colonel’s office. This was very unusual. As I approached the office I noticed an Alvis open tourer parked outside. I knocked on the door.
I stepped smartly in, and threw up a salute, standing smartly to attention,
“Stand at ease Howard, I expect you are wondering why you are here”,
“Yes Sir”, I said in firm voice wondering what was going on. Then out of the next office came my father!
“Well, what do you think of your son Sam, we took a boy and made a man”.
I was still only eighteen. I noticed that my father called the Colonel by his first name.
“You’ve got a couple of days leave” said the Colonel, “I’ll inform your Platoon Sergeant, now off you go”. It was only much later that I learnt that my father and the Colonel were fellow masons and had met at my father’s lodge in London. He held quite a high rank in the Free Masons and I spent the next two days living like a millionaire. My father was in the money at this time. He was really an entrepreneur, besides trying the security business, he had a very successful hotel in Newhaven. He organised and ran in the early 1940s fruit machines in pubs all along the south coast. He also had a restaurant in Brighton. When he was in Newhaven he had a 20ft inboard motor boat and I was very proud when I found out that his was one of the small boats that went across to Dunkirk to rescue British soldiers from the beaches.
From Chichester I put in an application to join the Royal Corps of Signals as a wireless operator. I was successful and transferred to the Royal Signals training centre in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. This was a complete change from all my previous experience in the army. It was so civilised. Our Sergeant Duffy said to us that he was more like a teacher, but it was a concentrated course. In six months we had to be qualified wireless operators able to send and receive Morse code at a very high speed. We had to be qualified in repairing wireless sets and have a theory of electricity and magnetism. When you passed you got tradesman’s pay which would make life much more pleasant, although most of the ATS girls went Dutch! Also Huddersfield was full of lovely girls and no men except us soldiers. All the Huddersfield men were away in the services, like we were, so there was a great choice between ATS girls and Civvy girls. I was very friendly with an ATS girl called Penny, who came from Nottingham. She worked in the cookhouse, on the food line, so I often got extra food and the best bits. At this stage Stoney Knowles came back into my life. He had opted for the Signals and was in Huddersfield learning to be a lineman. We had great times together, it was one of the good times in my army career. There was one girl, I think she was called Betty, who I was very fond of and she took me home to meet her parents. When I left Huddersfield we said we would write. I thought it was serious, however when I met Stoney after the war, he told me that he had also been taking Betty out and he didn’t know about me. He wrote regularly to her, as I did, then she stopped writing to me and I found out later that this was about the time that Stoney wrote and asked her to marry him. The marriage never came off and when Stoney and I met after the war we had a good laugh about it.
When I finished and passed my course I was sent on a week’s leave. Towards the end of that week I received a telegram – “take another week as embarkation leave”. Remember, I was living in a house of women and after nine months away I wasn’t too comfortable with this as I’d lived with only men for nine months. The day that my embarkation leave ended was a Wednesday. At the time I had to leave I had no idea how long I would be gone for, maybe forever. My sisters went off to work in the morning. “Goodbye Harry!”. Doreen went to school “Goodbye Harry!”. I was due to get the tram about noon to catch the train. Wednesday was my mother’s day out, so she got ready, and just said “Goodbye Harry!” and left. That was it. I was just left at home. When it was time for me to go, I went up to my Grandma’s room, said goodbye to her, and left. The next time I saw my mother was five years later. This time I really did leave as a boy and return a man.
Harry Milner Howard
Click here to continue to chapter two