I didn’t know my father

CecilWell that’s not exactly true in that (a) I knew who he was, and (b) he was an active part of my life as I was growing up. But I guess that because my parents separated when I was only two years old and my mother ‘had custody’ as would be said these days and although I spent significant time including several holidays with him I didn’t and still don’t know very much about him.

He was born in 1914 to Richard, a steelworker, and Lily at the nursing home in Mancot and christened Cecil Thomas Jenkins, and grew up in Shotton. He passed the scholarship, as the 11-plus was called in those days, which enabled him to go to Hawarden Grammar School. In those days the results of the examination were published in some detail and I recall seeing evidence that he’d topped the list at least for the Hawarden catchment if not for the whole of Flintshire.

He must have done well in school. He would have got though his School Certificate (‘matriculated’) and then been successful at the Higher School Certificate examinations to enable him to go on to study medicine at Liverpool University.

It would seem that Liverpool was chosen because it meant that he could continue to live at home and travel each day to university on the train. It was not long after the recession of the early 30s and as a steelworker my grandfather would not have been well paid and might have been unemployed for some time.

My guess is that he graduated in the late 30s because I do remember him speaking of working in Liverpool Hospital during the war and of the difficulty of trying to sleep during the blitz. It was then that he acquired the habit of sleeping with his head under the pillow which he continued to do in later years. Towards the end of the war he was called up and served as a Surgeon Lieutenant but I don’t believe he ever saw action.

At some time he must have contracted TB because he chose to go out to South Africa to work soon after the end of the war. He asked my mother to go out and marry him there in 1946 and I was born in 1947. Sadly the marriage fell apart quite rapidly and they returned separately to the UK in 1949. I went to live with my mother at her parents’ house in Connah’s Quay and he to his parents’ house in Shotton.

Throughout the 50s and early 60s I spent time with him and his parents through visits two or three times a week and then on holiday from the mid 50s. When I was in my teens this regularity fell away and it was over by the time I went to university in 1966.

His TB episode appears to have affected his health throughout his later life. I know he spent time in Chester Infirmary and there were other spells in hospital. He was rediagnosed with TB in the 80s and as his health deteriorated he was guilty of a little self medication which probably didn’t do him any good.

For most of his career, and it was successful, he worked at Cleaver Hospital in Heswall with just one break to work for the government’s Mass Radiography service. I remember in the 60s when I had to fill in forms for a local authority grant that his salary was about £5 thousand per annum which was good money in those days. However he continued to live with his parents at a modest semi in Shotton commuting to his work and living his limited social life close to home.

My parents remained married until he divorced my mother in 1970 and soon after he married his second wife. Because of his failing health he must have retired early and he died in 1984.

That’s about it. I can piece together the chronology but I can fill in so few details. I know he was a keen sportsman as a young man but did his TB hit him so badly that he was evermore unfit? I cannot remember him ever running or swimming or, despite his passion for the game, playing cricket.

He attended University as a ‘day student’ but did he have any sort of university life? In his later years he was very correct and seemed to live by a strict ethical code; was he the same as a young man?

As a doctor he would have earned good money and living with his parents his outgoings would have been minimal. What did he do with his money and why didn’t he ‘enjoy life’? As far as I can recall it just revolved around his work with leisure time spent playing lawn bowls.

And finally the big question. What’s the story behind the break-up of the marriage? In those days such things did not happen so it must have been pretty dreadful to deliver such a result. I never asked. Maybe I was afraid of the answer.

I do not recall him in any way as being a bad person. He tried his best to be a good father to me and he supported me when I asked. He helped me to buy my first car and then, much later, he helped Juni and me buy our house in Switzerland.

It’s a measure of how little I know that I have so few photos of him. None from the digital age of course but only this one from a set of three or four taken in 1983. And I have very few among the archive of black and white photos which I’m currently going through. Sadly I have none from my mother and nothing at all from his side of the family. He was an only child, as am I, so I have nobody to turn to to ask questions and to fill in the gaps. It’s a pity. I’ll never really know who he was.


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