Daddy’s Here

Small Voice Calling > The Echo > Daddy’s Here

“Sunshine’s dying flicker on grey stone walls.”

War Baby

My Dad was born in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1914, the seventh child of Joshua and Amy Beresford. Whilst Albert was still a baby, the family moved to Deptford, on the south bank of the River Thames in London, where Joshua and Amy eventually raised twelve children, all of whom reached majority.

Albert in 1928

Dad was born a few months before the outbreak of war. The Great War. His earliest memory was hiding under the kitchen table when the Zeppelins came to bomb the docks. He went to a Church of England primary school, where he stayed until he was fourteen, despite having  passed the entrance examination for the local Grammar School – his parents could not afford to send him. His first job on leaving school was as a bellboy in a London hotel. He told the tale of the rich American family who wanted him to travel with them on an ocean liner to New York to chaperone their teenaged daughter; but his parents would not think of it, despite the considerable recompense on offer. 

So young Albert  stayed in Deptford, and became a clerk with the Fire Brigade. When the Second War started, he was exempted from conscription on account of having a ‘reserved occupation’ with the emergency services.  However, he volunteered for the Army, and joined the Pay Corps. He saw service in Cyprus, Palestine and Sudan, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Spud-bashing in Cyprus, December, 1942
Albert is on the right

After the war, Albert decided to stay on, and became a career soldier. Back in England, he met Winifred Leydon, a Staff Sergeant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. When they decided to marry, Winifred had to resign from the ATS, because Army rules forbade men from marrying women of equal or more senior rank. So Winnie became a housewife  – and my Mum.

Dad continued in the Army until he received his Long Service and Good Conduct medal. By now he was a ‘WO2’ – Warrant Officer, Second Class. Soon after he left, many of his old WO1 and WO2 colleagues were commissioned to the rank of Captain. Dad took a job as an Accounts Clerk with de Havilland, an aircraft manufacturer that later became part of Hawker Siddeley, and, later still, British Aerospace.  He moved to Halsteads, a flooring manufacturer, which was nearer to home, and with whom he stayed till he retired.

Dad fell ill soon after his retirement. Nobody called it  ‘cancer’ at the time. When the doctors had made him as comfortable as they could, he returned home to be nursed by Mum until he died. He had worked for more than fifty years, but barely had time to draw his pension. Mum, her life-long friend Nan and I sat in silence by the bedside as Dad’s breathing got shallower and shorter until it just stopped. He was sixty-seven years old.

I know
He won’t come again
There is no need
To explain

From ‘Daddy’s Here’ by Ralph McTell
Full lyrics in ‘Time’s Poems’, p 374

The Beresford Clan

My sister-in-law has been looking into the family history. It seems there was a time when men who desired, for whatever reason, to re-invent their identity, would enter a Register Office with one name, and emerge with another – and a new wife with a marriage certificate. A common practice seems to have been to select the new name at random from the road signs in the locale of the Register Office. So it was that, some time early in  the nineteenth century, “Mr Beresford ” married his bride in north London, and became my great-great-granddad. The first Beresford-of-my-Ilk, inasmuch as there appears to be no prior record of him.

Joshua, Amy and family in 1926
Albert is front left

Dad knew nothing of the origins of his family. Maybe the Beresfords hailed from Ireland, maybe from the Derbyshire Dales. He joked about ‘Lord Ted’ and ‘long lost Uncle Charles’, but it was just the smokescreen of unknowing. All he ever told me about his father, Joshua, was that he was a tool maker – by which I understood a job in engineering, though in what specific trade I have no idea.

I remember the day we heard that Joshua had died. We were living in an Army house in Chester, having recently returned to England from a three-year posting in Singapore. It was a sunny Saturday morning. There was a knock at the door, and Dad answered it. It was a telegram. Mum called from upstairs, “What is it?”. Dad dutifully read out loud, “Regret to inform you your father has died…”. Mum went hysterical. Dad quickly corrected the sentence: “My father has died…”.

Dad went to the funeral. I have no memory of having met Joshua in my nine short years, though my sister says I did.

Dad had four brothers. As far as I know, none has a surviving male heir. Nor has my older brother. Nor have I. That makes me the last of these Beresfords. A clan in five generations.


A Soldier’s Daughter

Mum was born in Radcliffe, an Urban District in the County of Lancashire, in 1922, the oldest of five children, one of whom lived but a few months. Her parents had met in the aftermath of the Great War, when Mary Ellen Fawcett nursed a young Irish soldier, Dominic Leydon, in the makeshift military hospital that had been set up in Radcliffe town centre to receive the repatriated war wounded. The story goes – shared in common, I’m sure, by many families with young sons ardent for some desperate glory – that Dominic had borrowed his older brother’s birth certificate and run away to join the Connaught Rangers. He was hit in the leg by a dum-dum bullet at the Battle of the Somme, and left for dead with a tag around his neck saying ‘hopeless case’. Somehow he was rescued by an Army surgeon who had him brought to England – and a new life.

Mum with her parents
on her 21st birthday in 1943

Dominic was born in Sligo in north-west Ireland. His father was a woodsman on the Lissadell estate, where his mother was also in service. Dominic’s brothers followed him to Lancashire. Curiously, they spelled their surname ‘Leyden’ rather than ‘Leydon’. We had always assumed this was a result of the Liverpool Immigration Officers’ variable handwriting. It turns out that Dominic’s mother was twice married, and both husbands were called Leyden. So my mother’s uncles were half-uncles, and my first-cousins-once-removed half the relatives I thought them. And Dominic got his name wrong.

Mum died on the day after her seventy-sixth birthday. At her funeral I noticed that her mother, Nellie’s, memorial stone showed that she had also died at seventy-six years of age. I paid my respects at the other family graves, which recorded the passing of Winnie’s maternal grandparents, her uncle, auntie and cousin – and of her baby sister, whose inscription says starkly:

Rita Leydon
died in infancy