My parents met after the first World War. Throughout the war my father had been interned in Germany, where he had gone at the age of 19 to improve his knowledge of the language. His prison camp was a converted racing stables at Ruhleben, near Berlin, where the 4000 men and boys from all walks of life slept in the horse-boxes. The prisoners succeeded in developing a complete society there during the four years of the war, including their own postal system, and my brother and I have inherited some interesting memorabilia. Sadly, the experience had a profound effect on my father, and left him shy and retiring and reluctant to undertake new ventures.
My mother had wanted to go to university. Illness prevented this initially, and by the time she was better, my grandfather had apparently decided that such an education was not appropriate for her. The result was that she spent the rest of her life trying to find something to exercise her brain, above and beyond being an excellent wife, housekeeper and mother. Sometimes she found something worthwhile, such as Marriage Guidance Counselling, and sometimes she was less successful. My brother and I have very uncomfortable memories of the period when she was reading books about psychology!
My grandfather, who, I believe had himself had a 7-year engagement, insisted that my parents should not marry until my father was earning enough to keep my mother in the same degree of comfort and respectability in which she had grown up. After three years my parents found this too much to bear, and went off ostensibly to a tennis tournament one afternoon, but came back married! This caused much frostiness in my mother’s home, but all was eventually forgiven. My other grandparents also put pressure on: my parents wanted to emigrate to New Zealand and farm sheep there, but my father’s mother would not accept such a distancing from her only son. (I did not feel able to breathe a whisper of protest when my eldest decided to emigrate to Australia – but it’s a different world now.)
What have I inherited from my forbears? That takes some thinking about. A formidable nose, for one thing, as you can see from the pictures above, of my great great uncle, and of myself at my wedding; a tendency to worry unnecessarily, developing into full-blown hypochondria in late middle age; and heart disease. More positively, a capacity for organisation and attention to detail, which made me a pretty good secretary/PA.
And then on the practical front, there is the investment income which has enabled me to live comfortably and independently for the past 21 years. It was an unlooked for blessing, as most of it came to me through my mother from her aunt. Having lost her only child in the first World War, she had no-one to inherit from her, and so left everything to her three sisters, from one of whom, my grandmother, one portion has now come to me and my brother. I often feel sad that my comfort should have been at such a painful expense for my great aunt.
And of course, coming from a line of manufacturing jewellers, I inherited some beautiful pieces made by my mother’s father. The most important of these was a suite or ‘parure’ made for my grandmother and consisting of brooch, bracelet, pendant and earrings, with green garnets, amethysts and pearls, set in gold with white enamel work. It is in a Rennaissance style, too elaborate for wear in my time, though I did wear the pendant and earrings once or twice. Eventually, rather than leave it unappreciated in a drawer, I decided to part with it and pass on the proceeds to my sons. I was able to sell it to the City of Birmingham Museums, who were glad to add it to their collection relating to the Birmingham jewellery trade.