In father’s absence at first – for six months or so – we stayed at Grandfather Bicker’s in Poyntzpass. Then my two sisters were fostered to two married aunts.
I was taken in by Granny Hanna who had already reared nine sons. She was more comfortable with boys. This was to my advantage as she was a lovely person and respected by all. Her life had been hard, helping grandfather to run the farm as well as rearing so many sons. It was a sad day for me when grandmother died when I was fourteen.
During the period 1926-1941 my life revolved around school at first, and then the farm. Only one of the nine sons remained at home, my uncle Jack. He went round the country with a steam engine (later a tractor) and a threshing machine. From the age of eight I worked with grandfather around the farm. I had to learn fast. This mixed farm had many crops – potatoes, corn, barley, wheat, flax and turnips – and many animals – milk cows, beef cows, pigs, sheep and horses. I enjoyed this life, not knowing any other. I suppose I’d have liked more time to play with friends such as Harry Poole, Reggie Clarke and Harry Brown.
There were never any toys at Christmas, just an orange and a bar of chocolate. I was grateful for this: I knew my grandparents were short of cash. There were two big occasions in my annual calendar.
My first bicycle was a real museum piece. There was no saddle and no tyres on the wheels. I rode with my leg through the frame. To brake I pushed my foot between the frame and the wheel. This bone-shaker was just for us to play with round the farm.
When war broke out, I was just fourteen. Hearing all the stories of the Battle of Britain I decided I would join the services as quickly as possible. My mother seems to have smoothed the way for my entry with Sgt Taylor of Poyntzpass, the Recruiting Sergeant. Although I was two years under age I was accepted. I joined the Royal Ulster Rifles and caught a train to Ballymena. I embarked on a new way of life which was to occupy me for the next twenty-four years. I served all over the world and found a wife in