Ramsgate, a coastal town on the south-east coast of England. My dad’s elder brother Gilbert is the vicar, the year is 1936. My Grandfather, their father, had just died. My mother, father and I were to stay in the Manse for about ten days. The house was very large, built from sandstone and situated in landscaped grounds, which included a maze! It even had servants’ quarters, occupied at that time by two German students, who did housework and cooking, I guess instead of paying rent.
It took me some time to get used to how high the doors and ceilings were. Looking in a mirror in my temporary bedroom, the doorway reflected was so big, I wondered how high I was supposed to grow. The Manse was filled with family I had not met before. I lived in the country, an only child, about 6 years old, going to a private school which sort of limited my contacts to one or two school mates, the cubs and much later the Navy League Cadet Corps. I met plenty of people while working in school holidays, but the strangers who were called family did not impress me at that time at all.
BUT… relief was on the way! The German students lived in Berlin and went to College. The older girl seemed very serious, and very interested in places in England. The younger girl was about 16. She had very blond hair, blue eyes with long eyelashes spoke very good English and laughed a lot. This little lad was absolutely lost in her charms. The two girls’ hobby was photography, and they invited me to join them in their walks along the coast, which they loved.
They were always interested in my answers to their questions about the place where I lived in Surrey. At home, I had a bike and used to cover a huge area of towns and villages. I knew where land was being cleared for shopping centres, new factories, and certain industrial areas, and I proudly boasted that our home area was only about a mile away from the Kingston bypass highway leading to London.
I had a captive audience. I felt as though at last I had sisters. Sadly it was all over too soon. Grandfather was buried and now my parents were in a hurry to get home. I wasn’t, but I had no choice. A magnificent magazine arrived from Germany not long afterwards. It showed German kids enjoying campfires, all types of sport; everyone was smiling, healthy and happy. My father almost hit the roof when he saw it. It was called “Strength Through Joy” and was part of German Propaganda for Hitler Youth.
My father, who had been badly injured in World War One, disposed of the magazine immediately, and my childish dreams were shattered. Wistful memories of that splendid time with my new “sisters” remind me of what a little chatterbox I must have been at that time, very prone to embellishing my limited knowledge to impress these girls. On the positive side, they made that time at Ramsgate very memorable. I have never forgotten it.
Footnote: Looking back I’d suggest my information alas most unreliable.