I have known this little fellow all my life; it belonged to my mother and I can remember playing with it as a child. It is a carved wooden pig, barely 2 cm long, with a silver band for attachment to a charm bracelet. The real treasure, however, lies inside the belly of the beast: if you hold it up to the light and squint through the tiny lens, you are treated to a scenic picture postcard bearing the legend “A Souvenir of Waterford”. You can just about make this out in the view below, thanks to the micro photography skills of my friend Owen Llewellyn:
I don’t know how Mum came to have this charm, as she never visited Ireland to my knowledge before our family holiday there in 1970. It must have been brought back as a gift, so for the purposes of this post I am going to assume it was given to her by her first great love, David McCormack, whom she dated during the war. I had never heard of David McCormack until shortly after my Dad’s death, when Mum, overcome with shock and grief, talked in a non-stop tumble of words about anything other than my Dad. It must have been too painful for her to talk about him, so, suddenly, in this great outpouring of words, I started to learn about her life before she met my Dad and became the person I knew as Mum. This was the first time I ever even thought about her having lived a life before she was my Mum, but as there were almost 40 years of that life, there are many stories to be told of it. I know only some of them. After Dad died, Mum started to write about her early life, as Dad had done about his. So here is the story of David McCormack, in Mum’s own words, written 50 years after these events from her youth.
“Joan Hayward and I were keen guides and sea rangers…There was to be a sea scout dance in a church hall in North Sheen and Joan begged me to go with her but I was reluctant because I could not dance and my church [the Open Brethren] frowned upon such activity. However, for Joan’s sake I went just to keep her company on the long dark walk there (wartime blackout). I sat watching the dancing and noted a particularly superb dancer. To my embarrassment he came and asked me to dance and I made a mumbled refusal, saying I couldn’t. He had obviously never been refused before and looked quite hurt. Later, looking across the hall my eyes lit upon a most handsome young man and his eyes met mine. It was love at first sight. He came across and asked me to dance. I said, “Yes, but I don’t know how”. By the end of the evening I had mastered the waltz, quickstep, foxtrot and others. David asked to see me home and together we walked home with Joan, who had got nowhere with [her beau] Philip.
David was a Catholic who could do what he liked on Sunday once he had been to early morning mass, whereas I was used to keeping the Sabbath holy with morning service, afternoon Bible study and evening service, so there was some wrestling with my conscience when I was tempted to go sailing with him in his dinghy.
The divine dancer I had turned down was his brother John who later became a priest. [I don’t think Mum is suggesting there is a connection between her rejection of him and his subsequent choice of vocation!]
The McCormacks were a large family, the parents were Irish, David was the eldest, twins John and Sophie, younger brother Joseph and sister Kate. They all lived in a tiny house, 7 Lower Richmond Road, close to the Jolly Milkman [pub] together with a mentally handicapped relative. Mr McCormack was a heavy drinker always sending one of the boys to the pub to get him some drink. David was a brilliant pianist and we both got much pleasure from his playing our grand piano. He tried hard to convert me to Roman Catholicism. Our romance lasted about three years during which time he joined the R.A.F. and was sent to Canada for training.
He had worked in an instrument making factory where my chemist boss Alec Colville’s sister worked. On St. Valentine’s Day, in the course of casual conversation, Alec said “So your David is home again…” He had actually visited his old firm a couple of days before and she had mentioned it to her brother. That evening I put a card through his door, on which I had composed a verse beginning:
It is a frightful waste of time
Waiting for a faithless Valentine
Perhaps he thinks I do not know
That he came home some days ago…
Finishing with the words “Please explain.”
He did come round with a present of some bright pink dress material from Canada but he did not need to explain. It was all over.
However, we remained friends and he came to my 21st birthday party although careful to bring his brother Joe with him as chaperone! I heard from someone later that he only went out with girls who had a telephone, a comparative rarity then. We had temporarily given up ours at that time so perhaps that was why he dropped me.
In time he married the daughter of a French chef who worked at the Clarendon hotel in Hammersmith, a good catholic like himself. I met him with his ten-year-old Cub son at Barn Elms when I went to collect my daughter [that’s me, although I don’t remember this] from a Brownie event. He told me he spent his free time painting pictures which he donated to Shelter. He said it kept him out of the pub so perhaps he had inherited his father’s liking for the stuff. I read of his death in his late fifties in the local paper”.
Incidentally, the Clarendon Hotel later became a pub in which, by coincidence, my own first great love worked as a sound engineer in the 1980s. It was a wonderful dive of a music venue – I once saw Slim Gaillard there – which was sadly demolished in 1990 to make way for the Broadway shopping centre.
Mum’s account of her first romance and heartbreak seems quite light-hearted, written as it was 50 years after the event, during which time she had married the true love of her life and raised 3 children. Of course, at the time it was quite a different story. I know this because I have her 1942 diary, which bears witness to all the drama of her feelings at this time in her young life. But that’s another story, for another post…