My first post of 2014 features an object dated 100 years ago. This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, in which my maternal grandfather, Charles Harrison Lane, served. This German postcard, bearing the Iron Cross insignia of Emperor Wilhelm II’s army, was found amongst his papers after his death. I don’t know the story of how he came by this postcard, which is blank; I presume it was a souvenir of his time in the armed forces. The story of how it came to be in my possession, along with various other World War I ephemera (to appear on here over the course of the coming year), can be found here. (I also featured another postcard from World War One around this time last year).
My maternal grandparents were married during the war, in 1915, and he departed to serve in France shortly afterwards. I have no record of his experiences there, but my mother (born in 1923, 5 years after the end of the war) remembered a handsome, charismatic man capable of both great charm and great cruelty. Mum had her own explanations for this cruelty, which were related not to his war experiences, but to his childhood. In 1992, she wrote in her memoirs:
“My first six years were spent in Liverpool, in Ramillies Road, Sefton Park, then a respectable area, but why I came to be born in Liverpool I don’t really know and can only guess. My father served in the army in the first world war and made some good friends who hailed from Liverpool. When he was to be demobbed he wrote telling his wife to find a house in Liverpool… It happened also that a favourite aunt of my father’s lived in Sefton Park with her husband and two daughters. So it was either to be near his wartime comrades or his aunt that Liverpool was chosen.
My parents had met in London at the home of a titled lady. My mother had kept house for her eldest brother, Angus (a don and headmaster) on the mainland until his marriage, when she was invited by Lady Green (?) to become her companion in London. My father, who was an automobile and radio engineer, was acquainted with the lady, either as a friend or chauffeur (could have been both). It was at her house that they met and married in Cheltenham in May 1915 prior to my father’s departure for France.
My mother, Margaret (Peggy) Murray, from a large family – four sons and four daughters – living in an upright Hebridean crofting community, adored her husband, a man of great personal charm but with an arrogant streak also and a ‘chip on his shoulder’ which seemed to give him something of a dual personality.
His relations were rich, middle and upper class (he claimed descent from the Buccleuchs), his grandfather had been an eminent architect and furniture designer [this subsequently appears not to have been true]. His own father’s family had a business in the City (Barrow, Lane and ?) and were big importers of spices etc., with estates in Greece and other countries. [Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can confirm this to have been Barrow, Lane and Ballard]. Unfortunately his father disgraced himself by forging a document, whereupon his family sent him to America for seven years to avoid scandal and legal action against the wrongdoer.
This meant that little Charles was left with his mother, ostracised by some members of the family, but helped by others. Having had his adoring mother to himself for several years it is perhaps understandable that he may have resented his father’s reappearance and eventually he went to live with his Uncle Stephen, who was the local squire in Isleworth, living at Worton Hall. When Uncle Stephen died Worton Hall became a film studio but now the grounds of the manor house are an industrial estate and the house itself a driving test centre. Uncle Stephen was a director of Clarke, Lane and Nicholl, the CLARNICO confectionery firm, amongst other business interests, and was known to have given a number of bursaries to local schools…
Having an unhappy relationship with his father and being adored by his mother, who had since died (I think of dropsy) it would seem that my father looked to his wife to fill the roles of wife and mother, which could account for what appears to be resentment at the birth of his son, with whom he would need to compete for affection and attention. My brother, Charles Murray Lane, was born on 29th October 1920 and such was his father’s jealousy that he did not go to the nursing home to collect his wife and baby but merely sent a taxi to collect them.
My brother, always known as Murray, had a very sunny disposition with the gift of making others happy but was, himself, subjected to much cruelty from his father, verbal and physical, which must have been based on jealousy. To me my father was quite affectionate but I suffered with my brother many beatings with slipper or leather belt for minor misdemeanours. It was a rule at mealtimes that we must ask for everything in French and if we did not do so we were sent to our rooms without being allowed to finish the meal. To us at first it was a game but ceased to be when the punishments started. My brother also had to suffer the ordeal of taking a cold bath every morning, something my father had been in the habit of doing since his early schooldays but which my brother did not enjoy in the least.”
My mother’s analysis of the reasons for her father’s cruelty probably stem from her psychology studies at the University of London, which she undertook with a view to becoming a social worker, an ambition she gave up when she met and married my father. However, given what we now know of the appalling suffering of those young men fighting in France in that terrible war, I wonder if this, too, affected his personality. And I hope that the 100th anniversary, later this year, will commemorate that suffering with due respect and compassion and without any offensive jingoistic nonsense about the “glory” of war. There was no glory, there was only terrible tragedy, destruction and death on a mass scale. One of those deaths was an uncle of my father’s. Dad, born in 1913, recalled this early childhood memory in his memoirs:
“My uncle Peter, youngest brother of my Dad, is standing there holding a chair in place for some game, and smiling gently at the company. Sergeant Peter R__, home on leave, boyish and handsome in his kilt. Killed in France shortly after.”
This anniversary should be marked by a commitment to end and eradicate all war, the world over: to strive towards the “world peace” that my parents envisaged as the natural outcome of global socialism.