Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Century of Fatherhood s1e02 Fathers At War - BBC TV programme.

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'The Second World War had a devastating impact on family life in Britain, with repercussions still felt to this day.

It brought grief and heartache to millions of people across the land. It wrecked marriage's, and turned decent fathers into broken men.

4 million men were de-mobbed during the war, many of them fathers. Thousands were scarred by their experiences, and struggled to return to civilian life, in a world that had changed beyond all recognition. But their home coming could be just as traumatic for their children, for who daddy was a stranger.

In the years that followed, austerity would be replaced by affluence, and as stable marriages flourished, fathers would at last enjoy the simple pleasures of time spent with their sons and daughters. But children of The Blitz would soon grow up to become the rebellious teenagers of the 50's and 60's, and reject all that their fathers has fought for.

This is the continuing story of how Britains fathers have fought to overcome many obstacles in their struggle to bring up their children.

These are the tales of love and war, rebellion and redemption.

This is 'A Century of Fatherhood'.

For many families in Britain, life in the late 1930's was a happy one. With unemployment falling after years of depression, and home ownership on the rise, the future was looking bright.

But all this would change with the outbreak of The Second World War.

At the start of the war, The British Army numbered less than 900,000 men, compared to well over 4 million in the combined German armed forces. Conscription was introduced for all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 41, and by the end of 1939, more than a million men had been called into service. Given the age range, many were fathers.

Before September was out, the British expeditionary force had set sail for France, and in the months that followed, more volunteers and conscripts would leave Britain for the Middle-East, North Africa, and Burma. And unlike those that left to fight at the beginning of The First World War, this time they were fully aware that they might not be coming back.

Julie Summers (Author and Historian): "Its very easy to forget that The Second World War came hard on the heals of The First World War, so that young men who were going away to fight, and were young fathers in 1939-1940, had quite possibly have had the experience of losing their own fathers, or uncles, or cousins, or even brothers in The First World War. And they knew the impact that had on family life."

Family life was disrupted further, as the threat of aerial attack loomed large. Over 3 million people, mostly school children from Britains towns and cities were evacuated to the countryside. But against all expectation, the air raids didnt happen. During the months of 'phoney-war', a false sense of security spread across the country, and in time, thousands of children returned home. When The Blitz finally began, over 5,000 of them would be killed.

Sonny Leigh grew up in Bermondsey in London. As a boy, he'd had a difficult childhood. And when he married his sweetheart Daisy in 1938, they vowed that they would bring up a happy family together. In 1940, Daisy gave birth to their first daughter, Pamela.

Sonny: "You cant describe the feeling. Its out of this world. Especially when you want something, and you've got it. She was about 6 weeks old, and I said to Daisy "Dont you think we ought to see about getting her christened?", and she said "Im going to give it untill she's two months, then we'll go to the church."

Sonny had volunteered for the auxiliary fire service at the outbreak of war, but was off-duty when the Germans began their aerial bombardment on September the 7th (1940). This was the first night of The Blitz, and London's Docklands, close to where Sonny lived bore the brunt of the attack. As the bombs fell, Sonny and his family fled to an air-raid shelter close to their home.

Sonny: "This night was a bloody awful night. It was like a bloody battlefield. Daisy and her mother, and Pamela, they were all in the shelter, and she said "I've left my rings and everything on the dressing table." So I run upstairs, grabbed her stuff, run downstairs, as I bent down to give it to Daisy, so the landmine came down. And that was it. Inside the shelter was all buckled, and they dug us out. I looked at Pamela and she was lying in this womans arms. I wanted to go and kiss her, but she looked asthough she was asleep. I dont want to wake her. I didnt know she was dead. I've regretted it ever since, that I never said goodbye."

After the death of his daughter Pamela in The Blitz, Sonny Leigh volunteered for the Navy, and went to sea as a stoker. At the height of The Battle of the Atlantic. At home in London, his wife Daisy was expecting another baby.

Sonny: "The petty officer came up and said "There's a telegram for you.", and when I read it, it said 'Daisy very ill. Maybe dead.' I was numb."

Daisy had had a miscarriage. But when Sonny asked the petty officer if he could take compassionate leave, he found there was little sympathy.

Sonny: "He took the telegram, and went and saw the First Lieutenant, the Lieutenant went and saw the old man. So the captain said "Tell him to get back on duty, he maybe dead himself in the next hour, a convoy is being attacked." And thats all there was to it. I couldnt cry because it hurt me so much."

Before the war was over, Daisy would lose another baby in child birth. The experience would have a devastating affect on Sonny.

Sonny: "I seized up, I suppose. I dont know. I was like a machine on automatic. I couldnt think straight."

In Billinge in 1942, Heather Burnley's mother recieved a telegram informing her, that her husband had been captured by the Japanese.

Over a quarter of around 50,000 British Servicemen taken prisoner in the far-east died in captivity. Mostly from starvation, punishment, or disease.

Heather's father couldnt know it, but at least the odds were in his favour.

Julie Summers (Author and Historian): "The statistics show that it was the married men in the prison camps, those men in their 20's and early 30's who generally did better, because they had some life experience behind them, and had children. So they had something to look forward to, something to live for, something to go back to. And even though they hadnt been able to communicate with them because the Japanese wouldnt allow them to write letters, never the less, some of them had kept diary's They had actually written so that they had something to show their children later."

Heathers father was imprisoned in Kuching prisoner of war camp in Borneo. Against all the rules, he kept a journal in which he recorded the suffering he endured at the hands of this captors. It was only found after his death in 1992.

Heather (reading from the journal): "1st of November, 1942. Theres an outbreak of dysentery in the camp, and today, I find myself a victim. So today I go to hospital, and I've got to get over it somehow, although they have no medicines, as I've just got to get back to Wyn and Heather."

"Two of the men died in the ward today, and two more are expected within the week. When they are known to be hopeless cases they are put in a small adjoining room, known as 'the death cell', and left there to pass out."

"Have been here three months now, and still hanging on. I mustn't let it beat me, although I have to crawl on all fours to be able to move. I have no strength left at all, and a beard six inches long".

Heather: "It just brings tears to the eyes to think of this strong human being, nice man, cuddly man., reaching this state of being in a prison camp. Its just so very very sad."

In the months that followed the end of the war, there were many happy reunions, as 4 million men were de-mobbed from the armed forces.

But for the thousands of prisoners of war who returned from the Far East, to a Britain slowly recovering from war, there was often very little sympathy.

Julie Summers: "The men who came back from the Far-East didnt come back untill November 1945, and they were told by the army that they were not to talk about their experiences. And they came home, and they were simply expected to get on."

With nationwide destruction, there was a nationwide housing crisis, and many newly weds found an unenviable choice between slum housing and sharing their home with their in-laws. This shortage of housing put great pressure on young fathers, who found themselves unable to fulfill the basic paternal role of providing decent accommodation for their children.

Part of the solution was the creation of towns like Stevenage, Basildon, and Glen Rothis. In the heart of Fife, work on new housing for 30,000 people begin in Glenrothes, in 1948. By the early 1950's, David and Rhoda had moved into their dream home.

David: "We couldnt really believe it. Lounge. Big kitchen that you could eat in. Bathroom. Garden back and front. I think it was the best time in my life, coming to that place. It was really great."

Nicknamed 'Nappy Valley', Glenrothes quickly became the ideal place for young fathers like David to raise families.

David: "The people next door to us had 7, we had 4, there were 3 next door to us on the other side, and 5 on the end, and that was quite common, that was the norm. We loved the children, the children were our life. They always had something to do. They were out, they were playing, down the bank, up in the play-park. This was it. They didnt have to be at home to play. They were out most of the time. I think they had a wonderful life."

These were the 'never had it so good years' of modernity, domesticity, and happy stable marriages.

This was the Britain the countries fathers had fought for.

But just when the generation of fathers who had lived through the war finally felt that life was regaining some sense of normality, a new phenomenon appeared in households up and down the country. One which would seek to undermine a dads place as head of the household.

They were called Teenager's.

The new idea of teenager's began with the beatniks and Teddy Boys in the early 1950's. On street corners, in coffee bars, and in jazz clubs up and down the country, there was a revolution in music, fashion, and idealism, as the young turned their backs on the old way of life.

In their search for identity, and self-expression, the new teenage rebel's questioned all that the previous generation believed in, and all that their fathers fought so hard to defend.

Julie Summers (Author and Historian): For the fathers that had come back from the war, and had adjusted to life back in Britain, and who had really started to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, suddenly, that their teenage children were turning around and rebelling against them, was quite a shock, and one in the eye for them, because they in some ways, even if subconciously, felt that they had made the world a safer place through the sacrifice they had made in The Second World War.

What you ended up with of course, is terrible clashes of personality between fathers and children, because the fathers still wanted to have some control over the children, but the children felt that they didnt owe their fathers anything."

Peter Lambert: "I wanted to be the business. Which at the time in the 50's, was the Teddy Boys."

"Nobody could touch me, not even my dad. And I got to the stage where I turned on him. I ended up smashing a milk bottle on the fireplace. It stunned him so much, to think that his own son could do something like that."

After a series of petty crimes, Teddy Boy Peter Lambeth ended up in prison. Peter went on to have children of his own, only to lose contact with them through drink.

Peter lost his children, he'd also lost contact with his own father. And like many of his generation, it wasnt untill he got older that he began to question his past.

Julie Summers: "Men and women now in their retirement age, are looking back at what their fathers did for them, and actually are beginning to appreciate it. The numbers of people that one hears saying "I wish I'd understood my father better", "I wish I'd asked him more questions", "I wish I'd shown more interest in his life during the war", is very sad. So its not too late now, if your father is still alive. But sadly, many of them are not."

In 1983, twenty-five years after leaving his childhood home, Peter arranged to meet up with his father. They spent the weekend together, and when Peter left, they vowed to make it a regular event.

Two weeks later, Peter's father passed away.

Peter: "You think to yourself, why didnt I say it to him when I saw him? Why didnt I say this, why didnt I say that. You live and learn, dont you."

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