The Scars of War—Remembrance Day 11th November 2016

Not all scars are inflicted on the battle fields, many on the home front carry scars too. My own scars are deep, painful and invisible, but also very real. In the summer of 1941 after the Belfast Blitz, I returned from evacuation in the country, to a world of great change.  nana'sfam&partnerspicCertainly my city had been changed forever. However, my own small world was about to be turned upside down too. My eldest sister Lily was getting married to a British sailor, Ben Cook, and was about to leave to join him in England. This created a dilemma for my father, our family either worked or went to school, all except me. I was still too young for school and certainly too young to be left at home alone all day. My father tried to fine an aunt or relative to take me in, but war is hard,and people don’t need an extra mouth to feed.  Lily had been the only mother I knew, our mother had died in 1939 when I was an 11 month old baby. It was agreed between my father and Lily that she would take me with her. Once in Scotland she immediately ran into problems over ID cards and the issue of ration books. The fact I had a different surname caused no end of questions. It was understandable, at the time, many people were trying to claim extra rations and such. The solution was to adopt me and this took place at the Dunfermline Sheriff’s court on 31st May 1943. I became Frederick Cook, Eric for short. My life through the war years were as good as could be expected, Lily took care of me and we were good company to one another during her husband’s absences. Near the end of 1944 he was transferred to the Far East, and at the same time, Lily discovered she was pregnant. We were living in a tiny bed sitter just outside of London. There was nothing else to do but return to Belfast. We arrived back at the beginning of 1945. This was about to be one of the most traumatic events in my young life. I was so young when we left home I really didn’t remember my father or my brothers and sisters. They sure remembered me and made a great fuss over having me back. I was utterly confused and no adult thought to explain this to me. Jim and Anna would haul me off to play in the street, I would hesitate saying I had to ask my Mum if it was okay. They thought this was so funny and yelled Eric she’s not your Mum, she’s your sister. I would go through many more such situations never fully understanding why. Lily had a son in June, and the war in Europe was over. She talked my father into moving to a larger house a few blocks away. Things went along smoothly for a while, but Lily and Anna were often at each others throats over who was in charge. One night a huge row occurred and Lily slapped Anna hard across the face. My father was outraged, he never raised a hand to his children. In the ensuing argument Lily kicked Pop Anna and Jim out of the house. She had been clever by having  the rent book in her name. My father and brother moved in with our grandmother on Ewarts Row, Anna went to live with our sister May and her family. With the loss of my fathers income, Lily could no longer afford the rent.  So in August we returned to England to stay with her in-laws. They were anxious to see their new grandchild, but they completely ignored me. They never used my name I was merely referrer as the boy. At the local school I was very depressed and a teacher took me aside to ask what was wrong. Naturally I told her everything, how Lily was really my sister, my father was in Belfast etc. When lily learned of this she was furious, and I felt the sting of her hands across my bare legs. I had only told the truth and wondered why this was so wrong. I was only six years old but I believe is was when my first seeds of resentment were sown. Lily was cruel and abusive, both mentally and physically. She eroded what little self esteem I had and destroyed my confidence. Shortly after this I began wetting the bed, Lily blamed me, saying I was too lazy to get up and go to the toilet. On one occasion she threatened to hang my wet bed sheet on my classroom blackboard for all my classmates to see. Things like this continued through my young life. On the night of 19th November 1947, Lily went to London overnight to see Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mount Batten married the following day.  That night her husband Ben Cook sexually assaulted me. I never told Lily, or in fact anyone else, its doubtful she would have believed me anyway.  Beside, I wasn’t even sure something bad had just happened.  On Christmas day in 1951 I reached my limit. Lily ordered me sent to my room for not eating marzipan,  I could not believe she could be so cruel to me on this special day. In my cold bedroom I began planning to run away to Belfast. Christmas day ended but what Lily had done to me that day I would never forgive or forget. First, I had to save money for my escape plan, in the meantime I continued going to school like nothing had happened. However, I was now openly defying Lily, if she hit me I refused to cry, One evening she was so mad she told her husband to spank me, Again I refused to cry and after the ordeal found the courage to tell him he had no right to hit me, he wasn’t my father. As the summer holidays began, my escape plans were nearing finalization. Probably they were doomed to failure, but for a 13 year old boy they seemed fool proof. Nevertheless, they were never to be put in action.  One Sunday my father, eldest brother Tommy and Anna arrived to take me home. They asked if I wanted to come with them and without a moments hesitation I said yes.  I can only speculate that letters passed between my father and Lily. She was losing control over me and knew it.  I was free at last, or was I? living in Belfast was much different to what I had been use to. I felt like a stranger within my own family. I now found I had fits of temper, I got angry all too easily. I wasn’t sure why, but there seemed to be little I could do about how I felt. I left school at age 14 in 1953, and began working. Things did improve and my demeanor was a little better, I was interested in girls and started going to dances, dating and taking  girls to the movies. However, I was still restless and unsettled, I seemed to be just drifting. In March 1955 I made the best decision of my life by joining the Royal Navy. I loved the Navy and it changed my whole outlook on the world. Today, in the twilight of my life I look back on those dreadful times with great sadness. Always I ask myself how things might have been so much different, so much better. Yet, I can change nothing, and indeed, I’m not sure what changes I would make if I could. I have since enjoyed a good and long life, I have a wonderful wife and two amazing daughters. We live in a beautiful place, we have good health and a comfortable home. Yet at times like 11th November  my mind travels back to those dark days and my deeply hidden scars begin to ache again.

It is all just a memory now,  Lily and Ben are both gone. Remembering is a good thing, I believe it makes me a stronger and better person. As we say on this  special day of cover_0001

Lord of Hosts, be with us yet. Lest we Forget,Lest we ForgetIMG_1454

God Bless and keep reading

About irishroverpei

Author of "Lily & Me", "The Royal Navy & Me" and Chapter XXl Armageddon. Writer, blogger and RN Submariner, antique automobile enthusiast.
This entry was posted in author of lily & Me, Belfast Blitz, family, veterans and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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