A blatant re-post with minor update from five years ago, but surely appropriate on the day that’s in it…
This day 85 years ago was born in Plumstead, South London, a young boy with few prospects named Derek.
His parents were themselves born 30 years apart, and had a seriously disabled daughter already, consequence in all likelihood of an attempted back-street abortion (she was born just months after they were married). Four years later another brother was born, but that same year the father was diagnosed with cancer. By the time the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936 – an event Derek witnessed with his own eyes – his father had already died. His mother was left with him, an invalid daughter, and a babe-in-arms.
Pre-Welfare State, this was a hopeless situation. The children were placed in homes or with foster carers. As the War began and the doodle bugs began to drop, even this became untenable, and Church homes took over. Derek was forced to forego a proper education despite obvious ability, and ended up so wracked by hunger that he resorted to eating candle wax. As the War ended, he had little option himself but to choose a military career.
This was a tremendous stroke of luck, as it turned out. A combination of sporting prowess and sheer determination saw him sent all over the world – to Egypt, to Malaya, to Hong Kong and elsewhere. With his own eyes, he saw Germany as it was occupied upon the fall of Nazi-ism; Borneo under invasion by Indonesia; Cyprus after partition.
It was small wonder, after retirement, that Derek chose to venture back to spend much of each year for a whole decade in South Africa – a neat symmetry, given his own father had himself fought in the Anglo-Boer War. He came to love South Africa, which his father had seen divided and in ruins; he came to love Germany, which he himself had seen divided and in ruins; he came to love a woman from Northern Ireland, itself recovering from being divided and in ruins.
He still lives at home, which now means on the Northern Irish coast; admittedly the mind – both in terms of concentration and memory – isn’t what it was after 85 years of rich and frequent use, but he is still fundamentally healthy and the sense of humour which got him through on so many occasions is still intact.
Few have lived such rich and eventful lives. This is why so many people are proud to have a friend they call Derek.
I myself am proud to call him “Dad”.