The cruel hand of fate
All was going according to plan I was gradually increasing my income, the children were growing up fine and studying well at the local school, our standard of living was improving, not that we ever had much money to spare we could never afford to go on holiday but as I usually worked through the holidays this mattered little
Visit to London
We lived in a quiet cul-de-sac and the children played happily in the road with their friends it was a much more relaxed time all those years ago, I had managed to get a job with the local helicopter factory and was working overtime with bonus and sometimes night shift, we were very busy at that time building the Bristol 192 which was named the Bristol Belvedere
I also wrote a piece on the 192 Belvedere Internet site which went like this
I can go back a little further than you service men.
I first met the Belvedere when it was still a pile of parts on the bench in Westlands at Weston super Mare.
My first task, together with my companion fitter, was to construct the most complex piece, known as station 0, that was the main mounting for the front undercarriage and the nose joint.
It took a few months and numerous trips to the drawing office but as it was the prototype that’s not surprising.
I went on to do lots of different parts including I put the floor in every single one of the 26 aircraft that’s a lot of rivets.
I moved then to the development department and built the first pilots bubble door, I don’t think it was put into production though.
I went on loan to EDL (Electronics Development Laboratory) and built there the slip rings which were mounted on the rotor head for rotor blade strain gauge work and I also mounted instrumentation on the hydraulic jacks in the flying controls to monitor valve movement.
When I joined EDL permanently I balanced all the Rotor synchronizing prop shafts,
Spent many hours watching over the flying controls fatigue rig and doing calibration runs on de-icing jets for rotor blades
The Belvedere was known in the workshops as the Bevelgear
I was also busy making toys for the children and building up the playground in the back garden and everything was proceeding very well we had some amusing moments during these years that are difficult to put into chronological order that they are really stand alone amusing tales for interesting snippets the earliest of these I think was when I was still working at Henley’s
My invention at Henleys-----------whilst I was working as an inspector for Henley’s motors at Oldmixon my task was to oversee the building of the front and rear axle assemblies for the Austin champ I realized there was a better way of getting the clearance on the crown wheel assembly correct in each newly assembled differential case, this was adjusted by inserting steel shims each side of the crown wheel assembly you have to take the case apart to adjust the shims and this could take anything up to a dozen attempts to get it right, I realized if we replaced the bearings with an adjustable micrometer like tool the adjustment would tell us exactly the size of the shims required the construction of these tools was taken over by the foreman inspector and they proved to be very successful they never gave me any credit for the idea but years later at an apprentice exhibition one of the things they had on display was the tool that I had invented
Then unfortunately the dark hand of fate descended upon us: it all started when it became routine that as soon as I got home from work Bertha would ask me to scratch her back as she sat in front of the coal fire, nothing unusual in that that but when it happens every day there is obviously a reason for it, at my suggestion she went to the doctor who said he could not find any reason for that symptom
A few weeks later I said that she should go again and she did so with exactly the same result, I was not satisfied with this and a few days later I took her myself to see the doctor and I told him that there was definitely something wrong he gave her a thorough examination and it was decided she should have a biopsy, sadly when the results came back it showed she was actually suffering from Hodgkin’s disease
This of course was way back in 1963 and at that time treatment was quite a primitive compared to what they can do today, it was decided she should have radiotherapy and various doses of pills in order to prolong her life, that was a terrible ordeal she used to say that she thought the treatment was worse than the disease
Then in 1964 to add to our worries it was discovered that she was also pregnant, the doctor advised that due to her condition she could have a legal abortion, the doctor assured us that if we were to let the pregnancy proceed the baby would be perfectly healthy, Bertha said that having a child would probably be the last thing she ever did and she would really like to continue, I told her that I was happy with that and she should not worry because I would always look after all the children
And so it was that the pregnancy proceeded to term and in march 1956 our Alan was born at Weston super Mare general hospital, the attitude towards fathers had changed since the earlier children were born, and so now if he wished the father could be present at the birth, I elected to be there for this one having missed the first three and I attended the maternity ward, the nurse came in and asked what I wait outside in the corridor for a few moments what she checked the progress, I was standing out there like a lemon while people scuttled in and out, and then a nurse came out and announced it’s all over you have a little boy, fate had decreed that I should miss that one as well.
It was very fortunate that we had such wonderful friends and neighbours, I had to keep working of course and with Bertha being in and out of the various hospitals, sometimes in Weston and sometimes in Bristol for treatment they stepped in and looked after the baby very often.
Bertha’s brother Dave and his new wife June were invaluable in our time of need, and we can never thank them enough, June unfortunately passed on some years ago but Dave and I are still good friends even to this day, these harrowing times were not without their moments of humor, a few of which I can remember.
The Mormons--------one summer’s day Bertha was very sick and lying in bed chatting to Mrs. Clap and myself and looking out of the window I could see a couple of Mormons doing the rounds going up and down the street knocking on all the doors preaching their sermons, eventually there was a knock on our door so I slipped down the stairs furtively opened the door and whispered looking nervously up and down the street” I can’t stop now her husband will be home soon” they departed without a word.
Dave shot the bird--------about the same time Bertha had been complaining about a crow which settled in the next door tree and was cawing incessantly uncle Dave arrived and had brought his 4-10 shotgun the next thing we knew he had opened the back bedroom window and shot the crow which managed to flutter over theback fence into the neighbor’s garden and caused much distress to the two little children there, but there were no repercussions.
The floats-------I was a frequent visitor to the local scrap yard and one day they had some redundant aircraft fiberglass drop tanks I bought a couple of these intending to make a roundabout in the back garden for the children to play on I had already installed the front stub axle from a bus and thought I could turn these tanks into little aeroplanes, they lay in the back garden and when uncle Dave saw them his idea was to strap them each side of his motorcycle and be the first man to ride a motorcycle from Weston to Cardiff across the severn estuary, we managed to dissuade him but he did take the tanks away from the house on his boat trailer, but not before I managed to paint unexploded bomb on the sides.
The slide--------another project I had in the backyard was a slide For the children and this one I actually completed unfortunately Janet on the first test run managed to pick up the tip of a protruding nail which did not hurt her but managed to rip the backside out of her panties much to her dismay and much laughter from the onlookers
We have to give special thanks to the Stowey family who lived down the road and who already had three children, and if ever Bertha was called away for treatment Mrs. Stowey would be there ready and willing to be a deputy mother for the baby, I think it helped that her three children were all girls, they were all very fond of little Alan and later offered to adopt him permanently. A very kind offer but one that would have broken my promise to look after the kids.
With Bertha’s health gradually deteriorating I realized that she never been on holiday with the exception of our honeymoon so in 1965 I borrowed some money and we had our first holiday, in a caravan at the seaside town of Weymouth, she was actually able to swim in the sea with the children, unfortunately the campsite was on the other side of a small hill from the sea but I was able to carry her up the hill when we went swimming.
Bertha’s breathing was getting more and more difficult because her lungs had been fried by the radiation treatment, she also had a huge square burn marks on her back and chest, and in June 1966 she was taken into the Sanatorium hospital at Weston-super-Mare, I comforted her as best I could as he lay there wearing an oxygen mask trying to breathe, eventually as I held her hand she slid into unconsciousness never to awake again, The cause of death was given as pneumonia and Hodgkin’s disease.
I then had a task as unpleasant as any I have undertaken, I had to go home and tell the children that their mother had just died.
I do not remember much about the funeral except walking down the aisle of a packed Saint Peter’s church with my three young children to pay our last respects, Bertha was cremated and her ashes sprinkled amongst the rose trees of the crematorium gardens.
All so long ago but vivid in my memory still