My father was in the United States Air Force from 1947-1968 and in the U.S. Army from 1941-1947. He spent a total of about 27 years in military service.
As a benefit of his assignments, I was privileged to live in several foreign countries: Germany, France, Belgium, and Great Britain. During the 7 1/2 years we lived in Europe, our family had opportunities to visit other foreign countries like Austria, Luxembourg, and Holland.
We lived in Germany from 1956-1959. World War II ended just 11 years before, and there were some areas that still showed the scars of Allied bombing. I remember Oktober Fest, taking a trip up the Rhine River, Munich, Salzburg, and other German cities.
Following a brief transfer to the U.S., my dad was transferred to Great Britain in 1960. I was only 12 years old, but I remember England quite well. Of the the four countries I lived in, England was my favorite. We left England in 1963–and I left part of me there.
While we were in England, I joined the British Boy Scouts. I remember Bob-A-Job week. It’s a week when Boy Scouts go around their neighborhoods doing work for a minimum of one Bob (a shilling). That money then goes to various charities. My dad also joined the British Boy Scouts as an Assistant Scoutmaster. We had some grand times camping out.
What I meant when I said I left part of me in England is that I loved that country so much that I felt I had become part British. Even today I feel a fondness for Queen Elizabeth II almost to the point of feeling I am a subject. I was privileged to actually see her in person one day when her car passed by our neighborhood. My British friends came to our door and excitedly told us, “The Queen is coming!” We all quickly ran down the street and were lucky enough to find a spot at the curb where just a few feet away she passed us by, waving the iconic “Queen Elizabeth wave”. It was truly an honor to see her so closely. She was truly an attractive woman, and even at 12-13 years old I found her beautiful. I have more fondness and respect for her than I have ever had for any president.
I have also seen the King and Queen of Belgium in person, but I have never seen a U.S. President other than in a newspaper or on TV. How ironic.
England was immediately enjoyable since I didn’t have to learn a foreign language, although the Brits have different words for things and the spelling of some of their words are different from U.S. English.
For instance, a truck is a lorry in England. A baby carriage is called a pram, and a wrench is called a spanner. Color is spelled colour. There are other examples, but you get the idea. There was some confusion, at first, but we soon caught on.
Their money system was different than present decimal system. There were pounds, half-crowns, Guinea’s, half pennies (pronounced hay pennies or sometimes haipnies), six pence, shillings, bobs, tanners, and so on. The copper pennies were huge! My father brought back many of them.
We first lived in Cambridge, and my dad was assigned to nearby RAF Alconbury. The Cambridge River was nearby our house, and I remember going fishing there one day when my brother fell into the river. A kind British man pulled him out. We made sure never to do that again!
Also nearby was Cambridge University. Cambridge and Oxford Universities have boat races in the river, and we saw a race or two when we lived there. I can’t remember who won.
Being so near Cambridge University meant seeing literally hundreds of bicycles on the streets. Simple bicycles. I say that, because I remember having a bicycle not unlike Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle in his movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when I lived in the U.S., although I didn’t have all the accessories he had. The British bicycles, if I remember correctly, were mostly black and very simple.
One of the many icons of Great Britain, besides the double-decker bus, is the British phone box. I don’t remember how much it cost to place a call, but I remember this is where you used the big “coppers”, as the pennies were called.
The best food I remember eating in England was the fish and chips. Oh, they were unbelievably delicious, all wrapped up in newspaper. My mouth is watering now, just recalling eating such a fine meal.
Other foods that I loved included the fine British chocolate and the lemon tarts. I would pay a fine ransom for a lemon tart straight from England today.
If you’ve never tasted either, you must! It is a requirement in this life. Your taste buds will thank you.
My parents took us (my two brothers and me) to London to see the Tower of London, Picadilly Square, the Crown Jewels, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and so much more. You absolutely must make a trip to England!
My parents liked watching Coronation Street, a British soap opera, on the telly. I understand it is still on the telly (TV) today. It surely must be the longest running television show in history.
Doctors made house calls, and we had a few visits. Rooms were heated with both fireplaces and paraffin heaters. The milkman would leave bottles of milk at the door, and the cream was always at the top, requiring us to shake it up well before opening the bottle.
The British police were called Bobbies, and my dad befriended one. They all had to be at least six feet tall, and their helmets made them appear even taller. They didn’t carry firearms; only a whistle and a nightstick, and many got around on one of the black bicycles.
You probably know they drive on the left side of the road in England. We owned a British car, too, called a Hillman Minx. It was quite small compared to what we were used to in the U.S. Instead of a right hand drive vehicle, my parents purchased a left hand drive one, and the person in the front passenger seat (on the right) had to give clearance to pass. Although we adjusted to many things in England, my parents could not adjust to driving on the right side of the car instead of the left.
I remember hearing songs by the Beatles long before anyone in the U.S. ever heard of the Beatles. In contrast, American songs took months to be heard on English radio stations. We found we were often months behind on the goings-on in the U.S.
After 18 months, my dad was transferred to RAF Bentwaters. We moved to nearby Ipswich in Suffolk County. It was in Ipswich that I saw the Queen. We continued our tour of England, seeing the British Royal Guard, and the military ceremony that celebrated the Queen’s birthday. The British are quite fond of pomp and circumstance, I guess you could call it. I also had an opportunity to take a class trip to London to see Oliver and the British Museum. At the time, I couldn’t care less about Oliver. I just wanted to take a class trip to London.
When we left England for the U.S., my parents, my brothers and I, left some good friends there. I don’t know how my brothers felt, but I was sad to leave. I felt I was leaving part of me there in the country from where the U.S. originated. I guess you could call Great Britain our Mother Country. It is, really.
I brought something back with me from England: an English accent. I remember clearly on my first day back in a American classroom a student asked me, “Are you British?” LOL! I didn’t realize I acquired the accent.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to afford to go back for a visit, being I am 64 years old and living strictly on Social Security, but–if a chance to go back ever presented itself, I wouldn’t hesitate for even a second to go. I miss England.
I’ve included some more pictures here for your enjoyment. If you’ve never been to England, please go. You won’t be sorry.
God Save the Queen!
- Queen Elizabeth II Should Remain Head Of Church Of England, According To Poll (huffingtonpost.com)
- A Royal Party: Britain Celebrates 60 Years of Queen Elizabeth II (globalspin.blogs.time.com)
- The Queen as seen from the Commonwealth (bbc.co.uk)
- Photo gallery: Dignitaries arrive at Windsor castle for Queen’s Jubilee Lunch (news.nationalpost.com)
- World’s royals gather for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee lunch (cbsnews.com)
- Queen Sofia of Spain snubs Queen Elizabeth II in diplomatic spat over Gibraltar (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- 60 facts you didn’t know about Queen Elizabeth II (ctv.ca)