Saturday, 26 December 2009

Here comes the Bride

Reception at the Golden Eagle, Hill Street

During the nineteen fifties, Birmingham still had a successful Speedway Team, events took place at the Perry Barr stadium. Chairman of the club was Les Marshall, and favourite riders with the supporters included, Geoff Bennett, Ron Mountford, Arthur Payne, and Jim Tolley. When we could afford it, we treated ourselves to seats in the stand, and were always thrilled by the riders and their skill in sliding their machines around the track.

We decided that whatever the future held, we would be together. Although I was earning a reasonable wage, Geoff at the start of his apprenticeship had only been receiving less than two pounds per week. Over the next six years his earnings steadily progressed to nine pounds per week. Geoff had savings totalling ten pounds and I produced five pounds more. So we combined our money, and with this bought an engagement ring, we got engaged on the 9th March 1956. To celebrate the occasion Geoff booked a box at the Birmingham Hippodrome. A comedienne named Hilda Baker was the star of the show and it will always remain in our memories; her favourite catchphrase was, “she knows you know”. To be honest it was a terrible show.

We began to save as hard as we were able, because we wanted to get married before Geoff was called to do his two years National Service. Our marriage took place at St Peter’s RC church, Broad Street, on May 10th 1958; the Sunday before Geoff had celebrated his 21st birthday.

The Millingtons and Lawlors at our wedding

The wedding reception was held at the Golden Eagle on Hill Street, and everything went off without a hitch; it was a lovely wedding. We went for a two-week honeymoon to Goodrington, Paignton, where we had hired a caravan. The journey to Devon took about six hours, on a steam train called the Cornishman Express. It was quite late when we arrived at Paignton and we immediately hired a taxi, which took us to the campsite. By which time the site, known as Waterside, was in total darkness.

At this point the taxi driver enquired as to the name of the caravan we had rented. We told him it was King Richard. “Well” he advised, “you won’t find him, he’s been dead for six hundred years”. After this humour and by means of the taxi headlights we were relieved when the long dead king was eventually identified. By the time we returned from our wonderful two-week honeymoon, all the documents and travel arrangements for Geoff’s National Service had arrived in the post. Unbeknown to us at the time, we also returned from Devon, with a very tiny person. Although I did not know it until three months later, I was pregnant with our first son Denis.

The company Finney Presses, with whom we were working, had at this time formed an association with another company, and was moving its manufacturing base to Bromborough, Cheshire. Taking our leave of the company worked out quite well, I stayed on until the very end, which was in the autumn, by which time Geoff had gone off to serve Queen and Country in the August. The day we went to see him off at New Street Station was a day I shall never forget. My dear in-laws and friends, Kath and Hal, accompanied me; they were always there by our side, whenever we needed them. Geoff always said they were more like parents to him than sister and brother-in-law; they encouraged and helped him through his growing up years. They were more than happy to take on that role, they were always there for him and nothing was too much trouble. So that caring and loving was passed on to me and in time to our children, who always considered them to be a third pair of grandparents.

Geoff doing national service

Back in 1958 it was normal to go on foot to most places, so we walked into New Street Station from Spring Hill. Geoff carried his few essentials in a small bag. In saying our goodbyes, we were all in floods of tears. At least I had Kath and Hal for support, but for Geoff it was a very lonely and upsetting journey. The contrast could not have been sharper, from a loving home life, to the barking mad officers, and NCOs.

Geoff did his basic training at Blackdown, Hants and thankfully was given a permanent posting to the Central Ordnance Depot at Donnington Shropshire; he was assigned the army trade of technical clerk. I wrote to Geoff every day and between duties he replied almost each day. Whenever he could get a weekend pass, Geoff came home whenever possible. During his basic and trade training he would catch the return bus back to Blackdown from Moor Street. Kath and Hal would accompany me on the long walk to the pick-up point, then the bus would leave about midnight. Then the three of us would walk the long lonely distance back to Spring Hill; at that time of night the streets would be very quiet. After he had been posted to Donnington, travel arrangements became much easier. Geoff would catch a late night train from Snow Hill Station to Wellington and from there, take a short bus ride to the camp. Later, he was able to get a lift from another soldier, Tony Willets, who lived in Halesowen and who was also stationed at the camp. Late on Sunday evening Geoff would make his way to the Essoldo cinema, Quinton and wait into the early hours of Monday morning to be picked up. On the way, Tony Willets would pick up several other soldiers and he would receive a few shillings from each, to cover his petrol money.

With Denis and Susan

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