Born in a Holly Bush

My father was a publican in Warwickshire, in Nuneaton. He was also teetotal. My birth actually took place in the Holly Bush – the pub my father ran (it’s now a smart dress shop and office building.) With my older sister, Barbara we soon moved within the town close to the football ground, to the Cock and Bear pub, where my father became the tenant.

My earliest memories are of the end of the war. There was a big US army base nearby and I remember how kind the soldiers were, bringing us sweets. My father made a point of welcoming in the pub the non-white soldiers. They were all preparing to cross the Channel for the D Day landings. The reports which then came back brought bad news – lots had died on the beaches and afterwards.

Barbara and I used to go to the local church just up the road. Both my parents were working so could not come too. But my father had got to know the local priest. He was Irish, he always wore a black cassock with the 39 buttons and a biretta (that’s a black hat with a pompom.) He would come without fail to the Cock and Bear on a Sunday evening. And at about 9 o’clock, from our bedroom above, Barbara and I would start to hear hymns being sung.

Most of the regulars were miners. They enjoyed singing and they all knew a number of hymns. So one of them would start them off – there was no piano or other instrument. They always finished with Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer and would include others, the much loved favourites.

The Priest would not let the opportunity pass and would lead them in some prayers. I could not hear every word, and for all I know he may have read from the Bible and even preached.