A FAMILY SECRET
I’m going to talk now about a skeleton in our family closet. It was something that bothered my father all his life. The shame attached to illegitimate birth is not as strong nowadays as it was in his day, so I’ll tell the story here. My father was a remittance baby. A Remittance Man was someone from a good and presumably well-to-do family in England who was a black sheep for one reason or another – gambling or drinking or whatever. The black sheep was exiled, in effect, to the colonies, Australia or Canada. In this case, it was Canada. Those so remitted were paid a stipend to live on and this sum of money was paid as long as they did not return to England.
My father was only guilty of the sin of being born an illegitimate child of the privileged class. On his father’s side they were shipbuilders. Their last name was Cooper. His father had an affair with the gardener’s red-haired daughter and the offspring of that mismatch was my father. His father’s family did right by him and found a couple who were willing to emigrate to Canada, taking the little William with them.
I’ve always had a question in my mind as to whether his adopted mother might have been his real mother since she also had red hair. In any case, they emigrated to Canada. Bill was a toddler at the time. He was running about on the deck of the ship with a lollipop in his mouth and fell and jammed it down his throat. He survived. They got to Canada and settled in Mount Forest, Ontario. He was raised as their own child but when he was about fifteen he found out he was a ‘love child’ and that was a big deal in those days. His adopted mother or father must have spoken to someone in confidence and the word got around town.
Bill was mortified and ashamed. He used to doodle around on the piano when he was disturbed and didn’t want to talk. His adopted mother talked to him from behind the piano bench. He told her he had decided to join the Army. He was only 14 or 15 at the time, so he had to have her permission and, somewhat reluctantly, she gave it. He had to stay in school for another year until he was sixteen.
When his Mum packed his bags to go over to England to join the British Army for WWI, she he rolled up the name and address of his father’s family in a pair of socks she knew he wouldn’t unroll for a while. When he got to England he found the information in the rolled up socks and contacted the ‘old boy’. His granddad, was about all that was left of the family because it was the custom in WWI to put the officers in front of the troops where they promptly got shot. There weren’t any young males left in that family, They had all been killed. My dad was the only one left of the younger generation but he was a wild lad. Were it not for that he might have come into some money and recognition but, as I say, they found him a bit wild, so it didn’t happen. The granddad found him a Commission in the Channel Patrol which later became the R.A.F. This is why he ended up in the Air Force in both wars.
This secret was kept very close. He told his wife, our mother, and she passed it on to us. There are mysteries attached to the story. I tried to get information from his British war records but most of the stuff usually listed there was missing. We do have his blackthorn walking stick. Someone attacked him with the blackthorn stick when he was posted over in Ireland during ‘The Troubles’, the Irish Rebellion. I’ve still got the cane with the blackthorns sticking out of it and it’s hanging on my wall, a bit cracked from age. My dad used it as a cane in later years because he had a war injury that he got in WWII.
THE SMELLY GHOST
Sometimes, in WWI, soldiers were billeted in fairly palatial quarters, not always, just sometimes. In Ireland, it was a place called Lep Castle. Not sure of its location but I know it’s reputation. Lep or Leap Castle had a great tower and there was a hole in the top that went from the top down to the dungeon. In the bad old feudal days if the Lord of the Manor or Castle didn’t like someone they were marched to the top and invited to leap down the hole and be dashed to pieces below. That was why it was called Lep or Leap Castle. This same place had a peculiar, smelly ghost. It made noise too but that was not its most noticeable feature. The lads billeted there were sitting down to dinner one time and the Lord of the Manor was present. They heard noises and bangs, then a really dreadful smell. They all looked at one another and the Lord of the Manor said, “Don’t pay any mind to that. It’s just the ghost. He’s a smelly ghost.” First I’ve heard of such but apparently, they do exist.
I don’t know too much about my dad’s WWII services. He was a Bombing and Gunnery Instructor on this side of the pond being a bit old for active duty. At one point in time he was on a plane, a training flight I believe. The plane went down and everybody in the plane was killed except my Dad, That’s where he got the leg injury that he used the blackthorn stick cane for. He never quite got over that deadly crash. It was a kind of “Why me? Why did I survive? Everybody else is gone” kind of thing. Those who have had similar experiences can relate to this. I can only tell the tale. It affected him. He would go into depression sometimes and go into his basement den and listen to Bach and Opera and just get away from it all.
He was a good man and a good father, very honourable. He raised us well. There were four of us children and my brother, Brock, was the long-awaited son.
© Sonia Brock 2005