Monday, 31 July 2017


At the beginning of the 2nd World War Dad joined the Army and Mum withdrew us five young lads from the bombs falling on Birmingham to the safety of the small village of Ilmington - about eight miles from Stratford on Avon.   We lived in a small old cottage, which hadn’t been updated since the days of Shakespeare   - so no, no gas, no electricity.  We small boys had to fetch water from a stand pipe on the main road. In the winter we had to use a kettle of boiling water to thaw it out.   As for illuminating the cottage -that was done with oil lamps.   

 Life was primitive, what with an outside chemical toilet and a long galvanized bath in which we all shared the same water.  By the time the last of us lads had been bathed the water had become rather murky.   I can easily understand how the baby could be thrown out with the bath water!

For mother this life was far from easy and full of anxiety.   There was the very real danger of our losing the war, and like the rest of Europe, living under a repressive invader.   Dad was probably stranded in France.   Would he be rescued; would we ever see him again? We lads were too young to appreciate these dangers.  We were, indeed, blessed that Dad survived all this.

We lads enjoyed the country life of the Cotswolds. Having to ‘rough it’ made it more interesting. This was very different from city life in Birmingham. How we loved to explore the woods and fields, to hurtle down a snow-covered hillside on a large sledge, big enough to hold all of us!  It was exciting searching for the eggs which the hens laid hidden around the farm yard.
We youngsters were recruited to do  our bit to contribute to the war effort.   We competed in growing vegetables in our kitchen garden; we collected blackberries and rose hips, which we sold to a market gardener for a half penny a pound.  Most thrilling  -we village children were piled into the back of a lorry and driven off to a market garden, with fields and glass houses growing tomatoes.
Our task was to pinch out, or ‘eye,’ the unproductive suckers, growing between the plant and the tomato stem.  A most unpleasant  job -our hands would get covered with thick green, smelly sap.  We also had the job of tying the tomato plant to a stake. We were paid 6d an hour to earn what seemed a fortune for us youngsters.  Peter and I hoarded this in our piggy banks. Ten years later our savings paid for the cases which we used when we joined the Dominican Order in 1950.  Sixty seven years later, I still have this relic of my childhood labours, now old and battered, like its owner.
I wouldn’t be telling you all this if it weren’t for our ‘blood-curdling’ drama that has been stamped on our memories all these years.  Eying and tying tomatoes had to take us into the heated, humid large greenhouses.   A pleasant enough place to work  until  Peter, crawling among the tomato plants,  suddenly let out a terrified scream.   He’d disturbed a sleeping adder, or viper, and nearly grabbed this snake, armed with a nasty poisonous bite.    Transfixed, they eye-balled each other.   Immediately our grown-up supervisor dispatched the viper!  Peter was then able to continue his work, shaken but not stirred!
What are we to make of this?  Clearly God was protecting Peter and saving him for life-long Dominican service in the W. Indies.   I also think we should take this incident as a warning.  The old serpent -the devil -is lurking to catch us off our guard and to destroy us with the venom of sin.   We must be on our look out for danger.   Fortunately, God will protect us if we heed His warnings and avoid the dangers.   And if we do get bitten, God can remove the poison of sin through the balm of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Isidore O.P.

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