Had he lived, my father – Cecil Joseph Bainbridge, only ever known as Joe – would have been one hundred years old today. In fact, he had a good long life, making 92, and being fit and healthy until the last few months. So fit, in fact, that he could walk up hills faster than I could until he was well into his late eighties. Many of his friends didn’t see such long lives.
Like many of his generation, he was called to serve in World War Two, having to give up five years of his life to fight Hitler. Dad landed in Normandy in June 1944 with the rest of the lads in the Worcestershire Regiment. They were involved in the very heavy fighting around Caen, Hill 112 and the Falaise Gap, as they fought their way across Normandy. The regiment was scarcely out of contact with the enemy until the end of the war, fighting battle after battle across France, Holland, Belgium and into Germany – where Dad took part in the battle at Tripsrath – finishing his war on Luneberg Heath. He had some very near misses, but came home unharmed.
As kids we took the war very much for granted, the parents of most of my generation having fought. I only became aware of much of Dad’s wartime life after he had died. Like most of his generation he never talked about it until he was very old. But I remember, as a child, a Christmas card coming every year from a family in Holland whose farm he’d helped to liberate. A tradition those lovely Dutch people kept up until the day they died.
My father was born in 1916, a few months before his father – also Joe Bainbridge – went off to fight in the trenches of the Great War. He came safely home. My father’s uncle, Harry Howl Jeffs, was killed just a fortnight before the Armistice. My father probably grew up thinking that war was a thing of the past.
Dad was very clever, a natural intellectual, well-read. But being a working class lad he was written off. He actually won a scholarship to go to college, but his parents needed a wage coming in so he was apprenticed into an enamelling factory in the Black Country of the English Midlands. A pity I always think.
When I was growing up I remember seeing his books, mostly Shakespeare and Dickens. He encouraged me to read. In those days, British children were taught to read long before they started school. When I was about three he brought home some “Janet and John” reading primers. I can remember the day, for my memory of pre-school years is very good. I started reading his Shakespeare and Dickens books when I was about six. Dad knew most of Shakespeare by heart. I’m certain that, but for Dad’s interest in literature and history, I’d be a very different person.
He certainly went through a period when he wanted to be a writer. Growing up, I found books on how to write tucked away. It was not to be. He worked for a while as a printer, even having a little printing business operating from his garden shed in the years after the war. He worked as a milling engineer in later life. He worked long hours, and then came home to garden.
He was always fantastically fit, and a swift walker too. In his eighties he began globe-trotting, with trip to New Zealand, where my brother lives, and Egypt, which triggered a new interest for him in Egyptology. He was a voracious reader, right until the day he died.
He was of a generation that served his country in many ways. The rewards they got for their endeavours and sacrifices were pretty thin on the ground, I’ve always thought.
Cecil Joseph Bainbridge – Born in Ironville, Derbyshire on 7th October 1916