The first photo I have of me, at two months, shows me open eyed and open mouthed, lying prone on a blanket and wearing a satin gown with a large bow at the neck and a lacy knitted matinee coat (are these garments even heard of these days?). Few people had their own cameras in the 1940s. So you went to a “studio”, and the black and white photos came framed and mounted on luxurious cream card.
I was born in the middle of World War II – well, not in the middle of a battlefield, but during wartime. I often wondered what possessed my parents to have a baby in those uncertain times, when invasion was a strong possibility and occupation by Nazi forces was a harsh reality for much of Europe. But I realise that this is modern thinking. Nowadays couples can and do plan their families. At that time you married and before you knew it, you were parents. I doubt if my mother and father ever did anything to prevent pregnancy at that stage. I know they would not have made love together before they were married, that was a very strong belief of both of them.
So there I was! Born around the time of the Battle of Britain in a small private nursing home in York. This had to be on the same side of the river as where we lived, because if the bridges had been bombed we could have been in trouble. When I was born my parents – Molly and Albert – were living with my mother’s parents. It was not unusual for newly married couples in those days to live with their parents or in-laws until they could find their own home.
It must have been very difficult and inhibiting – perhaps some more modern thinking! The house was very small, just two-up and two-down, with no electricity and no bathroom. I was probably conceived at Scarborough, on the Yorkshire Coast. Dad was in the Royal Engineers working on coastal defences. Wives could join their men when possible; it must have been something of a holiday for Mum – and an opportunity to get me started.
As time went on, I graduated to a wicker chair, propped up with cushions. I never looked happy in these early photos, perhaps because the studio atmosphere was intimidating. My little mouth was always turned down, my eyes filled with suspicion and miniature frown creasing my brow. My features were set in a round face with expansive cheeks and forehead and very little chin. As a small baby I had “bracelets’ of chub at wrists and ankles. Goodness knows where it all came from as I was exclusively breast-fed until seven months, when I was introduced to Groats and Farex (baby cereal). By the time I was a year old I was standing for photos, expressing my disgust at the stuffed dog used as a prop.