22 January 2019

Tuesday Talk: a tribute to my Dad, Frederick Richard Turner M.M.


born : West Ham, London, 22nd September 1917 
died  : 19th January 1992

Fred 'Toby' Turner
My Dad. To most people, their Dad is a hero, occasionally for undertaking a public heroic deed, more often because, well, he's Dad, so of course he is a hero. My Dad really was a hero of WWII, although unrecognised for it, and also a hero to me personally because he saved my life (or at least potential serious injury.)

Like many thousands of other young men Dad was captured as a prisoner of war. He joined up with the 1st Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (the Rangers) in 1939. In 1941, as Corporal, he was the only officer who survived an air attack by the Germans on the island of Crete - and took it upon himself to lead the rest of the men to safety - unfortunately they were captured and interred as POWs. Based originally at a prison camp in Austria, many of the men were moved elsewhere, and during the transfer volunteers were sought to change their identity. Dad went into the transport train as Corp., F.R. Turner and left it as Flt. Lt. Rex Reynolds, a fighter pilot, an identity he kept until the Russians freed the prison on April 22nd 1945. (The switches were needed because officers did not go outside the camp on the labour rosters - the ordinary men did, so as Fred Turner, the real Rex Reynolds had a chance to attempt escape - which he did on many occasions.)

Dad could not risk writing to his parents at their home address in London, so wrote to his fiancee - Iris, (my Mum) instead, saying he had lost his address book and would she pass the letter on, and signed it as 'Rex'.

Mum took a while to cotton on, but eventually went to the War Office, where the change of identity was authenticated and explained. 

Meanwhile, Dad, as Rex Reynolds, had been transferred to Stalag Luft 3 near the Polish border, where he became involved with the famous 'Wooden Horse' escape attempt... the one where they concealed the entrance to tunnels beneath wooden vaulting horses and scattered the earth that was removed by drawstring bags hidden down their trouser legs ... except prior to this they hid bags full of earth in the rafters of their accommodation huts ... with the result being one of my Dad's sketched drawings that he had in his diary...

Christmas Day 1943

A water colour painting, by Dad,  of the US airforce
bombing the area around the prison camp
prior to the release of prisoners.
Dad rarely mentioned his wartime experiences, all I recall as a child is being puzzled about why he would never eat brown bread. (I later discovered that it reminded him of the coarse stuff they had in the camp).

Of course, it goes without saying that had Dad been found out he would have been shot.

* * *

For myself and that 'saving my life' episode, after the war Dad joined the Royal Marines Voluntary Reserve and I vaguely remember him in his uniform. We moved to Chingford, which was, then, in Essex, (now a part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest) in the summer of 1956 and our house was at the top of a steep hill overlooking the Lee Valley. It was a very hot afternoon, I was about five years old. We must have been going to a Royal Marine 'do', perhaps a summer fete, or party or something, for Dad was wearing full uniform. He was getting ready indoors, I was waiting in the car - a green Morris Minor. I was on the back seat playing with either a plastic telescope or recorder (I think the former,) when suddenly the car started rolling. Down the hill. I remember being terrified and leaning out the window and screaming while bashing the plastic toy on the door. The car got faster - Dad was indoors upstairs, saw what was happening and raced down, vaulted the gate and ran... the car had those old fashioned running boards on the outside, he managed to jump on, lean through the window and steer the car into the kerb.

What happened after that I have no idea - except Dad had severely sprained his ankle. Had he not been able to stop the car... well, like I said, it was a steep hill with several parked cars lower down  the road and a busy main road at the bottom. If Dad hadn't stopped the car I very much doubt that I would be sitting here now writing this.

There is a lot more information here:
https://www.helenhollick.co.uk/h2uitem24.html on my website, including an audio interview that Dad made for the Imperial War Museum, London, archives. I have never listened beyond the first few sentences as, well, I can't, it's too upsetting for me.

There are also page copies of his diary and other memorabilia ... you are more than welcome to browse or to use the information for research purposes, but please mention 
www.helenhollick.net WWII F.R.Turner M.M

The last time I saw my Dad alive was on January 18th 1992 in A & E at Whipps Cross Hospital, NE London, where he had been taken by ambulance with a suspected heart attack. I was waiting outside (what I assume was the triage room?) the door opened, he saw me and we smiled and waved to each other. I never saw him alive again.

He passed away in the early hours of the 19th.


I miss you, Dad.

19 January 2019

This Day in 2013

I heard from a few lovely people today who live in Canada, apparently the original Escape To The Country episode where we found our wonderful home here in Devon was aired there again yesterday.  Thank you so much to those people for emailing me, it is always exciting to hear from new friends around the world after 'our' episode has been broadcast.

'Windfall Farm' January 2013

And today (19th January) is especially significant because we moved into the first house we were shown on 18th January 2013 - in the snow! (Our removal men were fantastic!) That first night we went back to the hotel because we didn't have our beds or any bedding (still on the removal lorry) so Saturday 19th was our official 'here to stay' day... I remember half way through Saturday morning thinking that the house was cold, but with removal men tramping in and out and the doors open, didn't think much of it - until I realised that the radiators were stone cold. That sinking feeling of 'Oh heck the heating doesn't work'... We fiddled with the thermostat, pressed buttons on the boiler (all part of the aga in the kitchen)... nothing. Then one of the removal men said 'is there a switch somewhere to control the electrics, only nothing on the aga seems to be on?'

'If there is, no idea where it is' I answered. 
Then, a lightbulb moment! When I had plugged the 'fridge in I'd noticed that a second plug was switched on, so I'd switched it off. With fingers crossed I switched it on again - and the aga roared into life, the radiators gurgled and we've been warm and cosy ever since, except for when we have a power cut, but who cares, we have candles and that lovely log burner in the sitting room!

By contrast I am sitting here today, typing this, with birds singing outside, an almost perfect clear blue sky - my office and kitchen doors are wide open. I even saw a bumblebee out in the front garden! I reiterate... it is the 19th January!!!

Late November 2018
The house, by the way, was built circa 1769, and we added a self-contained annex extension for Kathy and her husband - she married in 2014, Adam followed us down from London. We now have three horses and four Exmoor ponies and a donkey. Two dogs, two cats, several hens,two geese, two ferrets and quite a few ducks (which Kathy breeds and sells as ideal garden pets - ducks are super for getting rid of slugs etc).

The front door and garden in summer
We absolutely love it here!

The same spot the day after we moved in!
Our first walk up the lane
with our dear old dog, Rum,
alas no longer with us.

My daughter and the two horses we had then (and the cats and my husband Ron's racing pigeons) however, did not join us until a week later: Kathy was supposed to have come down on the Saturday but was snowed in in London! 


There is a follow-up show to watch out for which was filmed on the last day of February 2018 and aired here in the UK in November: 'I Escaped To The Country' - watch out for a tag line of something like:  'Mother and daughter move to Devon'. This one was hosted by Alistair (who is lovely!) and when it's aired look out for the donkey who was shy and didn't want to be filmed!

Donk appeared as Alistair
walked away!

The ponies, on the other hand,
were most interested
'Cameraman ! Have you got my best side?'

I've a sort-of diary, although it isn't very up-to-date :   http://leaningonthegate.blogspot.co.uk/ 

The house and front garden summer 2013

January 19th has other, not so happy memories, as it is the day my Dad passed away in 1992. I'll be writing about him next Tuesday.