Sketch by Jack Chalker

A Civilian at Last

Memoirs of Douglas Morris

A Civilian at Last - So here I was, a civilian at last! Under the 1956 Pay Code my pension on a similar basis to the pay I had been awarded was 600 a year. While over the years this was considerably increased, it was imperative that I find myself a reasonably remunerative occupation. What was I to do? There were a number of jobs on offer to retired chaps like me in London but Joanie and I both agreed it was worth 1,000 or more a year not to have to go regularly to London and so I declined such offers.

Good Stephen Scammell was in full flow in the village at this time. He had purchased the ground and building of Knoyle House, now demolished, and there were in the grounds a “fleet” of four or five quite large greenhouses. He was hopeful of having them bought by a large horticultural firm in Mere but they were not interested. Joanie and I asked to look at them; when walking round we found a number of labels of various carnations supplied by Allwoods of Haywards Heath in Sussex, the premier grower in G.B. It came to light that Col. The Hon Sir George Herbert, who for many years had lived in Knoyle House as a member of the family, had been an enthusiastic grower of carnations, liking to wear one in his buttonhole every day of the year! He was also the first President of the East Knoyle Branch of the British Legion but his time alas was to be short and he died a comparatively young man.

In those days Phyllis Leach was still living in The Pheasantry, a lovely home in Holloway Lane. Her brother-in-law, a retired admiral, was an enthusiastic carnation grower and had personal contact with Allwoods. When Joanie and I asked Stephen if he would consider letting us take over the greenhouses and he happily agreed, we could see that fate was dictating our future. Admiral Leach introduced me to Allwoods who agreed readily to give me a month’s training. So it was that we decided that this was to be our future way of life and making what money we could.

Joanie arranged to go over to Ireland and spend a month with her mother. I went down to Haywards Heath and found myself accommodation in a pub, took my coat off and worked through all aspects of carnation growing, having weekends off. This short separation was soon to pass happily and to our benefit and for the next 12 or 13 years it was to be our way of life.

Good Sir Guy Fison was also a wonderful friend. His dear Lady Fison suffered a crippling stroke and spent all this period bedridden. He said to me “I would be delighted if you would make use of my vegetable garden” almost bang opposite Old Orchard and this we did. Having use of a highly fertile garden of over an acre in which we were able to grow strawberries, raspberries, lettuces etc to boost our products. There I had a fleet of 300 cloches.

There are so many good friends and relations who over the years have shared our life and the joys of living in a happy and friendly community in one of the best parts of Wiltshire that it is well to remember and unnecessary for me to recount all over again.

My dear Mother-in-law died during this period leaving Joanie with both parents dead. My own Father and Mother were starting to ail so it was finally decided to bring them to live in the village rather than having dear Joanie motoring continually up to Berkshire. She was so kind and good to them. Once again it was Stephen Scammell who came to our help and rescue. 54 Underhill came on to the market. We bought it at a very reasonable price and converted it into a happy comfortable home for them. They loved living in East Knoyle. Their time came and both are buried in the churchyard below the tower.

With the carnations we started sensibly not over-stretching ourselves and got two houses in full condition; eventually we were to have four in full production with the smallest glasshouse reserved for pinks. Stephen Scammell allowed us to bring electricity onto the site and each house was installed with hot air heating carried throughout each house in long plastic tubing about a foot in diameter and suspended at roof-height throughout. No frost ever penetrated and in the winter this pleasant atmosphere attracted friendly little birds, particularly robins and wrens who became very tame.

To help us with the growing and the heavy work we employed two men, Ted Allen and John Congram, and several girls to help with jobs like disbudding, picking and packing saleable flowers, watering and spraying against carnations’ deadly enemy Red Spider and, when required, making wreaths and bunches of flowers for gifts. I bought a large Triumph convertible car capable of carrying quite big loads and we eventually established a regular custom with flower shops in Shaftesbury, Salisbury and Warminster supplemented by the fruit and vegetable side. Joanie was employed as my “secretary” for business purposes and life was idyllic.

Both of us were becoming increasingly part of the village. When Brian Landale finally decided to retire from his duties as Churchwarden, I was proposed and accepted and served happily with John Jesse as a team. I was appointed a Parish Councillor, eventually to hold the post as Chairman for nine years. We had Dennis Walters, our MP, living in the village and Joan and I both on the Conservative Committee were to see him elected as MP for Westbury in seven successive elections. Joanie, bless her, was a great supporter of the Church, the Red Cross, the kind Care at Home team and all aspects of women’s activities.

Before I end this story there are one or two other matters which deserve mention. In the mid-1970s I crumpled a bit! I had to be sent to hospital in a hurry one Sunday evening with a bad appendix. Luckily I was operated on very soon after arrival and I was told on recovering it was “just in time”! Not very long after I suffered a go of viral pneumonia and had to go to hospital again for a short spell. Joanie, bless her, said “look, old boy, I want a husband not a dead gardener!” So quietly the business was closed down after a busy but good and happy time.

One other memorable event was a Swan Hellenic cruise I took Joanie on in 1986 touring the Mediterranean. The highlight of the cruise was a visit to Israel and Jerusalem. This was appropriately 50 years after I had left Palestine with the Battalion for Egypt and the Suez Canal. It was a wonderful trip. We visited many holy places; we walked unimpeded the length of the Via Dolorosa, the Mount of Olives and the gardens, still beautifully maintained, where Christ had prayed. There was now close by a modern hotel where we had a meal. At the Dome of the Rock where peace reigned I have a photograph of us standing in the courtyard with the Dome behind us and no one else in sight. Finally we visited Bethlehem where the Church of the Nativity was peaceful and welcoming.

How I regret and resent the present Israeli and Palestinian troubles. In some respects I feel that as a country we have some responsibility. When Lord Balfour was Foreign Secretary and Palestine was “red on the map” and our responsibility, his declaration that “we viewed with favour the formation of a National Home for the Jews” in a country we should have clearly and unequivocally detailed the areas of land to be Jewish and Palestinian and it ought to have been possible from the start to live in peace with each other.

Perhaps “peace” is the appropriate word with which to end this short account of our life together. I greatly treasure the obituary notice written by our Rector Peter Ridley and which appeared in the Parish News. I cannot do better than to quote this in full as a fitting tribute to Joan and her wonderful Life.

Douglas Morris, Easter 2003

 

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