I was born on 15th December, 1928, probably in the afternoon, at my parents’ home called “Carisbrooke” in the village of Shenston near Lichfield,  Staffordshire.  My parents, Harry James Kendrick and Florence Jane (née Boys) were both aged 44, my brother, Harry, (a solicitor), was aged nineteen-and-a-half and my sister, Martha, was almost 12.

My father had already retired from business.  He was charming, hyper-sensitive, neurotic, later very eccentric.  My impending arrival caused him deep alarm and dismay which lasted until after my birth.

I was told many times that Mother couldn’t account for this event so late in her life.  My sister explained everything: “I prayed for it”.  Mother said: “Well, you sent for it, so you can look after it.”  Indeed, my sister did take care of me and gave me a great deal of love until her marriage took her away when I was in my early teens.  Any question about my provenance being the result of  “spontaneous combustion” as my mother continued to speculate throughout her life holds no credence because I can identify many characteristics that can only have come to me from my father’s genetic pool.  Fortunately, after a while, my father became a doting parent and referred to me thereafter and exclusively, using no other name, as his “Little Baby”.

When I was two years old, we moved to Fillongley, a small village six miles from Coventry, in Warwickshire.   “Fillongley Mount” was a country gentleman’s residence, several hundred years old, with extensive stables, set in two acres of garden and forty acres of parkland and meadows on all sides.  It was left to my father by his uncle, James Blackham, who was a Chartered Accountant and had married a woman much older than himself and was thus childess.  My father was his favourite nephew and my sister, Martha Blackham Kendrick, had been named after Uncle James’ wife.

I attended the local school which stands next to the church, in the village of Fillongley a mile away.  There I learned to knit, sew, weave, read, write and do arithmetic.  I also became bi-lingual, speaking fluently with the other children with their wide vocabulary of colourful anglo-saxon vulgarities, and, except for one accidental early lapse, in the style of the family at home.  I have very fond memories of those years.

Before World War II broke out, my brother, who was unmarried, gave up his practice as a solicitor in Coventry and joined the Royal Air Force on 3rd September 1939. I know from letters I since found that he was deeply concerned about the future of the world and of his country.

The war had already started when, in 1940, I entered Barr’s Hill Grammar School for girls in Coventry, a government school with entrance examination requirements and streamed in the higher forms for arts (top level) science (second level) and domestic science (third level).  Our headmistress and teachers were all single, a generation of intelligent women who had lost their fiancés as a result of the first World War and lavished their energies and (now I see it) love on us, as we were the children they had failed to have.  I remember in fifth form, a new science teacher joined the staff.  She was a married woman and, because of this, I did not think she could be a proper teacher.

Although we lived in the country, I became an evacuee. The devastation of Coventry on 14th November, 1940, by German bombers, and the partial destruction of my school, meant that most of the pupils were moved to Atherstone, a small town within the county.  I was billeted with a family which, understandably, did not particularly want me, but regarded it as part of their war effort.  I shared a bed with the daughter who was approximately my age and the mother got me do most of the housework and shopping.  The bright spot was that the daughter-in-law also lived with the family whilst her husband, their son, was away at the war.  She produced a baby girl on which I positively doted, bathed, dressed, fed and took for very long walks in the pram.

However, separation from home, a diet of (mostly) fish and chips and a little body trying to come to puberty all took their toll.  After about a year away, my parents decided I was too pale and thin to stay away any longer.  So I went back home.  Then they told me my beloved brother, who was a Pilot Officer, had been shot down over the North Sea in his Beau Fighter plane.  He was posted missing on 19th August, 1942, but was never found.   My last memory was of him waking me early one morning to kiss me and say “Goodbye”, and my glimpse of his blue peaked cap.

After a year or so, I started to pick up.  School was my delight and my friends were very dear.

Father was becoming increasingly strange.  He blamed most of his suffering on the state of marriage and told me, even as a small child, that the most foolish thing in the world was to marry and have children.  Though he clearly doted on his children, and on me (forever his baby), it did not make sense and I knew that what I wanted most in the world was to have children of my own. 

By the time I was in my teens, he was living as a virtual recluse.  It was almost impossible to get any money from him, for anything, though Mother eventually established a housekeeping allowance of two pounds which was laid out promptly each week - but never increased.  She kept herself sane by having a sense of humour, by growing fruit and vegetables in the big garden for us to eat, and also magnificent flowers such as sweet peas and chrysanthemums, which a florist in Nuneaton would buy. Thus she had some money to give me for clothes, and I also learned to use her sewing machine. 

I loved school and eventually saw that going to University was the easiest way to get away from home and find a place in the world.  I reasoned that if I got a place and scholarships, no-one could stop me.  So my marks rose dramatically, I won every scholarship available and a place at London University, namely Bedford College for Women in Regents Park.  Some correspondence between my father and the Ministry of Education ensued.   I could not collect the scholarships as he had too much money - a sizeable amount which he had inherited with the house and which he was obsessively increasing by means of investment and not spending on his family.

However, he eventually agreed to pay my fees, accommodation and a basic allowance which did not match the scholarship amounts.   But I was on my way and happy.   

At London University, I chose to do an Honours Degree in French, with German as a subsidiary subject, my main motivation being that I wanted to go to France.  In hindsight, it was a frivolous approach to a deadly serious issue, but it was the best I could manage at the time. 

At the end of my first year, I spent the long vacation as nanny to five children with a family called Landon living in Rouen.  However, soon after my arrival, we packed up and went off to their large country house near Montluçon in central France.  Here, I got to like the idea of a large family.  In particular, when I saw that the children’s love went directly towards the person who looked after them night and day, bathed and dressed them, gave them their food, comforted them and put them to bed, I vowed that, when I had children, I would be the only person who looked after them. 

After ten weeks in France, I had forgotten how to speak English and had to speak in French on the boat back across the English Channel.

At the end of my second year, I managed to squeeze a hundred pounds from my father for the long vacation.  My room-mate, Pat, who was a history student, and I set off on our bikes and spent ten weeks going through France and Italy, as far as Rome and back.  It was a marvellous adventure of discovery – too long to describe here - and probably one of the happiest times of my life.

However, all good things must end.   At the end of my university days, I faced the problem of getting a job.  Teaching was about the only thing for which a degree in French was useful, but that meant another year’s training - and dependence in my father.  Besides, I really loved kids and feared that a classroom full of other people’s might put me off for life.  Also, after being at a girl’s school and a women’s college (undoubtedly chosen subconciously to avoid any early possible romances until I was “of age”), it was time to enter the real world.

The real world turned out to be a job with the Ministry of Supply in the Engineering Industries Division in London, at Shellmex House on the Strand, overlooking the River Thames.  It was the classic square-peg in round hole situation.  Those three ivory-tower years had not educated me for life. 

My original application to the British Government for a job with the Foreign Office was rejected, despite a demonstrated ability to learn and speak other languages.  Instead, a later offer was made to work with the light engineering industry, of which I knew nothing.  I soon learned the industrial terminology, but it bothered me that I had to tell manufacturers they could not have a licence for nickel plating  because their export performance was not good enough and they would have to close down. (Nickel was in short supply after the war.)  Being confined by office walls was not a comfortable environment for a Saggitarian.  Combined with long travel hours, a five and a half day working week, living alone and thoroughly miserable, the city I had loved became unbearable and after almost two years, I applied for a transfer to the country.

The Atomic Energy Establishment at Harwell in Berkshire was certainly in the country.   Formerly a wartime airfield set in the midst of the Berkshire Downs, its huge area had been surrounded by a high wire security fence and filled with all manner buildings, offices, laboratories, two reactors, a tall chimney which (to the amazement of the locals) never sent out any smoke, and employed about   6,000 people from lab. technicians up to scientists of the highest level.

I moved into Staff Club A, Ridgeway House, formerly the Air Force Officers’ quarters and shared a room with the secretary of one of the top scientists.  I appreciated her company and that of the other girls, mostly scientists, for the staff club housed seventy men and only seven women. 

At the time, I had difficulty coping with day-to-day existence, having developed a number of fears and phobias. These were undoubtedly a legacy from my father’s peculiar attitudes to adult life and the stresses and strains of the recent life in London taking their toll on a genetic predisposition to anxiety.  Until I had got these under control, I could not contemplate the idea of marriage or even involvement.   Being thrown in with a mass of (mostly single) males did not help one bit. 


However, ……… be continued.     



undercon Under contruction