We could not keep away long from the land of Colin’s birth. We thought of the beauty of England, of the winding roads and hedgerows with its verdant fields and returned two years later.
I was enchanted with the green planes, buses and letter boxes. I had attended a school run by Irish nuns and loved their sense of humour. The speech of the Irish people I met, reminded me of my days with the missionary sisters.
We’ve always associated St. Patrick’s Day with green clothing, leprechauns and shamrocks. However, we never saw a leprechaun.
In a half-day tour of Dublin we viewed the Book of Kells at Trinity College, visited the crystal factory at Waterford and Kilkenny Castle, staying overnight at Killarney. In Cork we toured Blarney Castle, kissing the Blarney Stone and buying souvenirs from the Woollen Mills. Despite kissing the famous stone, neither of us obtained the gift of the gab, and we remained bashful and quiet as we always were.
‘Famine walls’ and ‘famine houses’, relics of the Potato Famine, were dotted all over Ireland.
The coach drive through the Ring of Kerry reminded us of the Snowy Mountains in Australia. We went on to Limerick, home of Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. Colin recalled his own poverty during his early days in Portland when his Dad worked for the Cockies and we lived in a shack with hessian bags as walls.
We travelled to Galway Bay and on to Knock, where we stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock.
We returned to Dublin after a week, and flew back to England.
Uncle Clarence looked slightly thinner, but still held himself tall and straight. He picked us up from our hotel and took us to meet my youngest cousin, Matthew, born since our last visit.
Using Nottingham as our base, we travelled to Matlock by rail and walked along the Limestone Trail to Abraham’s Heights. Returning via the Derwent Valley Walk on the Derbyshire Downs, we listened to the chatter of chaffinch. Bluetit and blackbirds regaled us.
While dining at the Magna Carta Hotel, Uncle Clarence, who was usually reserved about his past, spoke to us of his work in China during World War II.
‘When hostilities broke out in 1939, I registered as a conscientious objector and joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a Quaker organisation. I was based in the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province, near the Burmese border,’ he said.
He was still a pacifist and, although over eighty years old, he and his son, Paul, worked as ministers in the Church of Christ. The epitome of kindness, Clarence was always ready to do good for others. It was a pleasure to meet him each time we returned to England.
With regret, we said goodbye, little knowing he’d pass away in less than a year. Paul wrote, informing us of his death. In his e-mail, he attached the first few pages of Clarence’s unfinished memoir.
When I read it, I said, ‘I must complete his book for him.’
The result is my manuscript, The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie.
Our adventures took us to many points of interest in England before we boarded a plane at Heathrow to enjoy a wonderful week touring Italy.
I felt a tug at my heartstrings when we left for Brisbane, Australia. As the aircraft circled over the approach to the city I gave a contented sigh of relief and, looking down at the vast, open spaces, thought of our home—our Arcadia, our piece of heaven