Posted in Real Life

My Family And Other Heroes – Lest We Forget

For the past couple of months I’ve been researching my family history. In doing so it suddenly became clear how many of my ancestors were involved in WW1. As I searched for my relatives, their forces war records reluctantly opened up to me and I was staggered by the realization that so many of the men in my family had served. So this blog post is in tribute to them as we head towards the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of the Great War.

Today I’m thinking of and paying tribute to those closest to me especially those who served in WW1 and my great uncle John who made the ultimate sacrifice during The Great War.

I’m certain there’s much more to discover because much of this post simply reflects my father’s side of the family, but for now here’s the roll of honour for my family who served during the Great War, WW2 and beyond. I promise to think of you all this Sunday, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

First of all a nod to my great grandfather William Reynolds who was born in 1853 and who was a gunner in the Royal Artillery. Serving for at least ten years (records being sketchy) I wonder whether his example influenced his sons during their time in the forces.

Frederick Thomas Reynolds. My grandfather (photographed below) – born in 1891. Joined up as a gunner aged 18, served with the 2nd Battalion The West Yorkshires and was awarded the Bronze Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. During WW1 he fought with the 8th division in France and Belgium. On 1st July 1916, he fought in the Battles of the Somme at Pozeires. Hundreds were lost in the ensuing battle but my grandfather Frederick Thomas Reynolds survived and continued to serve his country.

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An extract from his diary almost two long years later after action at Villers-Bretonneux on 25th April 1918 records

“All different regiments mixed up but managed to hold Jerry for about 1 hour …. Jerry got his tanks in action. 2 followed by 3 more. Troops retired to railway and hung on there. Jerry got village but paid for it. Tried to make a can of tea on 4 bits of candle …. Jerry shelling very heavy all the time. Got hit about 5-30pm and began to feel effects of gas …….. Lorried to Amiens clearing station. Treated for gas …… got a bit of sleep. First for 48 hours.”

So difficult to imagine but thank you Grandad for hanging on in there and for coming home to your family.

Albert Reynolds (great uncle) born 1885. Bricklayer Albert joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner in 1903. He served in France from August 1915 to March 1916 and was awarded the Bronze Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Alfred McCarthy (great uncle) born 1886. Alfred was a miner. He joined up in 1915 as a 29 year old. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, received the British War Medal and Victory Medal and was discharged aged 32 having fallen victim to Malaria.

William McCarthy (great uncle) born 1888. William joined up in 1915 leaving his job as a hospital porter. He was discharged in 1920 having served with the East Kent Regiment The Buffs as a sergeant. He served in France during 1915/16 and Bangalore in 1918.

Walter McCarthy (great uncle) born 1891. Walter enlisted age 18 joining the Prince of Wales Own Regiment (West Yorks) having worked at the arsenal in Woolwich in number 2 cartridge factory. Quite the character, Walter’s medical and conduct records are interesting reading, providing an insight into what life was really like for a soldier during the early twentieth century. He served for ten years and received his medals for the time he spent fighting in France, Belgium and Malta. He was discharged in 1919 due to wounds received during active service. The photograph shows Walter and his fellow soldiers posing for a post card that Walter then sent to his mother Sarah McCarthy, my great grandmother.

 

Walter

Thomas Kent (Jnr) (great uncle) born 1897. Thomas was a machine hand, signed up aged 18 and served as a rifleman in France in 1916/17 with the 5th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles. He was taken prisoner in 1917 for over a year until being repatriated on 27th November 1918. Like the others he received his medals and was discharged in 1920, having served for four years.

John McCarthy (great uncle) 1885-1916 John served as a private in the Queens Own Royal West Kent regiment. He was wounded in the Persian Gulf in 1915 and was mentioned in dispatches with the 2nd battalion. He was initially reported missing at Kut-el-Amara and confirmed dead on 31st October 1916. He paid the ultimate price, made the greatest sacrifice. The following letter was sent to his mother in April 1921.

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I fully expect to discover more ancestors who served during The Great War. Unfortunately my research has been hampered due to the loss of many hundreds of thousands of documents during Second World War bombings. However I’m sure they will eventually reveal themselves to me one by one as those above have.

With WW2 in mind, it’s only right to pay tribute to two of my uncles who served during the Second World War. One of my uncles who I barely knew, Herbert McCarthy Kent, enlisted in 1941 at Bulford, near Salisbury aged 28 and served for the rest of the war. And uncle Fred (Frederick George Reynolds) who, in later life kept detailed records of his father Frederick Thomas’s time in WW1, together with a fascinating account of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918 himself served in the Royal Air Force (photo below). Uncle Fred was ground crew, utilizing his skills as a motor mechanic and spent time in both India and Canada, latterly as air sea rescue.

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And so finally to my husband, Brian Cliff who served in the Royal Navy as a Chief Petty Officer Weapons EA from 1988 to 2000. Brian was awarded three medals during his time in the Navy, something he is most humble about and always plays down. I love the connection that he has with the forces and serving his country. I’m as proud of him as I am every other relative who has served and fought for our country.

My final thought here though is for another. For a stranger amongst millions of strangers, who all played their part in WW1. As I walked the dog several days ago on a misty, chilly autumn evening I noticed a large red poppy attached to a lamppost. Quite on it’s own. There are dozens down in Caterham village, fixed to posts, in shop windows, on railings and attached to hedges. Lovely tributes filled with thoughtful messages to those who lost their lives, to those who served and to all who played a part in WW1.

For some reason though, this one stood out on it’s own away from the town centre in a quiet residential road and just around the corner from my home. The name type written across the centre of the poppy was Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell. A quick search of forces war records revealed that he was born in 1892, lived locally and was educated at Eton. He served with the Grenadier Guards and gave his life on 6th November 1914 aged just 22 during the first battle of the Somme at Ypres, in order that that we may know the life and the world we now live in.

So to Private John McCarthy, to Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell and all who served, sacrificed, kept us safe and changed our world, although it doesn’t seem quite enough 100 years later …. Thank You!

 

All photos from family archives, thanks Chris!

Posted in Real Life

Best Day Ever – a true story

My two friends and I stepped out of the taxi and into the warm spring sunshine. Architecturally stunning Sofitel St James stood proudly before us. As our luggage was unpacked from the car by the driver an immaculately dressed doorman with a trolley approached. ‘Welcome’ he said ‘Please follow me, Francesco is waiting for you’.

Entering through the familiar entrance and into the wonderfully scented foyer, wedding co-ordinator Francesco stood waiting. After a swift check in, he escorted us up to a beautiful and stylish suite. The three of us grinned at each other and Francesco watched as we took in the rooms and the little touches; the gift of a pretty silver photo frame, a stunning cake to enjoy with little china plates, silverware and linen napkins laid out on a glass topped table together with a bottle of champagne on ice and several glasses. Francesco left us to enjoy. We freshened up and popped down to the St James Bar to meet with some of the guests.

With all the arrangements taken care of by the unobtrusive and expert staff, we three simply relaxed with drinks and some bar snacks as we gradually welcomed more of the wedding party. My fiancé and the rest of the family arrived and were whisked away to their rooms to get ready and when it was time; us girls withdrew to the suite to prepare.

Once the registrars had completed their paperwork and it was nearing five o’clock, Francesco arrived promptly once more to take my two handsome sons and me down to the ceremony room. Every detail had been completed with the utmost care so as the doors opened my focus was entirely on my fiancé. The flower arrangements were stunning and as Tansy Aked and her fabulous Too Darn Hot band began playing When I Fall In Love my heart almost burst and happy tears formed in the corners of my eyes.

With the ceremony complete the doors swung open to where guests were arriving for the reception. The most delicate and delicious canapés were served with champagne as guests mingled happily until with a flourish the main doors were opened to reveal our reception suite. It was perfect in every way; the tables set exactly how I’d imagined with the most beautiful candelabra flower arrangements on each one. The band launched into the first of three sets of West End Theatre tunes, the singers took to the stage and the celebrations began.

Having enjoyed the attentions of the head chef just a few weeks previously at the menu tasting my new husband and I reveled in the fact that our guests were about to enjoy some wonderful culinary delights. As expected the beef fillet was sublime, the abundant desserts a triumph and the table of cheeses and port exceeded every expectation. We smiled at each other as our nearest and dearest nodded appreciatively as they feasted on each course and the wine flowed.

The magical evening I hoped would never end slowed and guests took a final drink or a coffee before disappearing to their rooms or making their way home. My husband and I retired to our suite and as we sat amongst the thoughtfully scattered rose petals on the bed we sipped one final glass of champagne and reminisced about our magical five star London wedding day.

Finally settling to slumber in a super comfy bed overlooking Waterloo Place our happy thoughts turned to the sweetest of dreams and the continuation of our happy ever after.

 

 

 

Posted in Real Life

Not A Hockey Post!

So Offonatangent has primarily focused on ice hockey these last few months and because there has been very little to say of late, the blog has remained desert-like, tumbleweed gathering pace as the hockey news has trickled down to pretty much nothing. So much so that The Hockey Forum loyalists have taken to debating things like ‘who likes the national anthem being played at the start of each game’ which has attracted dozens of inane comments as people attempt desperately to keep with the hockey vibe any old how.

Others (including myself) have resorted to debating Love Island elsewhere on social media and whether Chris is too good for Olivia or if Gabby is ‘real’. I for one have been seduced into watching by a bombardment on Twitter by complete strangers of hatred towards Olivia and love towards someone called Camilla who is fast turning into the Lady Di of summer 2017 and Love Island.

So anyhow, thought I’d do a quick piece on what we’ve been up to this summer whilst I procrastinate over the first chapters of my new novel. Thrilling I know and not nearly as interesting as discussing the relevance of the national anthem prior to an ice hockey match, but wanted to credit a hotel, an inn and a small eatery that probably go mostly un-noticed in the great scheme of things.

So first of all there was Cornwall. Beautiful Newquay. Yes those two words actually go together. Known probably more as a stag and hen venue in the south west, the surrounding coastline is actually completely stunning. So for our seventh visit in two years we again stayed at the glorious and aptly named Headland Hotel. With its claim to fame as the setting for the 1990 film of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’, this majestic hotel was completely unknown to us until two years ago. Set aside from the town and situated beside the famous Fistral beach the views are spectacular. Fistral beach in the off season is an absolute joy, particularly for dog walkers who are welcome all year round and as the tide recedes, leaves an enormous expanse of dog friendly sand along which our collie cross Charlie runs with joyous abandon. We call it “Charlie’s Beach’ and he adores it.

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The Headland Hotel is properly dog friendly too – no bedrooms are out of bounds so you can treat yourself to a stylishly refurbished top of the range room with a view of Fistral beach without worry. Pooches are permitted in the lounge where you can also choose to eat from a varied menu (including fabulous cocktails) and the staff there appear to actually enjoy working there. On top of the incredible views, great walks, fabulous beach and excellent hotel, there is also a first class spa on site – oh and if you prefer a little more privacy the hotel has a selection of beautifully appointed cottages just next door.

During this last visit, on recommendation from son number 2 who has been living the student life in Newquay for two years, we visited The Beached Lamb. Heralded as a vegan café we feared we would be making positive noises about the food whilst secretly wishing we had stayed at the hotel for afternoon tea. Not so! The Beached Lamb is a little gem. Equally dog friendly as the Headland Hotel, this little café, just outside the main town and five minutes walk from Fistral beach is brilliant. Whilst publicized first and foremost as a vegan café, with lots of vegan choice, I can honestly say they serve the best bacon I think I’ve ever tasted as part of a full English breakfast, which completely surprised. The milkshakes, juices and smoothies are to die for and the breakfast burrito and Jono’s breakfast bap are enough to keep you going back day after day for more – which we did. Our four-legged friend was welcomed back each day by staff who seemed genuinely happy to see him (and us) and the service was first rate. So, as promised this is my shout out to The Beached Lamb, Newquay and if you’re ever that way or passing through and fancy a bit of lunch or a delicious breakfast then I’m not sure you will find better.

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Beached Lamb breakie

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Oreo milkshake at the Beached Lamb

So then finally, once the outline draft for my next novel was almost complete, Cornwall was but a distant memory and the boys were on holiday in Spain, hubby and I decided to venture out to Wiltshire for a day or two with a view to moving that way in the next couple of years. The big plus being that we could strategically place ourselves within easy travelling distance of four, yes FOUR ice rinks for hockey. Now this makes hubby a very happy bunny indeed.

As we were looking to book last minute, we struggled to find anywhere dog friendly and eventually managed to find The George & Dragon in Rowde (just outside Devizes) a gorgeous 16th century inn. Again, mightily dog friendly (the owner having a chocci lab and a grumpy looking but very cute little girl dog) the George & Dragon was a revelation that confirmed my suspicions that in order to find the best place to stay sometimes you just have stumble across it. There is an adorable little terrace out back where we ate a very good, realistically priced meal with a perfectly chilled sauvignon blanc. As darkness fell, the fairy lights came on and the outdoor woodburner was stoked up. Blankets were available for anyone feeling the chill and in the winter they even have a stock of hot water bottles to snuggle with. And once we were pleasantly full and slightly squiffy we bimbled on up to our room which was a lovely characterful beamed room with ensuite and a comfy bed.

Breakfast was perfect and probably the highlight of our stay. Owner Chippy came and had a bit of a chat (lovely guy, really lovely – just one of those people clearly in the right job) and we were treated to a delicious breakfast of fresh from the oven croissants and jam, yogurt and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs and bacon on toast and copious amounts of tea and coffee. Such a treat and the entire experience an unexpectedly lovely one.

So there we go, I’ve whiled away a few minutes with some niff naff and trivia. We’ve had a bit of time away from hockey and some lovely dog friendly experiences along the way. Perfect. Now we just need the hockey season to start please.

Posted in Real Life

St George & The London Marathon

Happy St Georges Day! And what a great day it has been. For me, a run of the mill kind of Sunday where I rolled out of bed, wandered into town in the sunshine with hubby for a coffee, walked the dog, watered the garden and then spent the vast majority of the afternoon, like millions of others, sat on my backside watching TV. My most major achievement today has been not succumbing to the temptation of drinking wine and eating chocolate whilst watching other people running the London Marathon.

So there are few facts about our patron Saint. Famous mostly for slaying the mythical dragon and saving a distressed maiden, Richard the Lionheart apparently also adopted him as the protector of his army whilst on crusade. St George is typically depicted as fearless and courageous and therefore it is kind of fitting that his special day falls on a day where an army of over 40,000 embarked on the annual 26 mile grueling run through the streets of London.

Alongside the elite racers – those heroes of world championships and Olympics, the Bekele’s and David Weir’s of this world, were club runners challenging themselves to be the best athletes they could be. Following on came the life and soul of the London Marathon, the fundraisers and the fun runners.

Year after year ordinary people rise to the challenge of running, walking and staggering the historic route around our incredible capital city. They turn from ordinary to extraordinary in front of our eyes. Their stories melt our hearts and bring tears to our eyes.

We chuckle at the clown outfits, the giraffes and the rhinos. We watch incredulously at a man carrying a tumble dryer on his back and we begin to care. We hope that each and every one achieves his or her goal. They run for lost friends and family, to say thank you for the heroic deeds of others, to raise much needed funds for charity or as a personal struggle in a fight against illness.

We watch as those who are completely spent, whose legs have finally given way are helped to the finish line by others showing the incredible generosity of spirit the London Marathon engenders.

Today I watched with special interest. Months ago, my dear friend Keeley (yes mate it’s all about you) threw her hat into the ring and volunteered to run for the charity MIND. So, Keeley is a 40-something mum of two who works for MIND and is the sort of friend that we all should strive to be – a ‘do anything for you’ kind of girl and today she fearlessly embarked upon the enormous challenge of her first ever 26 mile run. In recent weeks family and friends have watched as she has embraced her relationship with running, boldly overcoming each injury with her trademark sense of humour. We shared her training experience from our armchairs and nudged her on through her ‘maranoia’ phase when injury not only slowed her progress but brought her to a standstill.

Today she lined up with 40,000 others, all with their own personal challenges and battles, like Tori, the former Wightlink Raiders ice hockey physio, fighting her own personal battle with cancer and countless others with brave stories of overcoming adversity, being courageous and finding strength they didn’t know they had.

So St Geroges Day felt special today. It was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Thousands of people ran, jogged or walked through the pain barrier. They were fearless. They were courageous. They were a bit mad in my view. Today they put others first in the name of charity. Marathon runners I salute you and I’m pretty sure St George would salute you too.

And Keeley, I might not have managed to catch your epic finish on the BBC live feed but I’ve seen the photographic evidence and am so proud that you made it. You didn’t have to crawl over the line, your make up was still intact and you raised a bunch of cash for MIND. Big congrats mate, now go eat bacon crispies, drink wine and put your feet up.