Thursday, 11 November 2021

Wedding on the Eve of War

The question now arises - how did my parents meet? How was it that they came to be married on 28th August 1939, literally on the eve of a war in which their friends and families were on opposite sides? They did not meet in the beautiful city of Salzburg, where my mother was born in 1917. And they did not meet on my Dad's home territory of the slums of Leeds. It all came about as follows.

Brought up on bread and dripping, often without the dripping, my Dad had to leave school at 12 years of age to earn enough money to buy food and to pay the rent of the one-up-one down back-to-back terrace house (toilets five doors down the road) where his dad and younger brother lived. He worked as a wheelwright for his uncle (which didn't last long) and as a butcher's boy delivering meat on a bicycle, which didn't last long either, though he never stopped talking about it until he died at the age of 95. There were no computers in those far off days, so when the local bank manager asked the headmistress of the local school if she knew anybody who was good at figures, she recommended teenager John Huddleston. He became a bank clerk and never looked back. After working all day he attended a series of evening classes, taking every opportunity to broaden his education and working within the Labour and cooperative movements. At the mature age of 28 he registered for undergraduate study in economics at the University of Leeds. At this point he was taken in by the local labour MP. Lewis John Edwards and his wife Dorothy remained lifelong friends of the family. On graduation, JH became a member of the teaching staff at the university, whilst engaged in post-graduate study of the history of adult education in Germany.

When on holiday in Jersey, JH met my mother, Amalia Katerina, Keilwerth. Born in Salzburg, AK had won a scholarship to the top girls' boarding school in Vienna. There she received a full classical education that included the reading of the works of major literary figures in their original languages. In those days the to-be mothers of the elite were well educated. Able to speak and read in German, French and English, she never quite got to grips with the ways and customs of the working class in the North of England. AK spent some time as au pair to the Edwards family, before returning to work in a newspaper office in Salzburg. In the course of his studies JH travelled to Germany and attended a Nuremberg Rally and was profoundly shocked at the gullibility of otherwise sane people in the face of a totalitarian regime. In his view, the Catholic Church in Germany had one hell of a lot to answer for in their failure to oppose Nazism outright.

Of my infancy I remember little, save that Christmas in my family was always a time of great sadness. For my mother, being in a foreign country with very different customs, whilst separated from her family by a terrible war, must have been hard to bear.

(To be continued ...)


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