AUTOBIOGRAPHY - LEEDS ABBEY FARM
LEEDS ABBEY FARM
My connection with Kent, Leeds and the castle was my grandfather, Richard Boucher, who, having tried his luck in Australia during the depression, returned to England in the early 1930s, completely broke. With some help from his father, he somehow managed to obtain a lifetime lease on the three thousand acres Leeds Castle estate. He had one son, Robert (Bobby) and two daughters, Patricia, my mother to be and Rosemary. Robert and Patricia were born in Australia. Rosemary was born at Leeds Abbey. When war broke out in 1939, Patricia was sent to friends in America but returned as soon as she was old enough to enlist and she joined the Women’s Air Force.
My father’s story could not be more of a contrast. He was the product of Edwardian respectability. His father, Reginald John Godfrey, was strict even by the values of those days. A veteran of WW1, he was a banker on the board of Hambros Bank in the City Of London. He was obsessively prudent with money and took complete control of all household expenditures.
He had three children; my father, John, born in 1922 followed by my Auntie Pamela and Uncle Michael. He put his boys through the best education that money could buy, intending them to take their places within the ruling class of The British Empire. He sent them to Tonbridge, an exclusive public school in Kent, where he and his father before him had both been educated.
Unfortunately, he died young and unexpectedly when my father was just eleven, leaving my grandmother, Florence, to cope at a time when a gathering storm once more threatened to plunge Europe into another war.
Florence now found herself in control of a fairly large inheritance. Never having been allowed to touch or handle money, she soon made a number of poor decisions. In part, the Great Depression of the 1930s can be blamed; but not entirely. My grandmother, now liberated from the austerity imposed by her late husband, went on a binge. Whilst her two boys were tucked up in boarding school, taking her daughter Pamela with her, she embarked on a world cruise, sailing first class. That, the falling stock market, together with her many other extravagances, soon consumed her capital and by the outbreak of war, she had to get a job. There was virtually nothing left.
My father left Tonbridge School in 1941 and joined the Indian Army. After a brief spell of regular army duty, he volunteered for special operations. He became a V-Force commander operating secretly behind the lines in Burma. Before the war had ended, he was severely wounded in an action at Manpa on the Chindwin River. He was awarded the Military Cross for his trouble and spent the remainder of the war on the downs above Maidstone, training young men in the art of jungle warfare.
It was at this time that my mother and father met, fell in love and married. Initially, they moved into Leeds Abbey with my mother’s family and my father began working for his father-in-law.
Like his three younger brothers, my grandfather was a charming but naughty man, both sexually and financially. He had a nearby mistress called Edith. She was quite a bit younger; a land girl who lived on the estate. Although he was openly cheating on my grandmother, he pointedly looked after her material needs with utter dedication. He remained devoted to Edith until his death in 1983.
More seriously, he was a scoundrel. He became involved in the black marketing of grain and petrol during the war which continued thereafter. Inevitably, he dragged my father into these middle-of-the-night transactions. Dad was an honourable and strictly straight-down-the-line chap and he hated this aspect of his relationship with my mother’s family. Nevertheless, as I grew up amongst them, I thought my mother’s family, The Bouchers, a grand and classy family to be a member of. I did not recognise their snobbish bigotry for what it was. I took their nasty prejudices to be the norm – and it probably was.
The Leeds Abbey household was quite large. Altogether there were my grandparents, Richard and Ethel Boucher; Ethel’s mother (my great-grandmother) and her second husband, Gramp; my mother’s younger sister, Rosemary; my parents; me; two elderly Hindus and a live-in maid.
My parents’ closest friends were Peter Curry who was my Godfather and Joe and Monica Smethurst. "Auntie" Monica, as we knew her as children, was my Godmother. Monica had been my mother’s friend in the WAF. Joe was a buddy of my father. When my parents first met each other, so did Joe and Monica.
According to Monica, with whom I had a long conversation shortly before her death in 2006, I was a difficult and “clingy” child. She told me that after I was born my mother had had difficulty in feeding me. Apparently, she suffered from inverted nipples and found the process of breastfeeding difficult and painful. The consequence was that I virtually starved during my first few weeks of life.
Subsequently, my mother sank into postnatal depression and as a result, hadn’t wanted much to do with me. Once the problem with me had been diagnosed, the doctor recommended that a wet nurse be found if possible. Going straight on to bottle-feeding when I was at such a low ebb might push me over the edge. I have no memory of my wet nurse and I cannot recollect her name; or even if I ever knew what it was. All I know is that she was a young woman from the estate with a baby of her own who was able to do what my mother couldn’t. Once I was well enough to be bottle-fed, I went back to my mother and Leeds Abbey. Life went on.