The story of the revolution in modern fatherhood in Britain during the last 100 years. How did fathers cope after returning home after the Second World War?
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The Second World War had a devastating impact on family life in Britain,
with repercussions that are still felt to this day.
It brought grief and heartache to millions of people across the land.
It wrecked marriages and turned decent fathers into broken men.
It did affect me badly. I began to think myself as worthless...
..as no good for anything, because I couldn't provide
as I wanted to for my family.
Four million men were demobbed in the years following the war,
many of them fathers.
Thousands were scarred by their experiences and struggled to return
to civilian life in a world that had changed beyond all recognition.
But their homecoming could be just as traumatic for their children,
for whom Daddy was a stranger.
And all of a sudden there was this man, and he just threw his arms around my Mum
and I just felt as if I was totally on the outside.
I think I heard mum said something about it,
it's your dad, or your daddy.
I didn't know what a dad was, I didn't know what a daddy was.
And I didn't like him.
In the years that followed, austerity would be replaced by affluence
and as stable marriages flourished, fathers would at last enjoy
the simple pleasures of time spent with their sons and daughters.
But the children of the Blitz would soon grow up to become
the rebellious teenagers of the '50s and '60s, and would reject all that their fathers had fought for.
I didn't want to be like him, I wanted to be the business,
which was at the time the Teddy Boys, and he didn't want me to be.
And the more he didn't want me to be, the more I wanted to be
and the more I would be, do you know what I'm saying?
This is the continuing story of how Britain's fathers have fought
to overcome many obstacles in their struggle to bring up their children.
These are tales of love and war, rebellion and redemption.
This is A Century Of Fatherhood.
For many families in Britain, life in the late 1930s was a happy one.
With unemployment falling after years of depression,
and home ownership on the rise, the future was looking bright.
But all this would change with the outbreak of the Second World War.
I have to tell you now
that no such undertaking has been received,
and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
At the start of the war, the British Army numbered less than 900,000 men,
compared to well over four million in the combined German Armed Forces.
Conscription was introduced for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 41,
and by the end of 1939, more than a million men had been called into service.
Given the age range, many were fathers.
EASY LISTENING MUSIC PLAYS
Before September was out, the British Expeditionary Force
had set sail for France
and in the months that followed, more volunteers and conscripts
would leave Britain for the Middle East, North Africa and Burma.
And unlike those that left to fight at the beginning of the First World War,
this time they were fully aware that they might not be coming back.
It's very easy to forget
that the Second World War came hard on the heels of the First World War,
so that young men who were going away to fight, and were young fathers in 1939-1940,
had quite possibly had the experience of losing
their own fathers, or uncles, or cousins, or even brothers in the First World War
and they knew the impact that had on family life.
Cliff Shepherd, a butcher from Yorkshire, had volunteered to fight,
despite being devoted to his baby daughter, Thelma,
who was born in 1939.
Well, to leave Thelma,
just practically broke my heart
and the thought passed through my mind, "Will I see her again?
"Will I be killed and that?"
And we loved each other so much.
Cliff made Thelma one last promise, that he would bring her home a doll on his return.
Then it was time for him to leave.
And I were feeling absolutely terrible
and I tried to look cheerful,
and as soon as I got out of the door, I cried all the way to the station
and I couldn't resist it.
Family life was disrupted further as the threat of aerial attack loomed large.
And over three million people, mostly school children
from Britain's towns and cities, were evacuated to the countryside.
But against all expectation, the air raids didn't happen.
During the months of phoney war,
a false sense of security spread across the country
and in time, thousands of children returned home.
When the Blitz finally began, over 5,000 of them would be killed.
Sonny Leigh grew up in Bermondsey in London.
As a boy, he'd had a difficult childhood and when he married
his sweetheart Daisy in 1938 they vowed that they would
bring up a happy family together.
In 1940, Daisy gave birth to their first daughter, Pamela.
You can't describe the feeling I had, you cannot.
It's out of this world, especially when, you know,
you want something and you've got it.
And she was about six weeks old, and I said, "Daisy,
"don't you think we ought to see about getting her christened?"
She said, "I'm going to give it until she's two months,
"then we'll go to the church and we'll get her christened."
Sonny had volunteered for the Auxiliary Fire Service at the outbreak of war,
but was off duty when the Germans began their aerial bombardment on September the 7th.
This was the first night of the Blitz and London's docklands,
close to where Sonny lived, bore the brunt of the attack.
As the bombs fell, Sonny and his family fled
to an air raid shelter close to their home.
This night was a bloody awful night,
it was like a bloody battlefield.
Daisy and her mother and Pamela, they were all in the shelter.
And she said, "I've left my rings and everything on the dressing table."
So I run upstairs, grabbed her stuff, run downstairs.
As I bent down to give it to Daisy
so the landmine came down and that was it.
Inside, the shelter was all buckled
and they dug us out.
And I looked at Pamela and she was lying in this woman's arms.
I wanted to go and kiss her but I thought she was asleep,
I don't want to wake her.
I didn't know she was dead.
I've regretted it ever since, that I never said goodbye.
Now she's a little sunbeam.
For fathers separated by the war from their families, whether at home or overseas,
the best way to ensure at least some involvement in the lives
of their growing children was through the good old-fashioned letter.
From the deserts of North Africa to the jungles of Burma,
as fathers prepared for action, thoughts of their children were never far from their mind,
and a simple message from home could mean so much.
It is absolutely the case that the army recognised the importance of the postal system to morale,
not only morale of their men, but also morale back home.
Thousands of millions of letters exchanged hands,
so there was a real correspondence and communication going on between fathers and sons and daughters,
which I think helped enormously for when the men came home, because they had that link
with their children, and they really felt they needed it because a child is the future
and they had to feel they were fighting for something.
If you just sit out in the desert or you're stuck in Northern Italy,
or you're fighting in Burma,
you have to believe that there's something you're going to go back to.
From the women of Britain to all their men folk overseas.
"My dear, another letter for you to let you know we're all well and everything at home is going on fine.
"Ann and John are marvellous, they seem to be growing every day,
"and since the weather improved, they've just lived out of doors.
"I'd love you to see them scampering over those fields at the back of the cottage..."
Cliff Shepherd joined the RAF Regiment as a gunner
and was away from home for most of the war.
He wrote to his wife and daughter, Thelma, every day,
and sent Thelma this photograph, so that she wouldn't forget him.
In his letters to her, he was always careful
to avoid the realities of war.
I used to say, "I've been on the tram car today,"
and in some cases...
I hadn't. I used to make it up
because I didn't want to tell her anything about war.
But you were scared stiff many times.
Thelma has kept many of the letters Cliff wrote to her in the five years that he was away,
and still has his photograph that she used to kiss goodnight.
But there is one card that Thelma treasures above all others.
There was one very special birthday card that Dad sent me
and he'd put a special two verses in, a little poem for me.
I'll read it to you. "God bless you darling Thelma upon this happy day.
"My thoughts are always with you, though I am far away.
"I send you birthday greetings, for you are six today.
"May future years be happy ones, to help you on life's way.
"To my darling, Thelma, with best wishes for a very happy birthday.
"From Daddy. Lots of kisses."
And that one's really special.
As the war dragged on, the armed forces were keen to experiment
with alternative ways to enable fathers to keep in touch with loved ones back home.
Among them were a series of messages known as "Calling Blighty",
which were filmed in India and the Far East and played at cinemas across the country.
Firstly, many happy returns of the day to Brenda.
Give her a big kiss from her daddy.
I'm quite well and hoping to be home soon.
I'm sure you're doing well over there judging by the mail I receive.
Give my love to Aunty Eve, Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Rog,
all those who are interested.
I don't think it'll be very long before I'm catching the boat.
Keep your fingers crossed and smiling.
Kay Chorley's father had been a butler in a large country house
in Hertfordshire before he left home on her 7th birthday in 1939.
In peacetime, they'd been devoted to one another so she found their separation hard to bear.
Well, I longed for him every day. Every day.
It was cruel because you...
had a picture of him, but it was getting more and more faded.
I couldn't remember how he walked or you couldn't remember
what it felt like to be up on his shoulder or cuddled.
All those things were precious, but...but they began to fade.
Then in 1943, Kay and her mother were told
to expect a message from him broadcast over the radio from the Middle East.
For a few seconds, he was back in the room with me.
His voice, I'd forgotten what he sounded like.
And I began to build up a picture of his face again,
his blue eyes and his hair and everything, and he was almost in the room again.
I can remember my mother and I both sat with the tears rolling down our faces.
It was very emotional, very, very emotional.
But not all messages brought good news.
After the death of his daughter, Pamela, in the Blitz,
Sonny Leigh volunteered for the Navy and went to sea as a stoker,
at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic.
At home in London, his wife Daisy was expecting another baby.
Well, the Petty Officer came up and said, "Leigh..."
I was on duty in the boiler room. And he said, "Here's a telegram for you."
And when I read it, it said "Daisy very ill, baby dead."
I was numb, numb, really numb.
Daisy had had a miscarriage.
But when Sonny asked the Petty Officer if he could take compassionate leave,
he found there was little time for sympathy.
He took the telegram and he went and saw the First Lieutenant.
The Lieutenant went and saw the old man, so the Captain said "Tell him to get back on duty.
"He may be dead himself in the next hour, the convoy's being attacked."
And that's all there is to it,
and course I couldn't cry because it hurt me so much.
Before the war was over, Daisy would lose another baby in childbirth.
The experience would have a devastating effect on Sonny.
I seized up, I suppose. I don't know.
I was like a machine, just doing automatically.
I couldn't think straight.
In Billinge, in 1942, Heather Burnley's mother received a telegram informing her that her husband
had been captured by the Japanese.
Over a quarter of around 50,000 British Servicemen taken prisoner in the Far East died in captivity,
mostly from starvation, punishment or disease.
Heather's father couldn't know it, but at least the odds were in his favour.
The statistics show that it was
the married men in the prison camps, those men in their 20s and early 30s,
who generally did better because they had some life experience behind them and had children,
so they had something to look forward to, something to live for, something to go back to,
and even though they hadn't been able to communicate with them
because the Japanese wouldn't allow them to write letters,
nevertheless some of them had kept diaries, they've written stuff
so that they could have something to show their children later.
Heather's father was imprisoned in Kuching Prisoner of War Camp in Borneo.
Against all the rules, he kept a journal in which
he recorded the suffering he endured at the hands of his captors.
It was only found after his death in 1992.
"First of November, 1942.
"There is an outbreak of dysentery in the camp
"and today I find myself a victim.
"So today I go to hospital and I've got to get over it somehow,
"although they have no medicines,
"as I've just got to get back to Wynn and Heather.
"Two of the men died in the ward today
"and two more are expected within the week.
"When they are known to be hopeless cases they are put in a small adjoining room
"known as 'the death cell', and left there to pass out.
"Have been here three months now and still hanging on.
"I mustn't let it beat me,
"although I have to crawl on all fours to be able to move.
"I've no strength left at all and a beard six inches long."
It just brings tears to the eyes to think of this strong human being,
nice man, cuddly man,
reaching this state of being in a prison camp.
It's just so very, very sad.
One of the greatest fears
for men going into battle was the possibility of serious injury
and the impact the disability would have on their prospects for family life.
In 1944, Wilfred Copley was a 34-year-old sergeant
in the Essex Regiment, preparing his platoon for the Normandy landings,
while at home in London, his wife, Florence, was expecting their baby.
On D-Day, Wilfred and his men landed on Sword Beach
and in the days of fierce fighting that followed,
he led his platoon in the advance towards the town of Caen.
There's a crossroads and that's what we were fighting for.
And this German tank, I see it come out of a siding.
And it pointed the gun my way,
along my road where I was, my platoon.
And the next thing, it fired.
All I knew, there was a kind of a blinding flash and I was out straight away, I was unconscious.
Wilfred received life-threatening injuries.
His left leg was almost severed and he had terrible wounds to his neck, his back and his hand.
Still unconscious, he was given emergency treatment
before being shipped back to Britain, where he was covered
from head to toe in plaster cast.
But he was determined to survive.
I think it was by virtue of knowing that I was going to be a father
that sort of gave me some added strength to live through it.
I realised that...
probably the worst was over...
and I would live...
I'd want to live...
to welcome my child when I get well again.
Whilst Wilfred lay seriously ill in hospital, his wife gave birth to their son, Michael.
Wilfred was desperate to see him, but gangrene had set into his wounds
and, fearing infection, father and son were kept apart.
It would be six months before Wilfred was allowed to meet his son
for the first time.
Unfortunately, I couldn't welcome him by cuddling him or anything like that
because I was in this plaster cast
from the neck down to my feet,
and all they could do...
was place him sat on top of the plaster cast
facing me, looking at each other,
and that's how we met for the first time.
What a welcome(!)
And immediately, soon as I see him, I knew he was my boy.
In the months that followed the end of the war,
there were many happy reunions as four million men were demobbed from the armed forces.
After fighting in France and Holland, Cliff Shepherd returned home to his daughter in 1945.
It was just marvellous.
My legs were getting dizzy as I were getting near home.
I think it was just the excitement.
My daughter said, "Are you come on leave, Dad?"
I said, "No," I said, "I'm not going back any more."
She said, "Well, what will they say if you don't go back?" I said, "The war's finished."
I says, "I'm stopping at home now, I'll be home with you always now."
And we really enjoyed the life together then.
When he left home in 1939,
Cliff had made Thelma a promise, that he'd bring her home a doll.
In the nine months that he carried her around France,
she survived a few near misses, but Cliff was true to his word.
And bringing it home was absolutely gorgeous, it were like Father Christmas give her this doll.
And she were absolutely thrilled to bits with it and she still has it this day, just as new as ever.
It was really, really special to have you home again, wasn't it?
Oh, it was just wonderful.
We've got through everything else. We've had great, great times,
and I love you so much.
Bless you, darling.
At the end of 1945,
Heather Burnley discovered that her father was alive.
Miraculously, he had survived the horrors
of the Japanese Prisoner of War Camp and was at last on his way home.
She hadn't seen him in over five years.
When I knew my father was coming home, I was wildly excited.
And when the ship docked, it was full of men
going absolutely wild, shouting, waving.
And I remember looking at all these men and picking out my father.
And I said, "I've found him, I've found him."
And he came to join us
and he gave me a big hug,
a long enduring one, and also to my mother,
and I was asked or invited to sit on his knee.
And, of course, suddenly this man was a stranger.
I hadn't seen him for so many years.
And although I knew it was my father, I felt a little shy, to put it mildly, but I did sit on his knee.
This photograph, taken on the quayside, captured that moment.
It was a little strange when sitting on his knee
because I hadn't seen this man since I was a very little girl, and now I was eight years old.
And so it must have been hard for a man who left his tender young family
to come back and find that so many years had wrought the changes.
And here was a skinny girl with pigtails,
he probably didn't like pigtails.
I don't know what he thought, but certainly he must have thought,
"Gosh, I've got to come to terms with all of this."
Although awkward, Heather's reunion with her father
was a happy occasion.
But despite what the newsreels suggest,
not every reunion went so smoothly.
It is estimated that when the war ended,
as many as a million children under the age of six had never met their father.
In these circumstances, the trauma of his homecoming could last for decades.
Janet White was born in Braintree in Essex in 1940.
The youngest of four children, she was still only a baby
when her father left to fight.
he was captured by the Italians while serving in the Middle East.
Here we've got some photographs.
I like the ones that my mother sent to my father out in the camp.
And this one is my sister,
Nancy, and myself.
Nancy was eight and I'm three.
And this is the actual one that was sent to my father.
It's addressed to Prisoner of War, Number One Camp, in Italy,
with my mother's address on it as well, they had to have their addresses on everything.
And evidently they took us to a studio to have these photographs done purely for my dad,
but I can't remember having them done, because I was three years old
and, you know, the memories are very scarce from that time.
Although Janet has no memory of this photograph being taken,
the day of her father's return is one she will never forget.
Mum had said to us before we left for school,
she said, "I've got a surprise for you this afternoon."
And she said, "I'm going to come and meet you from school and I won't tell you about it till then."
And she'd taken us to buy our favourite sweets,
and I can remember mine were aniseed balls that changed colour as you sucked them.
Then we started to go down for the railway station
and we'd not got the slightest idea why.
And then we saw all these men coming up from the train, the train had just come in,
all these men in khaki coming up the road.
And all of a sudden there was this man
and he just threw his arms around my mum.
And I just felt as if I was totally on the outside.
I heard mum said something about, "It's your dad," or, "your daddy,"
but I didn't know what a dad was, didn't know what a daddy was.
And I didn't like him, he was a stranger and I didn't like him, I didn't want him.
I just wanted to get away.
So it was literally a shock.
I was being taken out for a surprise that turned out to be my worst nightmare.
For fathers returning home with the physical and mental scars of war,
readjusting to normal family life could be a gruelling process.
Resettlement Advice Centres were set up to help men
with the practicalities of finding work, but for fathers recovering from serious injury,
like Wilfred Copley,
it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that, for a time at least,
they could not be the main provider.
Those years between
and getting home,
and then afterwards, trying to find a job,
..was a void really.
It did affect me badly.
I began to think of myself as worthless...
..as no good for anything,
because I couldn't provide as I wanted to for my family.
My wife was mothering two, not one,
mothering Michael and myself
because of my condition, and that went on for two years.
For those most severely traumatised by their war experiences,
Emergency Medical Service Centres, like this one, were set up
to provide the latest in psychological testing and treatment.
NEWSREEL: From every point of view, a neurotic who has broken down is a liability.
Treatment must therefore be carefully planned to restore each individual
to maximum usefulness within his limitations.
But for the thousands of prisoners of war
who returned from the Far East to a Britain slowly recovering from war,
there was often very little sympathy.
What's interesting is that the men who came back from the Far East
didn't come back until November 1945 and they were told by the army
that they were not to talk about their experiences.
And they came home and were simply expected to get on,
and some of them couldn't.
And what's very interesting is that it's quite clear
that it was the younger men, who had had three-and-a-half years of their lives stolen from them,
the men who were 19, 20 when they went abroad, who found it more difficult to adjust.
Frank Davies from Salford was 24 when he returned to Britain
after being held prisoner by the Japanese for three-and-a-half years.
He wanted a wife and a family,
but was too traumatised by his experiences to see any hope for the future.
All my teeth had started to rot through lack of vitamins and calcium.
My eyesight was affected with no shelter in the sun.
I'd got a damaged ear...
I was on malaria tablets,
I was having nightmares,
I were having panic attacks
and you had to try and carry on with a normal life
feeling the way you did.
And some of my old comrades in England who'd never been out there
had already married and had young children coming up,
and there was me at the same age, felt like a freak.
I thought who the hell's going to want to take up with me, the condition I was in.
Sonny Leigh had simply wanted to be a father,
but during the course of the war,
he and his wife Daisy had suffered the trauma of losing three babies.
The pain was too much for Sonny to bear and he was admitted to a mental hospital.
NEWSREEL: Electric convulsion therapy is reserved for depressions of the more endogenous type.
Loss of consciousness is immediate
and the treatment leaves no unpleasant memories.
I went in there and they gave me narcosis treatment,
electrical shocks, medicine, everything.
People there thought they was bomber pilots,
they was coming down the ward as aeroplanes, religious maniacs.
I watched three men walking round a flowerbed like that, round there,
and a man took a packet of papers out and it blew away,
and he's running round... And I thought to myself,
"Sonny, you're not going to come to this, you're going to get out."
And from that day, I made sure I got better.
I wasn't going to be like that.
After several months of treatment, Sonny did get better
and he was able to leave the hospital.
And although he and his wife agreed they would give up on their dream of having a family,
in 1957, Daisy gave birth to their daughter, Linda.
I saw Daisy and the baby, I could have jumped over the moon.
I could have won the Olympics the way I felt.
Being a daddy made me king of the world, I was so happy.
I had everything, I had a wonderful woman, a lovely child.
What else did I want?
And she's a wonderful girl.
Sonny's story had a happy ending, but thousands of families failed
in their efforts to readjust to life after the war.
The years of separation had often brought too much change,
and as a result, in the late 1940s, the divorce rate soared.
It's very well recorded that the divorce rate
after the Second World War escalated,
and it reached 60,000 in 1947, which was an all-time high.
And the really sad thing was
that the divorces that happened after the Second World War were very often
where simply two lives had grown apart,
and for the children, it was very often tragic
because they didn't understand why Daddy,
who'd been revered during the war, had been celebrated, had written letters,
came home and suddenly didn't want to live at home any more.
In Hertfordshire, Kay Chorley's father had returned home from service after six years overseas.
She was delighted to have him back,
but it wasn't long before she found out
that he had left home again, and this time for good.
I was at school doing an art exam.
It's very clear in my memory.
And the headmistress came in and said
could she speak to me. And the teacher said yes.
I went out, and she said, "I've just had a message from your mother,
to say don't be surprised if you get a letter from your father
from your aunt's in Ipswich, he's going to stay there for a while."
And I thought, well, what's all that about?
You know, it's very odd, cos I'd never ever heard them argue
or row or even disagree about things really.
My life was changed at that point, and I did wonder,
have I done anything?
What had I done?
But I assume they were two different people.
My mother had had to do everything
and he had had a different life again.
And I didn't see him for a few years after that, till I was about 18.
But at least I did see him again,
so he didn't end up out in Egypt in the grave somewhere.
The post-war years saw a baby boom in Britain,
but the country remained dominated by austerity.
Rationing continued well into the 1950s,
and in towns and cities across the land,
children played on bomb sites, these improvised playgrounds,
the last remnants of the 500,000 homes destroyed in the Blitz.
With so much destruction, there was a nationwide housing crisis,
and many newlyweds faced an unenviable choice
between slum housing and sharing a home with their in-laws.
This shortage of housing put great pressure on young fathers,
who found themselves unable to fulfil the basic paternal role
of providing decent accommodation for their children.
David Ritchie and his wife Rhoda lived in Dundee.
When I came out of the army
and I was setting up a home,
Rhoda and I were married and there was no possibility
of my living with my parents
because my parents had two rooms with an outside toilet
and three grown-up children.
And to try to get a house was impossible.
I went down to Dundee Corporation, to the council,
and asked if I could put my name down for a house,
or our names down for a house, and "Certainly," they took it all down.
"Married?" "Yes." And I said,
"Now, when do you think I could look forward to perhaps getting a house?"
He says, "Well, at the present time, where you are,
"come back in 15 years and we'll see how we're getting on."
He says "I couldn't even promise you one then."
Part of the solution was the creation of new towns,
like Stevenage, Basildon, and importantly for David Ritchie, Glenrothes.
In the heart of Fife, work on
new housing for over 30,000 people began in Glenrothes in 1948,
and by the early 1950s, David and Rhoda had moved into their dream home.
It was fairyland! I couldn't believe it!
We couldn't really believe it.
Lounge, big kitchen that you could eat in,
bathroom, garden back and front.
Ach, I think it was the best time in my life.
It really was the best time in my life,
coming to that place, it was really great.
Nicknamed "Nappy Valley", Glenrothes quickly became
the ideal place for young fathers like David to raise a family.
People next door to us had seven,
we had four, there were three next door to us on the other side,
and five on the end, and that was quite common, that was the norm.
We-We-We loved the children, the children were our life.
But they always had something to do.
They were out, they were playing down the bank, in the burn,
up in the play park, this was it.
They didn't have to be at home to play.
They were out most of the time and it was marvellous.
I think they had a wonderful life.
These were the "never had it so good" years, of modernity,
domesticity, and happy, stable marriages.
This was the Britain the country's fathers had fought for.
Ex-prisoner of war Frank Davies found that his worries about the future were in the end unfounded
when he married Joan, a girl he'd met at work.
In 1953, Joan gave birth to their daughter Val,
and Frank quickly discovered
that, ironically, his experiences as a prisoner of war
had left him with many of the skills he needed to cope with
the responsibilities of fatherhood.
I used to enjoy all the little tasks
that in those days wasn't considered manly.
Things like changing nappies and giving 'em baths
and letting 'em, helping them on the potties and things like that,
there was no problem for me
because we'd done all this for our comrades.
They'd done it for me, I'd do it for them in the prison camps.
When blokes have dysentery,
they're having to relieve themselves a couple of dozen times a day
and it's blood and mucus and God knows what.
Er...things like changing a nappy's nothing.
By the 1950s, many fathers were happy
to get involved in the care of their young children at home.
But in some places, there was still a certain stigma
attached to fathers seen looking after their children in public.
Where I lived, in Salford, you know,
it was a real man's world as they called it
and everybody thought men were tough
and women had to know their place in life
and I used to think nothing
of taking my daughter out in the pram or for a walk
and blokes would be looking at you as if to say,
he looks a bit of a Mary-Ann as they used to call it then,
and it didn't affect me at all, it didn't.
I didn't look upon it like that.
Being a father had a profound effect on Frank, and finally helped him
to banish the terrible memories he carried from the war.
And I got...suddenly felt that
all this was...helped me to...
get rid of the feelings that I'd had before of the...
that were left behind, the horrors of the terrible days of the prison camps.
You know, you felt really uplifted.
You'd left all that behind you,
you were starting a new life with this...new person
and it was all worthwhile.
But just when the generation of fathers who had lived through the war finally felt
that life was regaining some sense of normality,
a new phenomenon appeared in households up and down the country -
one which would seek to undermine a dad's place as head of the household -
they were called teenagers.
# You shake my nerves And you rattle my brain
# Too much love drives a man insane
# You broke my will Oh, what a thrill
# Goodness gracious Great balls of fire... #
The new idea of teenagers began
with the emergence of the Beatniks and Teddy Boys in the early 1950s.
On street corners, in coffee bars and in jazz clubs up and down the country,
there was a revolution in music, fashion and idealism
as the young turned their backs on the old way of life.
In their search for identity and self expression,
the new teenage rebels questioned all that the previous generation believed in,
and all that their fathers had fought so hard to defend.
For the fathers who had come back from the war
and had adjusted to life back in Britain,
and who had really begun to enjoy the simple pleasures of life,
suddenly, that their teenage children were turning round
and rebelling against them was a shock, and one in the eye for them
because they, in some ways, even if subconsciously,
felt they'd made the world a safer place through the sacrifice
they'd made in the Second World War.
What you ended up with of course is
terrible clashes of personality between fathers and children
because the fathers still wanted control over the children
and their children felt that they didn't owe their fathers anything.
Peter Lambert was born in Birmingham in 1940.
His father was a welder who spent his evenings in the local pub,
or asleep in his favourite armchair.
As a teenager, it was a lifestyle that Peter would violently reject.
I didn't want to be like him because I didn't want any of that.
I wanted, like, to be... out with my mates.
I wanted to dress how I wanted to dress,
not how he wanted me to dress.
I wanted long hair.
I wanted these, sideburns, I wanted to be me.
I wanted to be the business,
which was, at the time, was, in the '50s, was the Teddy Boys.
I wanted to be one of them
and he didn't want me to be...
and the more he didn't want me to be,
the more I wanted to be and the more I would be.
Nobody could touch me, not even my dad,
and I got to the stage where I sort of turned on him.
And then it ended up like we're rowing
and I ended up smashing a milk bottle on the fireplace
and holding it up to him.
It stunned him so much probably to think that
his own son could do something like that.
Hoping to keep him out of trouble,
Peter's father sent him away to live with his grandmother.
But it wasn't long before Peter was back with his gang.
Father and son would barely speak to one another for the next 25 years.
In Essex, Janet White had also become a teenager,
and was having similar problems with her father.
More than ten years had passed since his return from the war,
but the distance Janet had felt at his homecoming had not diminished.
He was often strict about her going out,
and worried about her forming friendships
with the American servicemen who still had a base in town.
# Too late
# For me to ask the reason why... #
When I was a teenager, I wanted to go dancing with my friends
and he wasn't very keen, and one occasion I really remember
because it made me believe he didn't trust me at all.
I just felt, he doesn't trust me, he doesn't know me,
his own daughter and he doesn't even know me.
Cos he came in, it was the following morning I'd got up,
"What were you doing round the town last night talking to Americans?"
I said, "What?"
He said, "I saw you. Don't you tell me you didn't, cos I saw you with my own eyes."
I said, "I'm sorry, Dad, you don't even know your own daughter."
It really hurt that I felt he didn't trust me, you know, that there was no trust there.
It was a very difficult thing, you know?
But I also acknowledge now that a lot of that was my fault.
It was my fault because I had resented him from day one,
I hadn't really wanted him there
and my mum told me after he died, she said many times he sat and cried,
many's the time he sat and cried because he just felt,
as much as he tried, and I know he did try in his own way...
he just couldn't get through. Neither of us in a way could bridge that gap.
I suppose I was young and thought I knew better at the time.
I just...I just don't know what it was.
Keen to escape their father's rule in the family home,
many teenagers of the 1950s married young,
and by the '60s had become parents themselves.
After a series of petty crimes, Teddy Boy Peter Lambert ended up in prison.
It was an experience that for while set him on the straight and narrow.
In 1966, he married his girlfriend, Judith,
although they had to elope to Gretna Green
after her parents disapproved of their courtship.
Then, in April 1967, Peter became a father to daughter, Debbie.
# Take my hand, little girl
# And we'll go through life together... #
I used to look forward to coming home from work to see my little girl.
I was proud to be her dad, you know? She was a lovely little girl.
I used to rock her in this little rocking thing that she had, you know?
So take her down the rec where the little swings are, you know?
I just wanted to be normal.
Normal dad, go to work, earn my wages.
Being a rebel...then, at that particular time,
was sort of fading out a bit.
I was more interested in being a dad.
And I used to love going out and pushing the pram.
I'd do it cos I wanted to do it.
By the late '60s, many of Britain's young fathers were able to provide
for their children as never before.
They had more money, better housing
and a brighter future than their own fathers could have dreamed of.
But for some of those who'd grown up with a rebellious streak,
domestic bliss just wasn't enough.
After several years of marriage, and the birth of a son, David,
Peter Lambert started to go back out with his old gang.
Working away for much of the week
and drinking with friends when he was back,
it wasn't long before his marriage fell apart
and he lost contact with his children.
And although Peter took responsibility for the break up,
it still upset him deeply.
Well, I used to go for a drink, back then, I used to go for a drink
and I'd get a few drinks in me and I'd start crying.
Wondering what my kids were doing.
Where they are, what they're like.
I used to wonder, drowning in self-pity, if you like,
you know, why's this happening to me?
But I'd brought it on myself, you know what I'm saying?
It wasn't the ex-wife's fault, it wasn't the children's fault,
it was mine, but there I was, sitting on buses coming home from the pub,
crying my eyes out because of my kids.
Not only had Peter lost his children,
he'd also lost contact with his own father.
And, like many of his generation, it wasn't until he got older
that he began to question his past.
Men and women, now in their retirement age,
are looking back at what their fathers did for them
and actually are beginning to appreciate it,
and the number of people that one hears saying,
"I wish I'd understood my father better.
"I wish I'd asked him more questions.
"I wish I'd shown more interest in his life during the war"
is very sad, so it's not too late now
if your father is still alive, but sadly many of them are not.
In 1983, 25 years after leaving his childhood home,
Peter arranged to meet up with his father.
They spent the weekend together,
and when Peter left, they vowed to make it a regular event.
Two weeks later, Peter's father passed away.
You know, I'm looking forward to when I was going to see him again,
I was gonna tell him this, things that we hadn't spoke about
and I was gonna talk about stuff that we'd missed out on, and...
And then, like...you can't do it then, you can't tell him.
And you think to yourself,
"Ooh, why didn't I say it when I saw him, why didn't I say this,
"why didn't I say that?"
You live and learn, don't you?
Peter has now been married three times, and has seven children.
Over the years, and particularly after the death of his own father,
he'd thought often about Debbie and David, the two children from his first marriage.
Finally he decided to search for them.
And in 2003, 30 years after they were separated, he found them.
We can't change the past,
but we can try and make things better in the future.
You know, I just love life now, I love life, I'm just...
I'm just happy and I'm grateful for every day.
I'm not sure whether I deserve it really cos I've been a bit of a rascal, you know,
but it's just great and I'm just enjoying life, you know?
I wouldn't change it for the world.
I don't think so, you know what I mean?
Throughout her life, Janet White was never able to bond with her father.
The repercussions from that first fateful meeting
on the railway platform lasting until his death in 1971.
Like so many war veterans, he'd never spoken about his experiences,
and it wasn't until 1996, long after his death,
that Janet found the diaries he'd written during his time in captivity.
Reading his words, she began to understand
all that he'd been through as a prisoner,
and finally discovered just what she'd meant to him
all those years before.
"It'll be grand just to receive some letters from home.
"Everything seems to have stopped at once, no mail, no food, no fags.
"Roll on those blue clouds.
"Spend a lot of time these bad days planning all sorts of things for when we get back.
"It's going to be rather strange to go back to one's family all grown up
"and to feel almost like a stranger amongst your own family,
"but we'll soon sort that out, I have no doubt.
"I don't suppose that they have forgotten their dad
"except for the youngest, Janet, who cannot remember me,
"she being too young when I left her.
"But the wife tells me in her letters that she's always talking about Daddy,
"and I expect in her little mind she has made up a picture of what her daddy should look like.
"I hope sincerely that I shall not disappoint her.
"I only know I'm longing to be with them all again."
To think that he was actually thinking about me
when he was stuck in a prisoner-of-war camp.
Even now I can say, "Oh, Dad, if only you'd let us have those books earlier."
If I could have been given those books to read, we may have healed that breach before he died.
If my dad was alive today I think I'd just want to tell him I understand
and I'm sorry it took so long, but it was too late,
it's much too late for both of us,
and I just wish the war had never ever happened.
Next time, sex, divorce and the rise of feminism
present new challenges for Britain's fathers.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Three-part series which tells the story of the revolution in modern fatherhood in Britain during the last hundred years. Using intimate testimony, rare archive and the latest historical research it reveals the very important, and often misunderstood, role played by fathers.
The Second World War took a generation of fathers away from home to serve in the war effort. They returned home strangers to their own families, some of them disabled and broken men. But in time many did adjust, and the deprivations of war made the simple pleasures of family life and fatherhood all the sweeter.
With the growing affluence of the 50s and 60s, some dads felt they were in paradise. Yet fathers soon found themselves fighting a new war - with their teenage sons and daughters, who wanted more freedom from parental control. Now, 50 years on, some of those teenagers desperately wish they had enjoyed a closer relationship with their fathers, but for most it is too late.