My father was a gardener and every day after school I had to work on the garden for two hours. At weekends too. Dad would plant a hundredweight of potato seeds and we would then dig up a ton of potatoes and store them in the cupboard under the stairs.

We grew our own veg too, and kept pigs, geese, a donkey, chickens and ducks and they all needed looking after. I remember Dad standing astride the pigs, killing them with an axe.

Another of my jobs was to go up the chimney right to the top with a brush to sweep soot. I also helped out the local storekeeper on a Saturday morning, taking the skin off the cheese and the coverings off the bacon. He paid me with a couple of sherbet dabs.

My sister and I didn’t know what it was to go out and play. When I wasn’t working in the garden I was helping my mother in the kitchen and that’s when I learnt how to cook. She could skin a rabbit and put the pieces in a dish in about 30 seconds. Still now I miss the smells of my mother’s homemade mince pies and Christmas pudding, and the old cottage. The warmth of Christmas.

Another memory of food was being with the local gypsy children and eating snake and hedgehog, which were baked on an open fire, and squirrel which was particularly tasty.  

I was fed up with all the hard labour at home, so I lied about my age and joined the RAF.

In 1944 I was fed up with all the hard labour at home so I lied about my age and joined the RAF. I turned the 16 into an 18 on my identity card and went training in Newfoundland. When they found out I’d lied I was reprimanded and had to serve my national service after the war.

I took part in what became known as Operation Manna, dropping food supplies to the starving people of the Netherlands, and the Berlin Airlift to get supplies to western occupied Berlin after the Russians had closed all the road and railways.

Then in civilian life I was never idle. I worked in the motor industry, even for a short time as world champion Sir Jackie Stewart’s mechanic. In the 1970s I designed the blueprint and went on to build a 1300cc racing engine for Formula V, known as the Pullen Scarab. This won the championship at Brands Hatch for two years in succession.

Pullen Scarab

The Pullen Scarab, designed and built by Bert

When poor hearing forced me to retire, I returned to gardening. I am of the generation that had to cope, so we coped.

It’s so difficult when you’ve been with someone for such a long time and they’re no longer there. I felt like giving up.

I was married to Gladys for 63 years. A long time. When Gladys walked into a room, she made people happy. She was a good wife and a good friend.

Gladys died in hospital. The staff had offered to take her back home, which was what she really wanted, but they couldn’t arrange a care package in time and she passed away.

This put an end to her suffering but I fell into a depression. I had this feeling of emptiness and uncertainty. I couldn’t plan anything; I felt lost. My two girls were kind, but it is so difficult when you’ve been with someone for such a long time and they’re no longer there. I felt like giving up.

What finally saved me was making a lot of friends in the village. One in particular, Monica, brought me out of my depression and encouraged me to meet people. I realised that I had to think about the future; it was no good looking back.

On top of this, I asked Independent Age for a volunteer to visit me. Noel and I always have a chat and a laugh. Noel and I both have engineering backgrounds. I trained as a flight engineer in the war; Noel’s retired but one of his jobs was to do with the optics on tanks.

I’ve decided that, as I’m still around, I’m the lucky one. That’s my attitude now.

I’ve realised that when I have nothing to do, I sit and think – and then I feel lonely. I know now I have to keep myself busy. I do believe that’s the answer for all of us.

When I was at school I was in a class of about 30 and there are just a few still alive. I’ve decided that, as I’m still around, I’m the lucky one. That’s my attitude now.

It’s important to have interests. If you don’t use it, you lose it, so I try to keep the noggin going. I do puzzles and marquetry. I have always grown veg. I often cook for friends. I can’t walk far but an electric scooter helps when I shop.

Bert

Bert working on marquetry

I’ve realised that when I have nothing to do, I sit and think – and then I feel lonely. I know now I have to keep myself busy. I do believe that’s the answer for all of us.

When I was at school I was in a class of about 30 and there are just a few still alive. I’ve decided that, as I’m still around, I’m the lucky one. That’s my attitude now.

It’s important to have interests. If you don’t use it, you lose it, so I try to keep the noggin going. I do puzzles and marquetry. I have always grown veg. I often cook for friends. I can’t walk far but an electric scooter helps when I shop.

Recently I invited my friends for Sunday lunch. I did a rather special pea and mint soup, with some old fashioned bread which made me think of my mum. Then I did fish pie, cod, haddock, salmon, prawns and a roux which contained leeks; a spinach layer and crushed potatoes. Then an apricot and apple crumble. I bet you’re hungry now.

They rewarded me with a bunch of flowers and a thank you card - and they did all the washing up.

 

As told to Margaret Rooke

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