Thursday, 17 December 2015

One Friday night in Edmund Waller in the November of 1963

Every generation has that defining moment when a public event triggers a lasting memory of where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

For my parents it was the death of President Roosevelt and later the funeral of Winston Churchill while for some just a bit younger than me it was the death of John Lennon.

Most of the events are deaths and most are of world leaders mixed with tragedies like Aberfan or the Munich Air Crash although there can equally be moments of great hope and optimism of which the release of Nelson Mandela, the inauguration of President Obama and Dr King’s "I have a dream speech" sit deep with me.

But all of these are a backdrop to the one that still has the power to take me back to a night in the November of 1963.

I had been at Sea Cadets which was held in the lower hall of Edmund Waller, a school I had left just two years earlier.

We got to wear naval uniform, learned to drill, master Morse code, recognise a multitude of flags used as messages and on windswept and bitterly cold Sundays go rowing at the docks.

And at the half way mark in the evening for the price of a few pennies there was a huge mug of tea and a selection of misshaped jam tarts provided by the caretaker’s wife.

The sessions have pretty much merged into a blur but bits of that Friday on November 23rd have stuck with me of which my total humiliation at failing to tie a reef note are all too vivid.

Of course that memory only sticks because of the bigger picture which was the assassination of President Kennedy.

I was just 14 and politics and current affairs were just beginning to take over from Dan Dare, rugby and Airfix models.  That said like many of my generation I had been scared stiff during the October of 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis  seemed to threaten a nuclear war.

But President Kennedy was a remote figure and it was more the stunned reaction of my mother which made the event assume such a powerful significance.

The shooting had occurred at 12.30 Central Standard Time and President Kennedy died half an hour later so with the confusion and time difference I guess the first news of the shooting and then his death would not have been flashed up on the telly until 7 in the evening.

By then I would have set off for Edmund Waller and it would be a full two hours and a bit before I bounced back into the house by which time mum and dad would have had hours to mull over the news and ponder on what it held for the future.

Later I fell asleep listening to the radio in the kitchen.  The scheduled programme had been put to one side in favour of more news and reactions from around the world.

Such is the impact of an event half way round the world on a 14 year old lad in Lausanne Road.

Pictures; President Kennedy, February 20 1961, White House Press Office, and a young Andrew Simpson circa 1963 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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