A Knight’s Tale (2: I May Not Have Existed)

I was seven weeks premature, and weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Those weeks were spent in hospital with my mother, who I believe suffered from eclampsia, yet who was told by nurses not to worry and that she should bring me back when I was twenty-one because I would grow to be over 6 foot, dark, and handsome. The first two points are objectively true; the third is subjective. This was perhaps the first time I was lucky to survive.

Like all infants, I was totally oblivious of the world around me. I was aware only of food, excreta, and sleep. Even when I discovered my fingers I didn’t know they were mine.

Rather later, I came to understand that I had been born slap bang in the middle of one of the most important events of world history. Not only was WW2 a terrible conflagration inflicting enormous hardship on my young parents, but it changed the shape of the world and the interrelations of its peoples forever. Had this not happened, my parents, and those of many wartime babies, would never have met.

Firstly it is worth noting that had my father not survived, for example, Dunkirk in 1940, I would not have existed. This was the period, from 27th May to 4th June, when it seemed that almost everything that floated left the south coast of England to sail or stagger across to France to gather up our retreating soldiers under fire from the beach.

This flotilla of 700 little ships consisting of merchant marine and fishing boats, pleasure craft and lifeboats,  assisted in the rescue of 338,000 British and French troops cornered by the German army.  Some simply ferried waiting soldiers, some of whom stood shoulder deep in water for hours awaiting their turn, to the larger ships waiting off shore.  

Others carried their passengers all the way to Ramsgate.

Many of these vessels had not been in the open sea before and often leaked especially alarmingly for a non-swimmer like Dad.  His job in the evacuation process, until his turn came to clamber onto an ancient fishing boat and pray all the way across the Channel, was to repeatedly drive out to and beyond the front line to load his truck with exhausted comrades.

The only story my father ever told about this experience or anything else from the war was that each time he drove back to the invading front from the packed beach, the German voices grew ever nearer, until he drove his vehicle into a ditch and legged it to join a queue for the leaky vessel that took him back to Blighty. He was 22 years old.


It is perhaps apt that I should feature the second instalment of my life story today, because this was the first occasion post-Covid 19 that Elizabeth has been able to bring our mother to our home for a visit.

Mum was able to see much of the garden colour, and was intrigued by the idea of a water feature operating from solar panels. She knew she had been to a garden like this before, but wasn’t sure it was ours. She congratulated Jackie on her creation.

One bonus of having a small group together is that we can enjoy different conversations and silent moments without pressure to focus on one person.

We even briefly included Danni and Ella in a FaceTime conversation with Mum. I wondered how many people approaching their 99th birthday could enjoy the experience of communicating with their 2 year old great granddaughter in this manner.

Jean was shyly appreciative of the complimentary messages of goodwill sent by so many people from around the world via this blog.

She was also delighted by the posy Jackie prepared for her to take home.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s flavoursome sausage casserole; boiled new potatoes; sautéed mushrooms, leeks, and peppers with crisp broccoli. The Culinary Queen drank more of the Sauvignon Blanc and I drank more of the Syrah.


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post with your lovely mother, Derrick. May God bless your wonderful family, sir. ❤️????

  2. How wonderful that your mother was able to visit your home — even if she wasn’t quite sure she’d been there before! I’d venture to say that’s a treat that not many of her age are able to enjoy! And a face time with her littlest great grand daughter as well. What an exciting day for her. Somehow that all takes the sting out of the other part of this post, which includes some amazing photos of the beach at Dunkirk, and long-term memories of those days! A remarkable post!

  3. Derrick, thanks for sharing. This is so interesting.
    Your Mum obviously enjoyed her visit in your beautiful garden. ??

  4. It is wonderfully uplifting and heartwarming to see your mother visiting and enjoying both your splendid garden and computerized interaction. I find the latter outstanding.
    As I have expected, your autobiography is not your personal life story, but rather the events and upheavals of an extremely dramatic half of the century viewed through the prism of your life journey. I am eagerly looking back to more installments, Derrick.

  5. These are the most uplifting pictures – what a wonderful day for your mother to visit; she must have been so glad to see you all, and your astonishingly lovely garden… a day to remember, and Jackie’s pretty posy will help extend the joy for her 🙂

  6. Such a fascinating post, Derrick, thank you. Your father’s experience shows how brave can be when necessary. I can’t even imagine, and your mom, too, must have been so worried about her young son.

    How lovely that your mom was able to visit your house and sit in your beautiful garden. I’m sure she will love having the flower bouquet, too, even if she doesn’t remember where it came from. Also that she could enjoy a FaceTime conversation.

  7. Bless, how lovely to see your Mum in your own home. So much more cosy and relaxing. And I knew I would find the autobiographical segments fascinating. By chance, Don Ostertag ‘s blog post today made passing mention of Dunkirk, too.

  8. It must have have been a blessing for your young parents that you survived a difficult birth. How wonderful that your mother was able to visit your home and beautiful garden!

  9. A fascinating story about the evacuation from Dunkirk (of which I didn’t know much about) , and a beautifully heartwarming story, to have mum visiting you guys at home … A lovely start to my day Derrick ..

  10. It was fascinating to learn something of your heritage, Derrick, on this and your previous post. Such times, so different from now.I was brought up in the shadow of WW2, though a little later than you, and understand a little of what you are saying. My father fought at home and overseas, my mother went through the Blitz. And you mention eclampsia – from what my mother told me, that’s what she had when I was born. We both, apparently, almost died. I was made more aware of it when my son came along. Anyway, I hope you continue your autobiography! And it is amazing to think of the changes your mum has seen.

    1. Thank you so much for all this, Mike. I really hoped it would trigger other memories we could all share. Yesterday we spoke of Mum’s own memories going round the world. Much more to come.

  11. Your fathers’ memories of never talking about the war or time away – is very similar to my father who was actually away for WW1 – he rarely spoke of it, although there are written words, and he never wanted to leave NZ again.

    As for entertaining your Mother away from the care home, fabulous and it looked like a perfectly fine and warm day..

  12. How nice that your Mum could come to spend time in your beautiful garden! I am sure she enjoyed facetiming with her little great-granddaughter. Interesting to read the details of your birth. I had pre-eclampsia with my first son. He was 5lbs when he was born. I have no idea what he weighs now, but he is a good foot taller than I am. Seems to be thriving.

  13. How delightful to be together, with the strong bonds of history in place. I’m sure your Mum appreciated all the care and wonderful plantings in the garden ? So memorable for all.

  14. What a lovely summer day with your Mum to share in the joy. My mother turns 94 in a week. They have lived through so much history. And I agree, your Mum wanted that wine!!! Good for her. She deserves it.

  15. That was a blessed meeting with your Mother, and the coincidence of recounting of your nascent journey on Earth has made it special. Your description of discovery of own fingers by a newborn is startlingly apt. Your mother’s alertness around the pitch of life may have softened but she seems set to score the Century and enjoy it too. Here is wishing her smooth sailing past the 100 mark.

  16. A wonderful story. Good to know a little more about you. Your mum looks great and she looks like she is enjoying soaking up all that vitamin D. A beautiful day can only finish with some of Jackie’s good cooking.

  17. “Even when I discovered my fingers I didn’t know they were mine.” – that was cute ☺️ It really sounds like a tale, and thinking that happened not so long ago.
    What a beautiful day, filled with love and emotions ?? Moments to cherish ?

  18. Thank you for these wonderful stories of past and present. Your father’s adventures would make a good book or movie. I know you’re mum must have greatly enjoyed getting out to visit family and the garden.

  19. You have brought tears to my eyes with this post, Derrick. A colleague of ours used to tell our sons about his evacuation at Dunkirk – yet had not shared his ‘adventure’ as openly with his own children (according to his wife). One of my children was born a little more premature than you were – shortly before I went into theatre, the paediatrician brought a nursing sister working on another floor and assured me she had been born “the size of a margarine tub” and survived. I have – with his permission – referred to my son as an assurance to others facing a similar situation. Bravo to you both – little fighters to be sure! Bravo to your mother too – it is wonderful to see her out in your garden.

  20. How lovely to have your mum visit.
    Gosh, that is an enormous size for a baby born at 33 weeks, I wonder if your mum mixed up her dates? No scans in those days.

  21. There are tears flowing as I read this post. I’m so glad your Father survived! I’m so glad your Mum birthed you and you survived. You add such joy to the world!

    Your writing is grand, Derrick! You capture me in and your word-pics are vivid…like a movie playing in my head. Your words ignite my emotions, too. 🙂

    Seeing your Mum sitting in your garden for a wonderful visit makes me cry joy-tears! 🙂
    She has seen a lot of changes in the world in her lifetime!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  22. This is outstanding news, Derrick! Your Mum must have been thrilled to get out and then to see once again the magical place where you live!

  23. Thanks so much for this post, Derrick. I had known your father was at Dunkirk, but not his role! So many WWII vets never talked about things like this–I always heard stories that involved hijinks or camaraderie, which would be nicer to remember of course. And it’s so nice your mother could visit and enjoy your beautiful garden. Good times and good memories.

  24. Needless to say, I am glad your father survived, and you survived to tell the Knights’ tale, of you and Jackie. What a wonderful gift, to have your mother out for a visit! She looks wonderful, Derrick.

  25. Your father’s story deserves great respect.
    The baby of the story became a good blogger.
    Your mother’s presence is a great blessing and the photos as always, excellent.

  26. Another interesting story that reminds me of another favourite book that I read to my English classes for twenty years. The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. The character Rhayader is loosely based on ornithologist, conservationist and painter Peter Scott, who also did the illustrations for the first illustrated English edition of the book, using his first wife Elizabeth Jane Howard as the model for Fritha. If you have a copy I’d love you to copy one or two illustrations and show us.

  27. Oh Derrick, what a post! The wartime trials of your father, the birthing trials of your sweet mum. And then to have it end up with a real visit to your house! That is so exciting. I’m sure it was the highlight of her year to be back with you all. Hugs to all of you.

  28. How interesting to read about your father’s experience in WWII. We loved hearing Daddy’s stories of his experiences in WWII. He was in the Navy. Then known as the Royal Indian Navy. Lovely pics of your mother too.

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