Henry Gordon Linfield (1889-1975)

My father and his brothers and sisters were reared on very strict ‘Wesleyan’ principles. Sundays were sacrosanct – chapel morning and evening, and Sunday school in the afternoons – and no food must be cooked, so all meals were cold (though I gather it was considered acceptable to have hot boiled potatoes with lunch, provided they were peeled the night before and left to cook slowly on the kitchen range before leaving). Card games, in fact all games, were banned and only special ‘Sunday’ (i.e. very religious) books were allowed.

My youngest uncle was taken to chapel by his brothers and sisters when Granny wasn’t well, and on his return she asked him how he’d got on. “Fine,” he said, “I singed when the others did.” “And what did you sing?” asked Granny fondly, having a soft spot for her youngest. “Same as the others,” was the reply, “Uzza-buzza-bee-an’-itcha-bee” (As it was in the beginning and ever shall be). “Good heavens,” said Grandpa, “the child’s talking Double Dutch!” The name stuck- any of us would have stared if asked about “Uncle Wilfred”. We’d an “Uncle Bill” - and an “Uncle Dutch”!

Grandpa was a very impulsive man – anything he decided on must be done at once. My father was the only one in the family who saved his pocket money, and he’d nearly got enough for a bike. That morning’s sermon was about the poor, persecuted Armenians (times don’t change that much, do they?). Grandpa, much moved, said at lunch he was sure they would all want to give whatever pocket money they had to help the poor Armenians. None of them had very much, except Dad, who had 9 – nearly enough for a bike. In vain did he point out that the others had had the pleasure of spending theirs; he’d been waiting for the pleasure of getting a bike. “You mustn’t be a grudging giver,” said Grandpa sternly. “Think of those poor Armenians being massacred.” “If I could have got at them,” my father used to say bitterly, “I’d have willingly massacred them myself!”

When Dad joined up, the Royal Sussex Regiment was full, so he joined the Royal West Kents. They were sent to Palestine, but Dad turned out to be an extraordinarily good shot, so he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, where, as a latecomer, he was allocated a very bad tempered one-eyed mule. Needless to say, nobody got on with it. However, being an animal lover, Dad and the mule got on fine, and in fact it later saved his life. He and it were leading a file down a wadi – but it suddenly dug its hooves in and refused to go down. It was pulled, shoved, coaxed – but no way would it budge. “Oh, take that stupid beast to the back of the column,” snapped an officer, “it’ll probably follow the others.” But when the first few were down, the wadi blew up – it had been mined. If the mule had gone down first, it would have been ‘curtains’ for both of them. We always regretted not being able to rescue it, for which reason I still subscribe to the Brooke Hospital in Cairo.

When first transferred, Dad’s upbringing was still with him. When allocated a small bivouac, he trustingly put his boots outside and went to sleep. When he woke and went to put them on, no boots! Dad – very surprised – went to complain to the Sergeant-Major, who looked at him pityingly.

“Where did you put them?” he inquired.

“Outside.”

“You damn fool. You should have taken them inside with you. They might still have gone – but you’d have stood a better chance of keeping ‘em.”

“Well, what do I do now?”

asked Dad.

The Sergeant-Major sighed again. “You go and pinch someone else’s- and the best of luck!” Next morning, Dad went on parade wearing the Sergeant-Major’s boots. He got a very old-fashioned look, but after all, he’d only done what he was told. “It wasn’t just because they were his,” he’d say later, “they were the comfiest.”

I was very nearly left parentless during the First World War, as my mother almost died after a major operation in London and then my father was severely wounded in Palestine. It seems they attacked the Turks, and Dad was badly injured. Coming to briefly, he rolled into some bushes, to get out of the sun. A little later, the Turks counter attacked, recaptured the area and promptly massacred all the wounded – except Dad, whom they failed to notice hidden in his bush.

However, the army weren’t so easily beaten: they attacked again, and succeeded in driving back the Turks. The stretcher bearers started to go round, but soon found out that all the wounded had been killed (except Turkish ones, of course). “Not doing much good here – might as well withdraw,” they grumbled, but just as they were turning to go, Dad – feeling chilly – gave a groan, and rolled out of his bush, and so was picked up and taken to hospital.

When they realised how ill mother was, and how risky the operation was going to be, my grandparents felt Dad must be told, so they wrote to him. During the operation, Mother found herself floating somewhere near the ceiling, watching with interest all the nasty things they were doing to her body down below. She was free from pain – very comfortable – and quite determined not to go back down. Then suddenly, and perfectly clearly, she heard Dad’s voice: “You must Parn. Suppose I’m wounded or killed? Who’s going to look after our child? You must go back!” Suddenly, she was pulled down and back into her battered body. Long afterwards, when they were able to compare notes, they found that Dad had received the letter from his parents, and had known exactly what was happening, and had said – aloud – the very words Mum heard.

Whilst out there, Dad contracted a kind of malaria, called ‘Jordan Valley fever’, as well as being wounded. This persisted after the War, quite badly at first: he twice passed out on the railway line between nurseries, but was fortunately spotted and rescued. As the years went by, it got less frequent, and not so severe, but whenever he had a bout, he always ran a temperature and thought he was still in Palestine. One night, when I was about 17, I went to a dance and Mother and Dad decided to go to the pictures. Unfortunately, it was a rather exciting film, and when Dad said he felt a bit rough and wanted to go out, Mother, caught up in the film, said: “Well go and sit in the foyer. I’ll be there in a minute. I just want to see the next bit.” She didn’t however – an usherette with a torch came round, whispering: “Is there a Mrs Linfield here?” Mother said yes and was led out to the foyer, where Dad was clearly not too good. With difficulty she got him into our baby Austin 7 and home and into bed. There he drowsed off, but since it was still fairly early, she went down, turned on the radio and did some mending. Then she went back upstairs, got undressed without turning on the light, and went to get into bed. But she was met with indignant resistance and the assertion: “Nurse! You know Matron doesn’t let you get into bed with the patients!”

No way could she get in, and when I got home, about 12.30, I found her, still giggling feebly, in my bed. “I suppose,” she said, “I might have felt worse though if he’d said ‘Get right in, Nurse!'” She stayed in my bed for the rest of the night, and when she went down to get the breakfast, I visited the invalid. He gazed at me a bit vacantly, so I said: “How do you feel?”

“Not too bad,”

he replied.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yes,”

he said, “I fancy an orange.” It so happened we didn’t have any – only apples and grapes – so I said:

“I’ll get my bike and pop down to the shop.”

“Don’t be so damned stupid,”

said Dad. “Go outside and pick one. There are plenty there.” So that was my ‘come-uppance.’

He was always very ‘physical’, and did a great deal of strenuous work. At 76, he would come home, have a meal, and go up the road to play tennis. Then he had a fall, and Mother put her foot down. It was too much for him, he’d have a stroke. There was a super bowling-rink by the tennis courts – why not take up bowls?

“What, me?” said Dad, indignantly. “That old man’s game? Not likely!”

It was not until after Mother’s death that his ageing began, understandably, in view of the changes it inevitably made in his life style – landing him with me, for one thing. He lost his hold on things a little, worrying about whether bills had been paid but he still walked the dog and did some gardening. He died five years later. At his funeral, one of the men came up to me.

“Mr Gordon,” he said, “could be a hard task-master. He expected a lot of you. But what really made you ‘take it’ -you knew, anything he asked you to do, he could do himself, as well as you, if not better. And he was kind, and interested in you.”

I don’t think he could have had a better epitaph.

Footnote by Malcolm Linfield:

 

H. Gordon Linfield was the second son of Arthur George Linfield and Edith Mary Young, who were married in Worthing in 1883. He was born on 11 April 1889, and as a young man he followed his older brother Arthur into the nursery business started by their father in the early 1880s. In 1913, he married Parnal Moreton, daughter of Ernest Moreton, butcher of Worthing, at the Wesleyan Church, Steyne Gardens. Kathleen Peggy was born the following year.

Apart from war service, when he served in Allenby’s army in Palestine and was severely wounded, he spent the whole of his working life in the family business. His greatest interest was in plants and caring for them. As the firm grew between the wars, he played his part as plantsman and grower and took a keen interest in the growers’ organisations, serving on many committees. During the Second World War, he was one of the prime movers of the Mutual Aid Groups that paved the way for full co-operation and the eventual founding of Fargro. He also started the NW Sussex Growers’ Group.

In his retirement, he maintained his interest in plants and grew many unusual flowers and fruits in his garden and greenhouse in Parkfield Road, Worthing. He was well-liked by all who knew him, being a kind and considerate man who was always willing to help others with sound advice when asked. He died on June 22 1975 at the age of 86.

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