Oliver John Wright (No 84)

My full name is Oliver John Wright, although since my WWII years in the Royal Navy, I have been called ‘Shiner’. My Fegans family will remember me as Olly Wright. I was born on March 3rd, 1924 in Ellesmere Port, on the Wirral.

I was the fourth of five children, and sadly my mother passed away during childbirth just before my second birthday. Apparently my father was not the slightest bit interested in trying to look after his young family; James, Margaret, Catherine, Oliver and Thomas, so along with my father, we entered the Wirral Workhouse during 1926.

I’m the little blonde lad on the chair.

Eventually Cheshire Social Services took care of three of us children. My brother James, sister Margaret and I, were put into a Children’s Home on the Esplanade at Hoylake (right opposite the beach, what could be more exciting for us?). My baby brother went to live with my mother’s sister, Aunt Kate and Catherine, my youngest sister, was taken in by two maiden aunts. She frequently ran away to the care of another family who ran a local shop. I believe her childhood was very sad.

When we were old enough we went to the local primary school in Hoylake . My sister Margaret continued to live at the home, until she joined the WRAF during the war. James moved away to Stony Stratford when I was seven.

In 1935, Cheshire Social Services approached Mr Fegan’s Homes to see if they would “take this boy?”!! Thankfully for me, they did and I was packed off to Stony Stratford mid way through 1935. My brother James moved on at that point, to the Training Farm at Goudhurst.

I remember being slightly bewildered. The place was huge, and nothing like the modest house I had lived in before. There were so many of us too! I was a slight child, rather small for my age apparently, but so my records show, I was well behaved and tried hard. I do however remember fondly the friendship between us boys. That friendship and humour remains today when we are lucky enough to meet up and spend time together. Sadly this is not a simple exercise now, given we are all in our 90s!

Having lived in another children’s home with girls and boys, I remember missing the companionship of girls when I went to Fegans. I also recall most of the staff being male, there were women that worked in the Laundry and Kitchen, but that was about it.

I did become great friends with Wally Bishop. We lost touch from the late 1940s until my daughter contacted Fegans and I noticed an article in a magazine, written by my old mate. Within an hour or so, we were chatting on the phone! After roughly 60 years of silence, our telephone experiences are now very frequent.

Me, on the left and Wally. I think we were off to Goudhurst when this photo was taken.

Food was freshly grown in the garden and prepared in our kitchen. There tended to be the same meal on a weekly basis, so we would know each day, what to expect. We didn’t go hungry but fundraising, to keep us boys fed and clothed, was a constant job for staff and supporters. I’m sure eggs were used in baking and puddings, but we didn’t have boiled eggs much. In fact we had a boiled egg just once a year, on Easter Sunday. Few of us lads enjoyed one of the regular puddings we were served – Sago Pudding…… we used to call it ‘Snotty Ocean’. If anyone reading this doesn’t know what Sago Pudding looks like, my daughter suggests you Google it!

I enjoyed sport at school. We played tennis, throwing the ball against the chapel wall and catching it on its return and I loved using the roller skates. ‘Chariots’ was another favourite. I’m sure this was a Fegans’ special!! I’m not sure how the chapel windows never got damaged, but maybe they did. I loved using the swimming pool and took part in Football matches. The referee Neb Bennett, asked me one day how old I was during a match. I replied “eleven Sir”. Further investigation by the staff revealed my age as 12, I was playing over-age and was asked to leave the game. Interestingly, I thought my birthday was January 20th and at some time whilst at Fegans, I learned it was the 3rd March!!

  This is ‘Chariots’, I’m not in the picture though!! (Health & Safety would have a wonderful time now!)

 I remember Mr Cairns, a Scottish teacher. Anyone that upset him would be ‘bashed’ on the back of the leg with the bristles of a brush until their skin was blue, or it bled. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to suffer this punishment. Neb Bennett, the Head at Stony was a formidable man. I also remember the Cook at Goudhurst sending a message back to the masters about me, saying I was kind to the cats.

We used to go out, large numbers of us, for walks. Can you imagine boys of eleven years and older holding hands whilst they walked? Hmm, I’m sure they wouldn’t nowadays, but we did!

Mr Fegan had set up facilities for boys in Canada and I remember every now and again, a group would be packed off to start a new life there. I was on the list to go, but, I was unwell and not fit for the voyage. I’m so glad I stayed and subsequently met my lovely wife and went on to produce my wonderful daughter. They have always meant the world to me and always will.

Daily ‘chores’ at Stony were normal. We all had jobs, cleaning floors being one. However, mine was cleaning the boys’ boots. How many pairs? About two hundred I think. This wasn’t once a week, or twice a week, it was every day. I don’t recall getting into much mischief; I must have been a good boy because I do remember being a Head Table boy at meal times. I’m not sure which master it was, but some lad clouted me across the face when I was Table Boy. I was left with a very bruised face. A while later, I was stood out in front of the whole school, with said boy, and was asked to treat him as he had treated me. I found this difficult, but did slap him around the face!! For good measure the master told me to slap his other cheek too! I guess this was the tough love so many of today’s youngsters need?

The Fegans records I have read, describe me as not over bright, but I was a plodder. I was a keen member of the mouthorgan band and I also remember trying to join the choir, but was told I sang in my boots, so that was out! The choir used to go out quite frequently to perform at local venues. These concerts raised the profile of the home, but more so, were used to raise money to look after us young lads. It must have been a costly exercise to take care of so many growing young men. I recall when we were dressed in our ‘Sunday Best’ everything was identical, right down to the handkerchief in our jacket pockets.

I was at Stony Stratford from 1934 – 1939 and then spent a couple of years at Goudhurst on the training farm, eventually, being given work with a local Farmer Mr. Beebey. I was put out with the King family, and their children, Bill and Vivian, who treated me like an older brother. When I married, Bill was my best man and although neither are still with us, I am still in touch with Bill’s wife and son, and my daughter keeps in contact with Vivian’s two children. When Mr Beebey came to collect me from the training farm, he was driving his Rolls Royce, oh my goodness, did I feel lucky?

The Training Farm at Goudhurst

It was lovely living with the Kings. I felt for the first time in my life that I was experiencing living in a real family. I remember us all living in the small cottage, and I shared a room with two elderly gentlemen who were also farm hands, they got up at 4.00am every morning!

I felt a compulsion to join the war effort. I applied to join the Navy when I was seventeen, but I was told I wasn’t old enough. I refused the offer of the Royal Marines and went back once I was eighteen to live my dream. (I worked on the land so I didn’t have to join the War Effort…) I attended RN training in Malvern and my first Naval experience was on a Destroyer in the North Atlantic, supporting the Convoys. In March 1943, I went aboard another destroyer, H.M.S. Rocket just as she was commissioned. I remained on this vessel until the end of the war, fighting the German Navy in the English Channel, crossing the Mediterranean, traversing the Suez Canal and spent the remaining years in the Far East. I’m immensely proud of the medals I gained.

When I was demobbed, I met up again with Wally Bishop, my best buddy at Stony and Goudhurst. We had both joined the Navy at Chatham. We were out in Maidstone one evening; I think we had cycled there. We were in a pub on the High Street when I met a lovely young lady called Florrie. To cut a long story short, we were married in August 1946 at All Saints’ Church in Maidstone.   As this is being written, we will have been married for seventy years on 31st August this year….(2016) – I can’t wait to celebrate this amazing milestone.

My Wedding Day to Florrie, 31.8.1946, me and Wally (on the right) 

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It was time to look for a real job! I went back to Hong Kong for two-and-a –half years to help the Navy close down the shore base H.M.S. Tamar (there was a financial incentive to do this!). It was so called ‘Peace Time’ but I was involved in the Yangtze incident which wasn’t pleasant. My new wife wasn’t too enamoured by my long time away, but I returned, and both of us had saved enough money to buy ourselves our first house in Maidstone, Kent.

After a few jobs here and there, I found work at A. E. Reed, Paper Mill in Tovil, Maidstone, as an electrician’s assistant. I loved this job and its diversity and stayed there until the early 1980s when I took voluntary redundancy.

My only daughter, Jacqueline, had graduated as a music teacher (yes, and she has trained award winning choirs, despite her father’s singing ability!!) and was working near Bristol. Florrie and I decided to move from Maidstone which had been our home for many decades, and start a new life near our daughter. We moved to Clevedon (on the Bristol Channel) 35 years ago, and within a few years we became grandparents to Michael and Jonathan. We are now Great Grandparents to Enya who lives in Derbyshire, so we see her infrequently and Robin who lives a few minutes’ away.

This is Wally and me, when we met up after our long period of no contact. What a wonderful day it was.

I would like to say a public thank you to those at Fegans who cared for me in such a wonderful way. I was taught to be strong, respectful, hard working, caring, loving and how to use my sense of humour.

Oliver John Wright (Shiner)

(July, 2016)

This is a school photograph. I have circled myself and the three ‘lads’ I have recently met up with at Fegans reunions.

I wonder how many ‘normal’ children had a whole school photograph taken in the 1930s?

From left to right: John Christie, Me, Wally Bishop and Roy Nelson at a reunion in Stony Stratford

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