Saturday, 24 December 2011

I'm a man, yes, I am... war hardened skeptic


This is the last entry I have transcribed from my father's wartime journal that has a definite date. There are some scraps of paper in between the pages that I will endeavour to decipher too...

Entry 10 - February 18th

Four and a half years ago when I first learnt that I was about to join White's, that career was shrouded in absolute mystery. Around it I wove a veil of romance. Three days in the drawing room office shattered the romance and broke my illusions, but, reviewing, in retrospect, those three and a half years once more I can feel the deeper feeling of respect for those traditions and institutions which have their basis in the office.

I can still remember that first whiff, a turgid, musty smell of old plans and papers along with unchanged air that came insidiously up the strongroom stairs as I watched Ginger, on my first morning there, open up the vault. I recall vividly the cricket and darts in the strongroom. The battles with paper pellets; being browned; holiday anticipation. All those things, which, at the time, seemed small and absurd but now contain, for me, a deeper meaning.

Personalities, too, return. The dominant, to us, tyrannous, Mr. Parker. The way he stalked in at 8:20am breaking up the happy era of mutual conversation with a brisk 'Good morning'. The way he turned round, resting on one elbow, to glare at some offender too long away from his board. Bill going in imperturbably, conscious, perhaps, only of his house, wide, garden and motorbike. Edgar: completely subservient to and docile under the pressing influence of the job in hand. The meticulous care of John Beasley, who talked French to me. Those fellows who worked because they were interested and keen and those who worked because it was the easiest solution of an unconquerable difficulty.

The atmosphere. The difference in the medium of the upper and lower offices. The sun and glazed cloth; drawn blinds and the upsetting of inkwells. The 'bog' with its pungent arcid aroma of stale tobacco pervading all other, probably more obnoxious, smells.

All these impressions and many more, too intangible and indefinite to be committed to paper, flash across my mind when I, in a new sphere, climb into flying clothes and parachute harness. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Drawing Office, the men and boys there for turning me from a callow youth into manhood. Now alienated from its environment I can judge its true merits with the ability that only complete detachment can competently give it.

It is indeed strange that two out of the triumvirate that held the lowest positions in the office in Aug '36 should have been failures, Ginger and myself (I wonder what happened to Ginger?). However, if I have failed Whites, Whites has not failed me for which I am grateful. It was inevitable I neither had the hereditary nor the environment which would have allowed me to be a success. Initially I was an outsider and an outsider I would have remained.

It has been indeed fortunate that I held no illusions concerning the Air Force. I never held any brief for the Services and never shall, but I firmly believe that while Whites made a man of me all the Services could add was the hardening, servility and scepticism necessary to face any eventuality the future might hold.

I value all those past associations with the whole office which now forms such lucrative food for thought.

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

Index to the journal:
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Rod said...

unfailingly interesting, and at times so profound. Question - what career/work did your father door post WW2/airforce? Second question, more request, can we have some narrative at some stage on how he came to odds with his membership of the brthren congregation?
Finally, have an ongoing happy christmas and a peaceful new year. Rod

Peter Banks said...

Many thanks, Rod, HNY to you and yours...!

Immediately after the war Dad became a quantity surveyor for Harris and Porter, a practice then based in Newport and office in Portsmouth (or the other way round). Because of all the Exclusive Brethren grief he decided to both leave the Island and have a more community based career. So in his early forties he applied to become a college lecturer in Barking. As a result we moved to Upminster, one end of the District line and life changed substantially.

There's a great deal I could say in response to your second question about the 'Exclusives', suffice to say it is a substantial matter and one that I am still reflecting on as to how to respond.

Best, PB