There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today I’m so pleased to welcome Sally Cronin, who has agreed to share her memories with us.
Thank you Judith for inviting me to take part in this lovely series and I decided to go back as far as I could with my memories.
Scientists have more or less established humans can remember back to at least 3 years old, but it can be 6 months earlier for many.
I know I have very strong memories of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, where we lived from 1954 to 1956. I was 18 months old when we arrived, and the memories of those two years are a little bit like a kaleidoscope, creating colourful if slightly distorted patterns. They are also enhanced by the particular aromas, and the sounds associated with living in a land of spices, and on the edge of a jungle.
My father had been in based there in late 1944. Initially he was in a holding camp called Mayina in the jungle, until being transferred to HMS Woolwich in Trincomalee.
He had been based in Scotland prior to this so it must have been quite a change. There he had been part of repair team getting submarines back to sea following damage in the Atlantic. Now he was working on destroyers from the Pacific fleet using Sri Lanka as their home base.
The war in the Far East continued through 1945. Following VJ Day, my father continued working on destroyers needing to be refitted before sailing back to the UK. He was in Trincomalee until June 1946 and then returned home to the family in Hampshire
He was honoured to receive a “Card for Good Service” presented by Lord Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in November 1945, in recognition of his valuable service keeping his destroyers at sea.
Earl Mountbatten inspects my father’s base in Sri Lanka @Eric Coleman
Our return to Sri Lanka
My father was posted back to Trincomalee as base radio officer in 1954. After a few weeks he was ordered to take over the RN Transmitting Station Kotogoda, fifteen miles outside of Colombo on a temporary basis. There was a lovely house for the station commander so my father arranged for my mother and the three of us to join him from England.
After a few months my father was then transferred back to Trincomalee. Having been entertained frequently at my parent’s renowned curry lunches, useful contacts had been made amongst the RAF officers at the nearby air base. A DC- 3 was appropriated and they kindly flew the family, all our worldly goods, and wonderful family cook who insisted on coming with us, back to Trincomalee. It must have been so thrilling and I do wish I had been a little bit older to be able to recall the experience.
The Coleman family 1955
We settled in a house my father rented near the base. In addition to our cook, we had a house boy to work in the garden and an amah was employed to look after me. I was clearly getting to the active toddler stage and needed watching all the time. Being on the edge of a jungle meant that there was plenty of slithering and snarling wildlife that was fascinating for a child…she had her work cut out for her I am afraid!
We moved a couple of times more until we eventually occupied the lower half of a large house which had been the WRNS Officers mess during the war. The garden was on the edge of the water this time and it is where my first memories really kick in.
Three sisters Sonia, Diana and Sally
I have two older sisters and whilst during the day I was in the constant care of my amah, when my sisters came home from school, I followed them everywhere, and this included into the water. They were already amazing swimmers and divers and I would be in my rubber ring desperately trying to keep up.
Things I remember vividly.
Our house came with trees and monkeys, small ones who were fascinated by glittering things and food. Their constant chittering filled the days and if a door was left open, they were in the house in a flash. Food was clearly the first priority, especially with our cook’s curries filling the air with tantalising aromas.
However, they discovered a treasure in my parent’s bedroom where the dressing table was adorned with beads, earrings and other trinkets. One night my parents came home from a party to find a troop of small thieves dressing up and admiring themselves in the mirror.
Sonia, Sally and her amah
On the subject of monkeys, a very large one found its way on to our wrap around balcony and discovered a cigarette box. He was not in a great mood and ate all the cigarettes, threatening anyone who approached. They are very dangerous, and I do remember clearly being dragged upstairs to our neighbours by my amah out of harm’s way. Probably wise as I had a tendency to be consider creatures great and small as potential pets.
I remember getting measles when I was 3years old. I had been too young to be vaccinated before we left the UK and a wave of measles hit the island and I caught it. The only treatment was to be kept isolated in a darkened room to prevent eye damage and kept cool and hydrated. I remember being in my cot with a fan above me in the dark for what seemed endless days, with my mother and amah applying cool flannels and chamomile lotion.
Sally aged 3 years old in smocked dress
I was soon back to mischief and particularly at my parent’s weekly Sunday Curry parties. It was open house for fellow officers and their wives, and also those on ships in the harbour at the time.
I do recall the laughter and the attention I used to get as I was passed from guest to guest. My eldest sister was, and still is an accomplished needlewoman, and made me smocked dresses which were always much admired. She also made me underpinnings from the same material. I developed the rather indelicate habit when complimented on the dress, of lifting it waist high and announcing ‘and I have knickers to match’. Thankfully something I grew out of sometime in my 30s.
I was rarely out of the water, but the one activity I couldn’t share with my sisters was their high board diving. One day my eldest sister was competing in a school event and completed a stunning manoeuvre off the highest board. She surfaced to what she hoped was a good score and lots of applause. Instead there was silence except from an audible gasp from the crowd.
I had followed her up the ladder and toddled down the diving board and jumped in after her. Apparently I bobbed up and shouted ‘Again’.
We were due to return to the UK in July 1956 and were leaving on a troop ship on the 30th. However on the 23rd of July, during my parent’s farewell party, his Captain arrived with the news that my grandmother and aunt had been tragically killed in a car crash in England.
My father was flown home immediately whilst my mother and the three of us left by ship on the 30th as planned. I was too young to understand the enormity of this family loss, and being one of the few children on board, was spoilt rotten. I do remember one instance in particular during a fancy dress party organised to keep us amused.
My sister Sonia made me a beautiful Little Po Peep outfit from crepe paper in lovely colours. I am sure there were knickers to match, but unfortunately it became rather too exciting and things got a little damp… Let’s just say crepe paper is rather unforgiving and absorbent….
The voyage was even longer than anticipated, as two days out of Colombo, it was announced the ship would be going via the Cape as the Suez was closed due to the war in the Middle East. This added another week to the passage and my mother became unwell.
Nothing serious as we were to discover after a couple of months as it turned out she was pregnant with my younger brother at the age of nearly 40. The village doctor initially put her symptoms down to dyspepsia but on a follow up visit she informed him that dyspepsia had just kicked her!
Today the smell of a spicy homemade curry, chamomile lotion, reminiscing with my sisters and spending time with these photographs brings back those long lost memories. We would live in Malta and South Africa over the next ten years, and those memories are obviously more clearly defined, but those earlier years are the most precious to me.
About Sally Cronin
Sally Cronin is the author of fifteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another fourteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry.
Her latest release, Life is Like a Mosaic: Random fragments in harmony is a collection of 50 + images and poems on life, nature, love and a touch of humour.
As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.
Her podcast shares book reviews and short stories Soundcloud Sally Cronin
After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.