Interview with Posy Clarke


Interview with Posy Clarke


Posy Clarke had an idyllic childhood in the house her parents renovated in Kingshill. They were very great friends with Air Chief Marshall Harris and his family who lived next door and who often visited for meals and drinks. Posy and Jackie Harris played together and were very close. Posy remembers General de Gaulle visiting Harris and he would walk around the garden with Posy’s mother who spoke French. There were many high profile visitors to the house who Posy met and who were entertained by her parents.




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00:59:03 audio recording

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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 30th of January 2018 and I’m in Great Missenden with Mrs Posy Clarke who used to play as a child with Bomber Harris’ daughter Jackie and we’re going to talk about various things associated with that. But first of all, Posy what were your earliest recollections of life?
PC: Running around in a beautiful garden my mother had made from nothing, naked. No shoes. Children, let’s say I was three or four and all children love being naked when you, when you are a child. And then we had ropes and everything in this beautiful garden and we did a lot of dancing and helped play in the garden. My father with the garden. Collect the eggs. And the bees all got fed. A lovely vegetable garden. It was an entirely beautiful childhood. Free.
CB: And where was that?
PC: At Great Kingshill, right next door to Springfield. Not Spring Fields. Springfield.
CB: Right.
PC: At Piper’s Corner. Near, between High Wycombe and Great Missenden.
CB: And this was the house of the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command. At that time Bomber Harris.
PC: Indeed, it was.
CB: Right. And what did your parents do?
PC: My mother looked, having been to university in 1921 had a First in English all she wanted to do was to look after our children. Her children. And she was a wonderful hostess. Could talk to anybody. And when Bomber Harris brought over de Gaulle to have a walk around the garden with drinks my mother who was very tall and elegant always could only talk to de Gaulle because he wouldn’t speak any English.
CB: He just refused to do it did he?
PC: Yeah. I guessed he was. He was very difficult so she, she kept him under control. All sorts of people we had [unclear] who brought us some toys back from Australia. [unclear] Was he, was he American? R Acher. He’d be very famous.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
PC: Very famous. He loved us and we had this wonderful time when all these very famous people came over. We just got on. Brave. They walked around the garden and and Pete Tomlinson was very, was Harris’ PA I think. David Tomlinson’s brother. And Jackie and I were bridesmaids when he got married. I must have been about six and Jackie five. He was a lovely man. You know, he really was wonderful with us all.
CB: So, we’re talking about 1943.
PC: About then. Yeah. About then. Yeah.
CB: Three. Four.
PC: Three. Four. Yeah. So, it was just a natural childhood with these wonderful people and my mother was a marvellous, marvellous hostess and of course very bright with this English degree. First class. So she made them all welcome and we had a lot of meals outside with the Harris’ and us every meal could be outside with whoever it was. Quite famous people. So, it was quite different with this excellent true honest childhood.
CB: So, when the famous people weren’t there what were you and the Harris’ daughter, Jackie doing?
PC: Playing in the garden. She just walked over to us or we walked over to her and sang on, went on her swing in the garden and one day Harris came home and there was a lovely courtyard with, I think it was a pear tree. Something in and they were alright the pears but of course we ate them all and he said, ‘And those ruddy children have eaten all my pears.’ [laughs] So we were every day in each other’s gardens or homes staying the night. I used to stay in Springfield with Jackie and off their bedroom there was the bath, bathroom and apparently there was a bit of a strongroom but we never went in there of course. And Lady Harris used to bath us and of course it was a sunken bath in those days so she had a terrible time trying to get us out from this sunken bath. It was green. So, you can see what a happy time it was. Totally all for us children. Never spoiled. If we did anything wrong like Harris said, ‘They’ve eaten all my pears.’ [laughs] So it was just natural and that was it.
CB: And at that time there was rationing so —
PC: Yes.
CB: So, what effect did that have on your diets?
PC: Well, my mother learned to cook. She’d never cooked before because in London they had people working for them in the house in Wimpole Street. They lived in, what is the famous house in Wimpole Street? The author. Anyway, so we all had vegetable gardens. Springfield had a vegetable garden. We all worked in that. I think various things came from somewhere. Perhaps a grateful patient of my father’s. You know a chicken or we had a pig [laughs] which my father had won at a fete in Sussex and we were in a caravan and he had to bring the pig home in a caravan. So —
CB: It wrecked the caravan, did it?
PC: I’ve no idea. So, so natural wonderful childhood.
CB: Were you allowed out of the garden?
PC: We, well I suppose we were. My father worked in High Wycombe sometimes in all various different hospitals and my brother and I used to go with him in the car to all these hospitals.
CB: So, what did he actually do? What was his job?
PC: He was FRCOG. So, a Fellow of the Royal Society College.
CB: Gynaecology.
PC: Gynaecologists and Obstetricians.
CB: Right.
PC: So, he went around all, he was the only one, all the nursing homes and hospitals and of course never, he never charged anything, I think. So we went in the car with him sometimes. Bicycles of course. Bicycles we could, when we were older bicycle perhaps in the village or, but my brother and I we, when we were a bit older always went over in the village of great Kingshill together to get any shopping for mum but we were always together. And you know why.
CB: And your brother was three years older than you.
PC: Yeah. We were great friends.
CB: So, was your job to do the shopping or just as the top up?
PC: Just the top really. I think when my father went to High Wycombe enroute to hospital or wherever it was he used to go into shops in High Wycombe and they said, ‘Yes doctor, you can have some oranges.’ Or, ‘Yes doctor.’ And of course, he never had any money but mum went and always paid for everything. Of course, she did because he never had any money because all his clothes before operating clothes were sterilised, weren’t they? So he never took money out and he sterilised, he was always writing to the bank of England to say please could you re-do this pound note? Or whatever it was. I mean that was that. So, it was a very wonderful childhood.
CB: Yes.
PC: Really wonderful and Jackie was with us of course and my mother and Jackie’s mother were best friends. They saw each other every day. Every day.
CB: It was just coincidence that you were living next door, was it?
PC: Yeah.
CB: Or had they, had your parents moved specifically?
PC: No. No. Because the cottage they bought was condemned.
CB: Oh.
PC: And they bought it, I suppose at the beginning of the war and did it up very simply. It was quite small. And that was what Bomber Harris called the hovel.
CB: How long did it take him to, your father to recover it? Put it back into good nick.
PC: Oh, mum did it all. And you know in those days you could. It was just, it was very simple. Very simple and she made this beautiful garden.
CB: So, your mother was an academic in terms of her degree.
PC: Yeah.
CB: In English.
PC: Yes.
CB: What did she do in the way of helping your, yours and your brother’s education?
PC: Well, I went to a school in Little Kingshill and funnily enough Diana Rigg was there. And we learned nothing. Nothing. If you didn’t want to go to a class you just ran into the garden and no one came. It was a huge garden. So I learned nothing there. And my brother was at school in Emsworth and in the war that was moved to Penhouse where [L Howe] lives. And that, they were there two or three years so and then he went to Charterhouse and I went to a school called [Prowsfield?]
CB: Was that nearby?
PC: Yeah. I was sent there because my parents never saw it. You were just taken there. So that when you were allowed to visit once a term. Anyway —
CB: I remember the system.
PC: Yeah. I’m sure you do. Yeah. So really my, I think I really, education was was very poor. But I did learn a lot about art and pictures and we used to have a lecture every Friday by Mrs Burton Brown on art and Italy and pictures. So, I was very interested in that. We sat in the front row to start with and you didn’t know what she was talking about. But when she moved back you understood entirely all about Rome and, you know it was marvellous. So that was my main interest really.
CB: And as a result of that what did you do with your later education?
PC: I then went to Domestic Science School in Eastbourne because my mother knew my education wasn’t very good. So I went to this Domestic Science School and had quite a good time there. Then I cooked for a school. A primary school in Hazlemere, near High Wycombe. And I had two helpers and I thought were terribly old. They were probably only forty. And then I cooked for nine hundred boys at Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe with everyone else who was about forty but I thought they were ninety. And, of course in those days there was no fads. The boys came out. They all sat at tables with a Master at each table, collected a casserole and ate that because there were no vegetarians. Nothing.
CB: No.
PC: I stood there with my spoon.
CB: Just eat it.
PC: Yeah. Yeah. And they had puddings and that was it. And each meal had to cost no more than one and a penny. One shilling and one penny.
CB: Still, that was quite a bit of money then.
PC: It was then actually.
CB: So did you feel you were adequately fed?
PC: Oh yes. Yes. But at school? Oh, I only went daily. I went on my bicycle from home.
CB: Right.
PC: Which was at Piper’s Corner. Yeah.
CB: Right. So going back to being at Springfield. Next to Springfield House, Great Kingshill with the Harris family a lot of people were coming in from different parts of world. Military mainly but some political, politicians presumably. To what extent was there discussion going on about their business and how did you react to that?
PC: They never did it in front of us. If they did we didn’t understand. So, nothing. I mean I don’t think my brother would know anything. It was, nothing was ever discussed.
CB: No.
PC: If it was, you know it meant nothing. So I don’t know if they had any secrets or not but we weren’t, never listened.
CB: But presumably they would, would they go to, they would adjourn to rooms in the house.
PC: In Springfield.
CB: In Springfield.
PC: Yeah. In to his office.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Yeah.
CB: So, what was the house itself like?
PC: Springfield? It was quite good. There was a large dining room. Terrible kitchen and occasionally we were allowed in the dining room and Bomber Harris had a bell by the foot and it was really for entertaining people who came in to see him.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Just occasionally you had a batman behind you. And they had a very nice hall and another nice room. Sitting room.
CB: So, in his position he had a batman but he also had other people helping. him.
PC: Yes.
CB: Who? What were they? How many extra people did he have helping with the domestic operations of the house?
PC: I should, I should think, I should think probably, whether they came in these batmen at meals so there must have been a cook and various people to do housework and this and that. Probably locals.
CB: So, you’d, the family would sit down to eat. How did you get linked in with that?
PC: Well, very often he was at our house. They were in our house having these meals outside because he liked and he became a wonderful cook, Bomber Harris. Fantastic cook. So we really, we had them in another kitchen or something like that you know. So we wouldn’t sit in the main dining room. No. Except very occasionally.
CB: When these dignitaries came were you involved? Did you sit with them at meals or was it only in the garden that you mingled with them?
PC: Only in the garden. We didn’t mix with them. No. Not, because there was my brother, myself, Jackie and my younger sister. So that was four of us. No. Whatever we did Jackie was always with us.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Attitudes, you know.
CB: Yeah. So did Bomber Harris take quite a bit of time off in order to play with Jackie and yourselves? Or did he work such long hours that you seldom saw him?
PC: We saw him a huge amount. He just came over the garden. Just came over the tennis court and perhaps sat with mum and dad having a drink. Oh, yes. He was there a lot. I can remember him very vividly.
CB: As young children you would go to bed earlier than older children and Bomber Command’s activity was in the night so were you aware of what his working hours were?
PC: No. No. No, because he had a driver of course every day who took him to Bomber Command. We didn’t see him then and when you’re a child time is, just doesn’t matter.
CB: No.
PC: So yes, of course we were in bed. That’s when my parents went and sat with him. When, you know any great raid was on they sat with him.
CB: So would he at home when the raids were on?
PC: Yes.
CB: Rather than in his office.
PC: Always at home.
CB: Always at home?
PC: I think so. As far as I remember.
CB: Right.
PC: As far as I remember. He might had been in his office but I think, I think he always came. My brother would know that but I just remember my mum saying, ‘We’re going over the tennis court to sit with him.’
CB: So, a lot of these activities were in the summertime. In the winter what happened?
PC: I think we just all played again. In the snow. The snow. It was just, I suppose we went to school a bit [laughs] Don’t know what happened to Jackie. We went to the school run by Miss Gascoigne who, she was quite famous who never taught us anything but my brother was at boarding school. Prep school. So it was quite a, we had a, well we just had this free, free childhood you know. It was marvellous. A lot of dancing. Yes. Dancing. Did a huge amount of dancing and the hosepipe was out and the sprayer and we all ran underneath it and later played. Later had these prams for toys and those sort of things.
CB: Pram racing.
PC: Probably.
CB: And with bikes were you allowed out on to the road?
PC: I’m sure we were but we would have, well there wasn’t much traffic was there?
CB: Exactly.
PC: So, I suppose we were but we walked. My brother and I walked to the village which was, I don’t know, a quarter of an hour to do this. Whatever she wanted. Odds and ends. But always together.
CB: What sort of treats did you get?
PC: Oh, lots of treats.
CB: What would they be?
PC: Perhaps a party dress or an extra playing somewhere. Of course, cinemas were hardly there and every time my father came home from lunch, lunch every day from the hospitals he put a classical record on.
CB: Oh.
PC: So that was what introduced us to classical music.
CB: Did he have favourite?
PC: Oh yes.
CB: What were his favourite composers?
PC: I can’t remember but someone, you know Brahms or someone. Oh yes. There was always a famous one. And then we had some other records. Vinyl records. And of course, we had the radio. Dick Barton.
CB: Oh yes. Special Agent.
PC: Wonderful. We weren’t allowed to listen to Dick Barton until we’d done our school prep.
CB: Right.
PC: Which wasn’t much. So there was some of that and dancing around. A lot of dancing.
CB: Now, you were great friends with Jackie but did you go to school together?
PC: No.
CB: She was educated separately.
PC: Yes. And I don’t know where. No. She didn’t come to school with us or whether she had someone who came in. I really don’t know. I’ll ask her when I see her quite soon. No. So, she didn’t go to the same school.
CB: We’ll pause there for a bit.
PC: Yeah.
[recording paused]
PC: That’s nothing to do with Harris.
CB: Right.
PC: We were allowed —
CB: But your father, your father came home for lunch you said every day.
PC: Yes.
CB: That was because of needing to live in a particular area was it? Within ten miles of most of the hospitals.
PC: Yes. Local hospitals. Yeah.
CB: And if he went how often did he go to consult elsewhere?
PC: Every Thursday to London and the other places. All sorts of places. [Fulmar], there was a place out at Wycombe for unmarried mothers. Where else? Well, almost Stoke Mandeville. Anywhere he went but he always came home for lunch and after the war, just after the war because he was as I said he could have gone into the Second World War but they wanted him as a medical operator. He used to go to everywhere. Sevenoaks. Surbiton. In a day and he took my brother and I right back to the hospital at half past four and off he and I went. I mean I was probably about ten or eleven then but we just did. When he went to London we were given five shillings or something like that. Right. Back at Harley Street half past four. Off we went with nothing much.
CB: With quite a big of pocket money.
PC: Five bob. I mean we had to have lunch. We found the Strand Palace Hotel which was one and threepence or something and we got in to the wrong hotel by mistake one day [laughs] but you know it was a marvellous. We were great friends. We went on the Underground all day or all sorts of places.
CB: So, what about the Underground? What did you do there?
PC: We just went all around. Bought a ticket and went all over the place. All around the Circle again and again and you know. Yeah.
CB: Adventurous to the ends of lines as well?
PC: Probably. Yes
CB: Into Essex? Or —
PC: I don’t know if we went that far because we had this certain time you see. We had to be back at half past four at Harley Street.
CB: So when are we talking about here? What —
PC: Well, when I was ten or eleven. I wish he was here.
CB: So that was the late forties.
PC: Yes.
CB: Early fifties.
PC: Yes.
CB: Yeah. But in the war did you go into London occasionally or did you always stay out at Great Kingshill?
PC: I don’t, I don’t remember. No. I don’t remember going. But whether my father went I mean, he was out because of his job he was out almost every night. You know, visiting other doctors who’d made a nuisance. He had to go. So he, and I used to help him with the domiciliary visits and that sort of thing. So, I mean it was a long time ago but it was a very happy childhood.
CB: Eventful.
PC: Eventful but perfectly natural for children and the people in Wycombe, Tim being one thought we were very bohemian being allowed to run around naked with no shoes on. Here we go. Yes. But that, but this was what children loved doing.
CB: Yeah. You talked about what you did after schooling and dealing with the cooking in a lot of these schools. When did you meet Tim, your husband to be and where?
PC: His parents and my parents were great friends and it was an arranged marriage. My mother, there were other suitors I can assure you but my mother was very clever. She wanted a clever son in law to talk with and in High Wycombe there was a repertory theatre and Tim’s parents did a lot of acting and that sort of thing and so they went to the rep every week and so did my mother. And there was pantomime and we were all taken to this rep in High Wycombe and my brother and I sat behind Tim and his brother and I think I probably said, ‘I can’t see a thing.’ Typical trouble, you know. And so they said, ‘Oh, we’ll swap our seats and let you have it.’ I I must have been about, what would I have been? About twelve. Thirteen. Twelve perhaps. And as I say our parents were great friends.
CB: Yeah.
PC: So they knew me [laughs] And my mother in law they were marvellous people in High Wycombe. He was mayor and did all sorts of very good things. She said, ‘The first time I saw you was standing on a table in a very unsuitable dress to a party, dancing on the table.’ [laughs] So it was, you know it was a very unique, unique childhood.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Which Jackie loved too.
CB: I’m sure.
PC: Yeah. And all sorts of famous people. Sir Maurice Dean came. Great friends. He was a very important minister. They were all sorts of things.
CB: The war came to an end in in Europe in May. 8th of May 1945. What happened to your, the Harris’ were still around but when the war completely finished in August then Harris didn’t have a job anymore. So what happened then in terms of the relationship because he moved away?
PC: They moved away. They had very good cousins in Devon and I think he went there. And then he got such a bad press and everything else because he and Churchill didn’t get on. He did what he was told, Harris. And then he had had this terrible time didn’t he which my brother would know more about. And so then they went to South Africa and we went up to Liverpool to see them on the boat. I suppose it was a cargo boat going. Something like that. So, you know I remember it. We went to Cornwall I think for a holiday. We were taken by a sort of nanny and I remember coming back and they were saying this was VE Day or whatever it was going to be and everyone was clapping and that sort of thing. But I don’t remember much about that. It was really the old youngest time with Jackie that I remember so much.
CB: And she went to South Africa with her parents.
PC: Yeah.
CB: And your parents stayed put, did they?
PC: Stayed put because of course my father was still working and needed. After Harris. Who came after Harris? Was it the Bottomleys or the Sandersons? I mean so we, all this went, kept going.
CB: Yes.
PC: With the people at Springfield.
CB: Oh, it did.
PC: They all became great friends. Great friends. I think it was Hugh Sanderson or something like that. Something like that after Harris. And then Bottomley. And then another man. We were older and actually this other man, this other he was strange. I don’t think he had any children anyway but a great friend of ours. His firm invented the ejector seats. And this —
CB: Martin and Baker.
PC: And this man at Springfield there who was in charge. He wouldn’t use, he used his and wouldn’t let anyone else use it.
CB: Oh.
PC: He used it and my father thought that was terrible. That he got out and the others were killed. So, that was, yeah things sort of fade don’t they? When it comes.
CB: Well, when the Harris’ went to South Africa that meant Jackie went and that was the severance of your relationship. What happened then?
PC: Well, really started again when they came back. I think my parents, mum always kept in touch with Jill Harris, Lady Harris. And I think that’s how it just started. They went to live in Goring on Thames when they came back. In the Fairy we called it. It was called the Fairy House. But he was in Africa quite a bit of time I think and then they moved to this house in Goring and that’s because and then we saw a lot of them and he did a lot of cooking and all this type of thing [unclear]. So, so Jackie and I never [sorry, the light’s come on]. We didn’t correspond when they were in Africa.
CB: Right.
PC: I don’t know why. But we, you know we just didn’t. And I was sure mum and her mother did. Was it just, I just don’t know how long they were in Africa before. I can ask Jackie.
CB: Well —
PC: But it was really the war time. We had this wonderful friendship.
CB: Yeah.
PC: With all these famous people.
CB: And all the different interesting personalities of these people.
PC: Oh yes. It was total freedom.
CB: Was, did de Gaulle visit regularly or was it only early on and then he didn’t do it?
PC: Probably early on but I just remember seeing my mother walking around because he was quite tall and she was quite tall. But they had this marvellous freedom. I mean they could discuss whatever they liked walking around the garden. No one heard. No one was there. We were playing around. So it was lovely for all these very famous people.
CB: Right. We’ll stop there.
PC: Yeah. That’s it.
[recording paused]
CB: We talked about de Gaulle but were there other nationalities other than Commonwealth coming along?
PC: I can’t remember but my brother would have known. I can always speak to him and he could write and tell me. I don’t remember them. And I, well you see when you’re about that high they were just people who came and walked around the garden.
CB: Well, in 1945 you were seven.
PC: Yeah.
CB: Weren’t you?
PC: Yeah.
CB: What, were there, we talked about Polish people. So what links did you have there?
PC: Apparently, after the war really there was a Polish camp in Prestwood and I didn’t know anything about it but I remember my mother saying to me this is where the Poles were. And Christopher would be able to say what they did and that sort of thing.
CB: Was it Polish or was it what they called DPs? So they were displaced persons from a lot of Eastern European countries.
PC: Well, I was only told they were Polish. It was quite a small camp.
CB: Oh, was it?
PC: In the wood. Near Prestwood. Prestwood really.
CB: And they had jobs locally, did they?
PC: I imagine so. I imagine. But I don’t know whether there were any helping my parents with the garden. I don’t think so.
CB: No. In Harris’ case he was an important man as commander in chief of Bomber Command. How conscious were you of the security that they were operating at the time?
PC: None at all. It was just total freedom. He I mean of course he had his PAs. Peter Tomlinson, David’s brother and they were just sort of there. I don’t remember anyone else. They just walked over.
CB: Yeah.
PC: They must have had one or two people but there was no what I call security. They were just —
CB: Nothing obvious.
PC: No. Nothing. And I suppose they were in uniform but there was a chauffeur to drive him and that’s all but there was certainly no one with any guns or anything like that.
CB: That you could see. Yes.
PC: That we could see.
CB: Yeah. Going back to de Gaulle because it’s interesting he would never speak anything but French but when you children were playing to what extent did he get involved and how did he speak to you?
PC: Not at all. Not at all. My mother and he walked around the garden and I suppose then they had drinks or whatever it was. No. I don’t think he took any notice. We never met him. We didn’t know who he was but mum said, ‘Oh yes. I spoke French.’ You know and to all these other people. Really they were just people who came and, and had drinks in the hovel. I should think they drank all our orange juice probably. I’ve no idea.
CB: So, what about diet? What would you eat mainly?
PC: Fresh.
CB: As a child?
PC: As a child, fresh. Well, we had the hens. We had bees. We had a wonderful vegetable garden and my mother learned to be a marvellous cook and we had this pig of course. It was all fresh things really because as you say it was rationing. And then there was a lady called Mrs Kindlady who sent a parcel from America.
CB: Oh.
PC: I don’t know who it was but she sent tinned butter and that sort of thing like this.
CB: To you as a family.
PC: As a family. So we had to write back.
CB: Ah.
PC: We wrote back to her. “Dear Mrs Kindlady, thank you so much for the butter and the sweeties.” And I have no idea what happened to the letters but whoever arranged it it was marvellous. These wonderful American quilts. They came when we were small. Big. Huge. There’s a museum outside Bath that has these quilts and they were all hand-made and then we did a lot of sewing together and making things together. Mud pies and all that sort of thing. So it was we were very fortunate I think and I think one or two patients might have given my father something you know. Pheasant or whatever it was going to be. But we had a very healthy diet. Very.
CB: What about fruit?
PC: The first banana I had ever, was given to us by Bomber Harris. Years ago we were on holiday. I think Jackie might have been with us in a house on the south coast somewhere leant to my father. This banana, these two bananas suddenly turned up from him. And of course we had raspberries, apples, his pears.
CB: Rosehip juice did you get?
PC: Yes, we did. Yeah. Yes.
CB: Because that was supposed to have a lot of Vitamin C, didn’t it?
PC: Yes. Yeah. We used to go and collect the rosehip.
CB: You used to go and collect it.
PC: Yeah.
CB: So did you go out on various trips to pick up berries?
PC: Probably. Yeah. We probably did but I do remember and of course we had malt. I loved malt. But that was and wonderful, wonderful stuff called [Miladex?] which cured everything. What did people get. Really it was a marvellous, [Miladex?] was a wonderful whatever it was. Brilliant.
CB: So you enjoyed having that. Yes.
PC: Only when we were poorly.
CB: Ah.
PC: We had to be pretty poorly but we had the malt and tried to have a little extra spoon but no. Mum knew.
CB: And on the question of poorly what was the general standard of health in those days?
PC: Well, because, because we were in the country and healthy in the garden and running around in the winter in the snow we seemed to be alright.
CB: Yeah.
PC: My father had Chickenpox when he was about fifty something and he thought it was Smallpox. Did have that. We went for a long walk and I suddenly said, ‘Oh my back itches.’ That was Chickenpox.
CB: Yeah.
PC: I got it.
CB: Yeah.
PC: That was all. I think I had Pneumonia when I was small and had one of the first children to have M&B. Yeah. I think.
CB: Because we’re talking about wartime and —
PC: Yeah.
CB: The National Service didn’t start until 1948.
PC: No.
CB: So any medical attention needed had to be paid for. How did that work?
PC: It worked because my father, there were a lot of doctors in High Wycombe and they were all friends and in those days if you did something to a doctor’s wife or, you know an operation or something it was all you had, it was all paid back.
CB: Between mates it was free.
PC: Between mates it was free.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Yeah. So we were very lucky.
CB: They’d do cases of wine or something like that.
PC: Well, not perhaps a bottle of gin.
CB: Yeah.
PC: But no, you know in those days very simple. It didn’t matter so it was all done like that. No money passed.
CB: No.
PC: And that, well it was wonderful wasn’t it? It was friendly.
CB: It worked very well.
PC: It worked very well and they were all, everyone was grateful and he was of course the top gynaecologist so that’s why he was out almost every night.
CB: Yeah. Sure. And as you grew up and started doing different things. And although you knew Tim when did your relationship get more strong?
PC: Funnily enough I was in boarding school at [unclear] and my mother she wrote wonderful letters. She said, “I’ve got a wonderful picture Joan and [unclear] son Tim. Would you send it to him in Somaliland and write a letter?”
CB: We are talking about the 50s.
PC: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
PC: When I was at school. Yeah. And then because we saw each other a lot you know he was sort of there and around and that’s it. And so that started I suppose when he was at Oxford and I was cooking at the Royal Grammar School.
CB: Right.
PC: I caught a bus to Oxford.
CB: How long did that take? A journey each way.
PC: Well, sometimes he used to bring me back. I never stayed of course. I suppose I caught the half past four bus from High Wycombe and it must have taken because it went all around the county, it must have taken an hour and a half. Something like that. Oh yes. And as I say I always bicycled everywhere.
CB: Yes.
PC: Because I earned four pounds a week.
CB: Well, people did cycle more.
PC: Yes.
CB: In those days.
PC: Yeah. And if it snowed the headmaster used to come along and collect me and put my bicycle in his car. And then when I was doing later Tim used to do that if he wasn’t at Oxford.
CB: When were you married?
PC: We were married in ’59. And he’d just taken his finals in law so we had a very small wedding with the Harris’.
CB: Oh, did you?
PC: Yeah. We had, there were about twenty people and it was the Harris’ and —
PC: Don’t worry about that. It’s not very interesting this. And the Harris’ in little Little Hampden Church. There were twenty people and our godparents at this ceremony. I think I drove myself to the wedding.
CB: Independent person, were you?
PC: Absolutely. We had this wedding and then we went off on our honeymoon to [unclear] which was a place, an island in in Italy. No one had ever gone there very much. We came back and had a big party because my mother said, ‘Oh, I hate weddings, you know. Two o’clock and you have to leave at five and then you’ve had enough champagne and there’s nothing else.’ So we had this drinks party at, I suppose 6 o’clock for a lot of people. Everyone said to me, ‘You’re so brown.’ So I said, ‘Well, we’ve been on holiday.’ Of course, they thought we’d got married that day.
CB: Oh. I see.
PC: Or I said, ‘We’ve been on honeymoon,’ or something, you know. It was very funny. They couldn’t believe that because it had never happened before. You got married and then you went on your honeymoon.
CB: Yeah.
PC: So that was very funny. It was quite funny.
CB: How many children have you got?
PC: I’ve had three but our daughter died ten years ago.
CB: Oh dear.
PC: Of ovarian cancer.
CB: Gosh.
PC: So she was forty, in her forties. Forty. That was wicked. And so I’ve got two boys.
CB: Any of them gone to medicine?
PC: No. And none gone to law.
CB: Reaction against it was it? What did they do then?
PC: Andrew, he was at Winchester and then he thought he’d go into, and then he went to Liverpool where he met his wife. She’s lovely. She’s a banker. And then he went into shipping and he was a company director for nineteen years and then they got a man in who was renowned for being terrible. So he bullied Andrew. He left. It made him really ill.
CB: Did it really? So he decided to leave.
PC: He’s a most good natured easy person with everybody and he didn’t, they didn’t tell me. He was bullied for two years and it made, and said, ‘Why aren’t you in the office today?’ He said, ‘I’m not very well.’ They never told me. This was a marriage made in heaven this one and so he rang me up. I shall never forget it. One evening I just answered the front door. He said, ‘I’ve handed in my notice.’ He said, ‘We’ve talked about it, Ann and I. We’ve decided we can manage.’ So he’s really her PA and they have these two boys so he did everything for the two boys at Westminster and he is literally her PA. He does marvels for her. She’s, she’s high up in banking. She’s a lovely girl. Lovely. Absolutely lovely.
CB: Super.
PC: And the second, the boy, Roger. He went to the Slade. And then he went up to Lincoln I think. He’s a sculptor. He’s the Head of Sculpture at Bath Spa University and Fine Arts. Can do anything. Very, he’s always been able to do anything. Mend things and do all sorts of things. Great character.
CB: It’s interesting that they should have done something quite different from their parents.
PC: Yeah.
CB: And grandparents.
PC: Yeah. But they both saw that Tim was [[ well things changed.
CB: Yeah.
PC: Tim should never have been, he should have been a dusty old don at Oxford. I said this. In those days you were forced to go in to a family firm, weren’t you?
CB: Yes.
PC: Forced to go.
CB: More or less. Yes.
PC: Well, he was forced and he was obedient and went. A waste of a good brain.
CB: Yes. Not alone in that.
PC: Yeah. He was [unclear] because his father retired and —
CB: Well, your mother had a good brain but she early on didn’t use it a lot did she?
PC: Well, people always wanted to write about the Bloomsbury Group and they had an amazing time in London, you know with Christine Foyle and all sorts of people. No. She wanted to look after her children. But she did write wonderful letters and things. So that was what she wanted to do. It really was an amazing brain. Very very clever. Could go around everything. Like arranging a marriage.
CB: Yes. If we go back to the period when you were with the Harris’s what’s the one thing that stands out about the relationship between your family and you and the Harris’?
PC: Great friendship. Every day. Great friendship. Great trust and joy. Joy. Joy and happiness. As simple as that. As simple as that. You know, when you’re so young you were lucky to have this marvellous childhood.
CB: Yeah. Absolutely.
PC: Totally free. And you made things, you did things, you did all this dancing around the garden [laughs] Yes. We had a lovely, lovely childhood.
CB: It didn’t prompt you to formalise it and take up dancing later.
PC: I wanted to be a ballet dancer.
CB: Did you?
PC: I wasn’t allowed to be. I did ballet. A lot of ballet.
CB: Did you? Yes,
PC: Someone said the other day, ‘You were a ballet dancer weren’t you, Posy?’ And I said I wish I had been but I wasn’t allowed to. You see, that was my mother. It wasn’t that it was just that it wasn’t done in those days.
CB: Yes. Absolutely. Yes.
PC: So I’ve always, and before I was married Tim was doing his his special something in the law. I don’t know. Anyway, some degree from Oxford. So I thought I’m not going to be blamed by his mother for his failing so I went to New York. I got a friend of my parent’s they had these wonderful, all sorts of wonderful people to sponsor me because I had to get a card to work, didn’t I?
CB: Yes. A green card.
PC: Green card. So, I got on a boat. A Greek boat. Tim took me down. Took a long time to get off. I went on this Greek boat, of course right on the bottom [ I saved up for that. It was sixty four pounds or something and it was terribly rough and some friends were meeting me in New York and this man had to keep coming to the docks to see if I’d come in. He was an interesting man in the family. And so I, I got, they lived on Long Island and I had to go work so I went in to the first shop on Fifth Avenue. Got a job. And of course, they loved it. It was Mrs Eisenhower’s favourite shop called [pause] what was it called? It’s gone now, I think. So, I worked there selling jewellery and I did some modelling there. There was a very nice young man who looked after me with no romance. Just very nice. So I —
CB: Purely platonic.
PC: Yeah. Yeah. Because I was engaged by then. Very nice indeed and looked after.
CB: How long did you stay there?
PC: I stayed there for, I went in October and I stayed there ‘til about January I think it was. Going in every day from [unclear]
CB: Did you?
PC: [unclear] Express with two women and I was nineteen I think. I shall never forget you got on this, it was all men. Have you ever been? You’ve been to New York. Well, on the trains they have seats like that and so you push them away and the other way. And I shall never forget when they got in, all these men they were [noise] the noise.
CB: Oh really?
PC: And all they all gambled. Hats on their head you know. And I had to walk from Grand Central Station. Walk.
CB: Yes.
PC: I ran up to Fifth Avenue. I went to [unclear] So anyway, it was good. My mother found my father had some vague relation in Florida so she again arranged it all. So they asked me down to stay with them and I flew down and had the most and then he, he made china or sold china. We went out and we went out every night to a night club.
CB: All action.
PC: Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Every time we went out for a meal we had to turn the plate to see if it was Churchill’s or whatever it was called. And then Tim had to pay for me to come home on the Queen Elizabeth.
CB: Oh really?
PC: Right at the bottom.
CB: Again. How long did that take?
PC: I think it was about five days. I came back with someone called Rosemary Broom and another girl and Rosemary’s father was Broom and Wade in Wycombe. Engineers. And now she’s married to a man called David Nieper who your wife would have heard of. He makes clothes.
CB: Oh yes. Right.
PC: That’s it. It was all, all quite [laughs]
CB: Fascinating.
PC: It was quite funny this going. I thought I’m not going to be blamed if he fails. So, so that’s it. There we are.
CB: What we didn’t talk about —
PC: Yes.
CB: There was rationing for food but there was also rationing for material and clothes so how conscious were you of the clothing options during the war.
PC: Well, my parents used to go to France, I think.
CB: Before the war, after the war but in the war they wouldn’t have.
PC: Just after. In the war, no. They didn’t because —
CB: They couldn’t have gone anyway.
PC: They couldn’t have gone anyway. They went to Sweden. The first place they went to. Sweden.
CB: After the war.
PC: After the war. I’ve still got a pan that mum brought back. So, so I don’t know but we had at home in this time when Jackie was, we had a lady who came in twice a week to do sewing. A lady who came every day. A lady in the cottage and another one to do the ironing.
CB: Oh.
PC: And I suppose and what did I, didn’t wear them much but she used to make us little sundresses or something like that.
CB: Yes.
PC: And then I did a lot of after, after that I did made all my own clothes. We went to the market. Two and six a metre or a yard, sorry.
CB: Yes.
PC: So, that’s it.
CB: Good.
PC: So, there we are.
CB: Well, Posy Clarke, thank you for a very interesting conversation. I think it adds very nicely to Jackie Asherton’s testimony as it were about what she was doing and mentioning you as well. So, thank you.
[recording paused]
PC: In London.
CB: In London.
PC: Yeah.
CB: St Clement Dane’s was it? The church just off the Strand.
PC: No. It was —
CB: Aldwych really.
PC: No. Was it, it was at Westminster but there’s a special chapel down below. Is it St —
CB: Was it in the Houses of Parliament was it?
PC: No. I’ll ask her when I see her because we went. And of course —
CB: This was for her wedding anyway.
PC: Her wedding. Very special. And he said, he said to her when he was going to take her to the church and marry her, give her away he said, ‘What on earth have you got on your head? It looks like a [unclear]
CB: That was encouraging for a start.
PC: Well, typical. That was typical.
CB: Would you say he was a blunt man?
PC: Yes, he was quite, he was quite blunt.
CB: But not maliciously blunt.
PC: No. No. No. I mean, you can imagine him and my mother getting along because he knew he would get an answer back, you know. Not the usual answer.
CB: Yeah.
PC: She’d twist it
CB: Oh right.
PC: And I’ve got this most lovely picture which Jackie has of my mother and him at our wedding. Just the two of them and it was absolutely marvellous. They admired each other I think, you know.
CB: Brilliant.
PC: It’s a lovely picture of him at our wedding.
CB: Well, that was the PS.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Posy Clarke,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 25, 2024,

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