Our Century

Praying for Uncle Joe

Ivor Morgan
Born 1939

Ivor Morgan

"My earliest memory was occasioned by a little-known wartime disaster.

"Two thousand soldiers were photographed just before they embarked on a troop ship. It was probably the most poignant photograph ever taken because all except one perished in a torpedo ambush.

"My Uncle Joe was saved because at the last minute he was diagnosed with TB and was taken off the ship.

" My mother, then 26, was a fanatical believer in the power of prayer and in spite of the blackout organised all-night prayer meetings, possibly in the belief that the Almighty would be more impressed.

"These stalwart members of a tiny little church were indeed brave.

"Searchlights overhead following the faint, feeble glow of wartime shaded lamps, gasmasks at the ready, eight to 10 people, women and men trudged down from Cradeley Heath past the gasworks up a steep alleyway, down a stone-littered unmade road, before reaching the earth path that led to a converted chainmaking workshop.

"It was on one of these occasions that I remember waking and eyes still closed listening to the long soft intermittent whistle of the gas feeding two large gas lights.

"Opening my eyes and sitting up on my mother's lap I can still see in that pale artificial moonlight a lady called Gladys Shepherd wearing a brown Trilby-like hat, stuck in whose hat band was a long brown feather pointing upwards.

" I can still see her as she got up to make the tea. Mr and Mrs Williams, Maggie, Mr Smith - I can still see in my mind's eye gratefully reaching out for their cups.

"And Uncle Joe ? As Rabbi Lionel Blue put it - six million Jews sent up hundreds of prayers a day and every one in vain.

"Did my mother believe that in her case the Almighty made an exception?