Chapter 2
Freedom, Uccello and War

Life as an art student conferred upon me an enormous sense of freedom. In my experience, Wordsworth had been right to say that 'Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy' at a horribly early age, but somehow, miraculously, the prison gates which had begun to close on me at the age of eight had swung open again on leaving school, and I could not agree with the poet that whatever vision had attended me in my youth had now begun inexorably to 'die away, and fade into the light of common day.' On the contrary, life was more exciting than it had ever been, and the vision of the world implicit in my atheism was both liberating and exhilarating: a world not only intellectually more acceptable but also cleaner and brighter than the old, dim, musty world of superstitious bits and pieces which I had left behind. It was a luminous world with no shadows, no muffled edges, no obscure passages or hidden meanings: a world which was potentially intelligible even if there were areas of it which were not yet fully understood. Years later, when I was reading Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, in which he said of Homer's poetry and of his world that 'the syntactical connection between part and part is perfectly clear, no contour is blurred.....Clearly outlined, brightly and uniformly illuminated, men and things stand out in a realm where everything is visible; and not less clear – wholly expressed even in their ardour – are the feelings and thoughts of the persons involved', I was immediately reminded of how I had felt in those first heady days of my right and salty atheism. Life took on something like the same Homeric luminosity and clarity for me, as it had when the Greek sun had warmed and tanned the limbs of Odysseus, and the wine-dark Aegean sea had crusted them with salt.

The RA was a small art school; there could not have been more than fifty students in all, and perhaps fewer than that, but amongst them some became my lifelong friends. Mervyn Peake, a brilliant draughtsman and later to prove an even better writer and poet, remained my friend until he died after an appalling illness which reduced him to a doddery old man in what seemed to be only a few months. The son of a Congregationalist missionary doctor in China and a bewildered little mother, he was as full of vitality as a bottle of champagne is full
of bubbles with a zest for living and a rich imaginative life which I have never seen surpassed. He, too, had rejected conventional religious belief, presumably in reaction against indoctrination by his parents, but later he was to write a poem in which something very like religious faith is implicit.

To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle's wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may, the imagination's heart
Is constellation high and can't be weighed.

Not greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammer out the proof
That life is miracle enough.

It is indeed, and curiously enough Bertrand Russell made much the same point, adding another one for good measure; at least, I believe he did, though I have failed to discover where he said it; but I remember reading somewhere his remark to the effect that there are only two real miracles, first that anything exists at all, and secondly that the kettle never freezes when it is put on the fire; that is to say, existence and the universality of natural law.

But, of course, Mervyn Peake was not the only student at the RA, and I made other friends there; Peter Scott, Eileen Guthrie, Arthur Mackenzie, Brenda Streatfeild and others; and it was at this time, too – to indulge in a little name-dropping – that I shared a studio for a while with Dylan Thomas and one or two other people. But it was Mervyn Peake who was responsible for persuading me to go to Sark in the Channel Islands, where an attempt was being made to found a small artists' colony, and I in turn asked Brenda Streatfeild if she would come there with me; after some hesitation, she agreed to do so, and for the next four years we spent the five or six months from about April to September living there together in a barn, painting, bathing and omnivorously reading the classic works of the great English, Russian and French novelists, which would be bought in the Everyman Library in a cloth-bound edition, unbelievable, by today's standards, at two shillings a volume. We were there from 1934 to 1937, and for me it was a time of almost total irresponsibility, freedom and happiness; but as the years passed and more people arrived to join the little group of painters there, the first fine flush of freedom began to pall a little and even to resemble aimlessness. Perhaps I was growing up.

In 1937, Brenda Streatfeild and I got married, and found somewhere to live in Kent; an old farmhouse with a garden and a number of out-buildings for which we paid a pound a week in rent. Brenda was the product of a family of militant atheists from who I learned a great deal; her father was a doctor and the least rational rationalist I have ever met; immensely kind, fanatically socialist and anti-Christian, especially anti-Catholic, he had reaction with splendidly righteous violence against his rather aristocratic and stuffy background, while her mother was an odd woman with two children by her husband – Brenda was one of them – and two by John Littlewood, the Cambridge mathematician, whose mistress she was for years. A clergyman's daughter, she too was a passionate atheist, an intimate friend of Bertrand Russell, and a brilliant pianist. I owe her an incalculable debt, for I learnt through her how much I had missed by never hearing classical music; she introduced me to Beethoven's piano sonatas, to Mozart, Bach, Brahms and to much else, and this was an experience which overwhelmed me.

During this period, two occasions remain as memorable as that early childhood day when I picked a purple and white pansy for a stranger in a white suit on a white painted bench. As a student at the RA, I often went to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square at lunchtime, there to eat a sandwich or two and look at the pictures. At that time, Uccello's Rout of San Romano hung on a wall near the main entrance; everyone had to pass it in order to reach the other galleries further into the building. I had passed it many times, and it did not interest me; indeed, it seemed wooden, quaint and boring. Then one day it arrested me – almost knocked me down – revealing itself to me in a great flowering burst of balance and delight. No longer wooden, stiff and formal, the figures were poised for action as elegantly as hovering birds, the whole as rich and colourful as a Persian carpet; even the little man lying dead under the horses' hoofs in full armour with his feet towards the observer and his head pointing in the opposite direction, of whom it was often affectionately said that he had died in the cause of perspective, even he was no longer merely slightly comic, but, with the rest of the picture, he was transformed. It was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, now I could see for the first time. Moreover, it turned out that my eyes had been opened not to the glories of
Uccello alone but also to the splendours of the whole world of the early Renaissance in Italy., Thus it was a moment which changed and vastly enriched me and my life.

The other occasion was a little later, after I had left the RA and Brenda and I were living in Kent. For some reason I had gone to London for the day. It was high summer, and I travelled home by train. I found myself in a shabby old suburban carriage with ancient sepia-coloured photographs of seaside resorts such as Margate and Folkestone in Edwardian days flanking a fly-blown mirror on the carriage wall above the seats and a door with a dusty window which could be let down by means of a broad leather strap with holes in it, which one placed over a brass stud to hold the window in the desired position. There was no corridor; I was alone; and as the train reached the Kentish suburbs the evening too on a depth and breathless splendour which was quite unexpected, with the sky fainting away from the pale blue to lemon; the air was like that in Van Gogh's picture of the Restaurant de la Sirene at
Joinville, the landscape filled with a stillness which invaded me like smoke, and the trees heavy and dazzlingly dark in hanging gardens running down to the railway line, while the houses glowed as if they were in paintings by Bonnard. I did not dare move lest I should shatter the vision, disturb the pool of stillness, rupture the membrane enclosing the moment of time as a drop of water encloses a bright bubble of light. I was conscious of myself, too, as I had never been before, of my life within me, the depth and the dynamo-hum of it in the darkness of the circulating blood, and with all this I was sure that I was within a hair's breadth of understanding the meaning of my own existence and that of the phenomenal universe around me; indeed, I knew that I was. But I was not. I am not sure how long the experience lasted, ten minutes perhaps or a little more, and when it died I had discovered no secret; but I had had the experience, and I have never forgotten it.

All this was lived under the lengthening shadow of war. Young men, more dedicated and sure of themselves and the great issues of the day than I was, went to Spain to enlist in the International Brigade against General Franco and his Fascist allies, making me feel slightly guilty for no doing so, and Picasso painted his picture of the carnage wrought by German bombers in the Basque town of Guernica. When it was exhibited in London it greatly impressed me as did the loosely related discovery during these pre-war years of the works of Henry Moore with his marvellous but depersonalized images of man. It was at this time , too, that I discovered the paintings of Braque, Juan Gris, Miro, Paul Klee and the rest, who either banished the human image altogether or distorted it and reduced it to parity with bulls; skulls, guitars, fish, newspapers and clarinets. If artists are the representatives of their society and time, embodying and expressing in the works the deepest self-understanding of their contemporaries, as I believe they are, all this should have terrified me; it did not fit at all comfortably with my inherited humanism with its belief in the supremacy and perfectability of man and the automatically beneficent nature of progress, though it co-existed happily enough with my atheism. But at the time I did not notice the contradictions let alone worry about them, for they were overshadowed by the rantings of Hitler and Mussolini and by the Japanese aircraft over China, and another of a grinning Japanese soldier in uniform with a bayonet fixed on the end of his rifle indulging in bayonet practice, not on a sack stuffed with straw as was usual, but on a young Chinese man with a face like that of a terrified child, as he waited to be stuck in the stomach by the soldier, while a ring of appalled but impassive spectators watched as the two men circled each other like insects in unequal but mortal combat.

Since most of my schoolmasters, uncles and the other adult men amongst whom I had grown up had lost arms, legs, lungs or minds – those who survived – between 1914 and 1918, the thought of war appalled me. Apart from being terrifying, it was a failure of everything in which I believed; a failure of humanity, intelligence, love, justice and sanity and at the same time the triumph of bigotry, ignorance and passion over the scientific approach to the solution of human problems, as I then idealistically conceived such an approach; and the once thing my atheism could not cope with was failure. Once again, it was borne in on me how well my school had done, for while to had spoken of faith in God, it had actually taught me self-reliance and had mocked weakness while extolling self-assertive strength and success. The old boys who had become cabinet ministers, bishops, generals or admirals, or those who had risen to great heights in the law or the diplomatic corps were held up to us all as examples and pointed out with pride on prize day. If they could have done so, I suspect that most of the masters of the school and many of those who had survived its rigours as pupils and had subsequently gone from strength to strength in their chosen occupations would have liked to add an eleventh commandment to the Decalogue, and to have inscribed the words 'Thou shalt not fail' on the stony tablets of our juvenile hearts. In fact, whether they had intended to do so or not, they had done just that to me, so that, as the obvious political and social failures of the time led inexorably towards another war, and as I began to become aware of a number of personal failures – failures of relationship, failures as a painter, failures within myself, some of which were trivial but of which were very far from trifling – I became subject to recurring periods of black gloom and despair.

On the whole, however, these bouts of darkness were short-lived and infrequent, and my atheist paradise remained very much a paradise most of the time, and not for a moment, even in my gloomiest moods, was it troubled by idiotic doubts about the existence of God; at least I was not going to be misled again by that ancient fable. It was a time, too, of the first 'one-man' exhibition of my paintings in a London gallery, of critical success and growing assurance as a painter despite my occasional bouts of despair over individual paintings, and of my first trips abroad. Just before the Civil War there, I had travelled through Spain from Gibraltar and Malaga to Granada, Toledo and Madrid, going from place to place as cheaply as possible by bus, surrounded by Spanish peasants with their chickens and even occasionally their pigs, to worship at the shrines of El Greco, Velazquez and Goya, whose Disasters of War cast a terrifying and prophetic light forward on to what was about to happen once again in Spain and a very little later in most of the rest of Europe.

Not long before the Second World War broke out, my brother and I and my wife and Eileen Guthrie bicycled to Chartres, sleeping in little tents on piles of straw, and delighting the various French farmers upon whose land we asked permission to spend the night by the though that they were playing a part, however small, in promoting at best a little adultery and, failing that, at least some enjoyable fornication; but since by this time Brenda and I were married, and since Eileen was aware of the fact that, as with mathematics, so with sleeping bags, two into one won't go, the vicarious pleasure of our Gallic hosts in the sexual goings-on of their English guests was founded upon an illusion.

But the sight of Chartres Cathedral, as it appeared in the distance like some great ship riding triumphantly over the cornfields of la Beauce, that endless plan over which we pedalled our laborious way from cafe to cafe, croissant to croissant, and cup of coffee to glass of wine, was anything but an illusion; and when we reached the city itself and actually approached the cathedral, I was dazzled. Rodin had called it 'the Parthenon of northern Europe', and he was right; for the encrusted splendour of the sculptured figures of the Portrait Royal and the
other great doorways was at least as exciting in its twelfth- and thirteenth-century way as the carved glory of the Acropolis at Athens must have been before Lord Elgin removed the famous marbles and brought them to London; and the stained-glass windows inside the place were even more breathtaking than the sculptures. That first visit to Chartres, with the innocence and excitement of its carefree irresponsibility, before the peace of Europe was finally shattered by tanks and the sun was blotted out by bombers, was the last time the world allowed me to be young; for although I did not know it then, the next time I was destined to enter Chartres Cathedral was three days after war had finally broken out in 1939, when I was returning from a holiday in southern France near Narbonne, and already the glass had been removed for safety; the windows were empty, and the moonlight was streaming into the cathedral, lighting the silence of the nave with the milky and improbably radiance of a dream. I remember wondering how many people would be dead by the end of the war and thinking that it might be as many as five or six million. In the event, sixty million proved to be nearer the mark.

On returning to England I joined the army, as did many of my pacifist contemporaries, for though war was abhorrent, the thought of the triumph of Hitler's Germany was even more so. Indeed, the prospect of the dominance of Nazi policies, beliefs and behaviour over the body politic of the civilized world was as appalling as the thought of the triumph of syphilis or cancer over one's own mortal body. In fact, joining the army after years of increasing anxiety over the possibility of the outbreak of war was a relief; as a private soldier I could no longer do anything for the world (not, of course, that I had ever been able to do so), so I found myself free of both political and personal responsibility for whatever the future might bring, and my days were taken care of by other people. It was a strange kind of haven in the midst of a world in process of violent dissolution, but it had its advantages. For one thing, as I shared my days with the other private soldiers in my platoon, it conferred on me freedom from the middle-class ghetto in which I had been raised; bricklayers and engine-shunters became my friends, and after a little initial embarrassment treated me as such, showing me photographs of their wives and girlfriends, and complaining bitterly at the way the army treated them. It cast an interesting light on my own past that I and two of my fellow recruits, Tony Brett who had been educated at Stowe and Jack Grayburn who had also endured a public-school education, and who was later to be killed at Arnhem and awarded a posthumous VC, were the only people who were not convinced that the army was doing its sadistic best to destroy them; conditions at school had been similar and if anything rather worse than those imposed on us by the army, so that we were comparatively happy, while my engine-shunting friends were not. Socially, it was a richly mixed existence; Tony Brett was the son of the acress Zena Dare, who had a cottage at Ascot not far from the place where he and I and Jack Grayburn were eventually sent to be trained to be officers, and it was in her house that I met Joseph Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy, Bobby and Edward. He was the American Ambassador to the Court of St James at the time and was convinced that England would lose the war. I did not like him. I much preferred my engine-shunters who had no doubt that he was wrong, and though a commission was soon to reassert the control of the class ghetto upon me bodily, my heart was free once and for all from its lunatic and impoverishing limitations.

As the sky gradually darkens before a summer storm, and a few heavy thundery drops, spaced out and falling as deliberately as ripe apples in autumn, give notice of the coming downpour, so the bombs came. Tentatively, almost shyly at first, they dropped from a dark sky and killed a few luckless people, as German bombers ranged over the country at night virtually unopposed and indulged in a little target practice. A cottage near Zena Dare's was demolished while her son and I and Ambassador Kennedy sipped her brandy just after the
fall of Paris, but it did not greatly disturb us. Before the war everyone had imagined that the effect of bombs on open cities would be so much worse than it actually was at this time that, far from being unnerved by the impact of the first stealthy onslaught, its effect was almost euphoric; but the euphoria did not last long. I was commissioned into the Buffs in September 1940, and I joined the 4th battalion in a camp near Ross-on-Wye, where it was waiting to go to Malta. Since, eventually, it was taken there through the Mediterranean by the Royal Navy and shipping space was severely limited, the commanding officer was told to leave the reserve company behind; and since, as the most useless and newest officer, I was eminently dispensable, I was left behind in charge with vague assurances that at some time in the future I should have to bring it out by way of the Cape to join the others. In the meanwhile, I was moved to Plymouth, with about a hundred and forty men to await transportation, and it was at Plymouth early in 1941 that I discovered just what bombs could do when they ceased to be shy and began in earnest to produce their crop of corpses. As a junior officer, I was ordered to take a small party of men to help clear up the city after a raid. We dug one old man out of the rubble of a collapsed brick tunnel under the main railway line not far from Plymouth Station, where he had taken shelter; clearing the bricks one by one, the first thing we came across was his pink bald head, fringed with a ruff of white hair and spotted with blood; it was still warm, so we hoped that he might be alive, but he was dead. We took him to a room in the local primary school which had been pressed into service as an emergency mortuary, and there we laid him on the floor with a number of other corpses. I shall always remember a young woman with a child on either side of her, sitting up with their backs propped against the wall; apart from the fact that they were totally naked, as pale as milk and unnaturally still, there seemed to be nothing wrong with them; but they, too, were dead, killed by blast and stripped in the process. 'Blast does funny thing sometimes,' said a jovial man who seemed to be in charge. He was right; later that morning I found what looked like a wig in the wreckage of an aircraft which had crashed during the raid, but when I picked it up it proved to have meat inside; it must have been a scalp which had belonged to one of the crew.

Early in 1941, orders at last came that I was to take the reserve company to Malta. We went by sea in a large convoy which, as was expected, travelled by way of Cape Town, and landed in Egypt on 10 May, just after Crete had fallen to the Germans and the sea route to Malta had thus been blocked. As a result we were labelled 'For Disposal', but in the meanwhile we provided a guard for part of the docks at Alexandria, where I watched the bodies of men killed by German dive bombers over Heraklion harbour being cut out of the tangled wreckage of the ships. The Orion had been hit in three places; it took almost three weeks to rid her of bodies and bits of bodies. The smell in the Egyptian sun was appalling as she and her sister ships were cleared of the dead. I never got to Malta, but stayed in Egypt, where for the next two and a half years my life was punctuated by bodies and bits of bodies. I never got used to them. Sometimes the only protection against them was to laugh. On one occasion, one or two friends and I were watched an aerial battle when an Italian airman baled out of his plane as it caught fire, and we saw his parachute begin to split until it became an open-ended cylinder; he plummeted into the ground a hundred yards away, and splashed like an over-ripe fruit. In sheer self-defence against such a sight, the only thing to do was to laugh – at least, that is what we all did – helplessly and feeling sick.

Shortly after arriving in Egypt, my 'disposal' was arranged by attaching me to a small group of people whose task it was to study photographs of enemy-held territory taken from the air, and to gather as much information from them as possible. I knew nothing about the job, but I knew a little about photography, and that was enough for the army, as indeed it was for me, for it was fascinating work. After a few days basic training in the technique of 'reading'
stereoscopic photographs, I was sent to join three other people who were doing the job in the Western Desert. I knew from reading Gibbon that the Egyptian desert in the third and fourth centuries had been as full of saints and hermits as a Christmas cake is full of currants, and now that I was there myself I was not surprised that they had chosen to live in its hot and stony wilderness; for while Gibbon had mocked them, and as an atheist I disapproved of them, the desert made it impossible for me not to begin to understand them, and even indeed to share something of their taste for its desolation. It was a place of poverty in the truest sense of complete absence of possessions, things, comforts and frills: indeed, a place conferring on me a sudden freedom which was exhilarating; living there after a lifetime spent in the material clutter of civilization was like emerging at night from the noisy, overcrowded and smoke-filled saloon of a luxury liner on to the deck with no sound but the wind in the rigging and the swish of the sea under a foam of silent stars. The desert might deprive you of all our accustomed securities but, if you were prepared to accept it, it gave you back the unexpected security of a life of minimal demands, in which the self-evident vulnerability of every living thing, especially in time of war, made the fact of being alive at all the one thing that mattered. Like the desert, life was spare, but in its spareness it was both precious and astonishingly beautiful. But, of course, there were times when it was extremely frightening too, as I got tangled up in battles; part of my job was to take information gleaned from the photographs I had studied down to the men doing the fighting, and while their task was incomparably more dangerous than mine, never having been a brave man I found being bombed and shelled and generally assaulted with homicidal intent terrifying. Indeed, I was so frightened at times that I found myself reverting to childish magical rituals to ward off danger, keeping a polished stone in my pocket as a talisman, repeating the Lord's Prayer and knowing that, if I forgot the words in the middle, something awful would happen, or promising to no one and nothing in particular that if I got out of whatever unpleasantness I happened to be enduring at the time, I would get drunk less often, mind my sexual P's and Q's more carefully, or try to be less unkind to the people I disliked. In the event, of course, when the danger was safely past, I would immediately get drunk, take what sexual pleasure I could find, and be particularly bloody to those whom I disliked in an attempt to expiate my self-disgust at succumbing to such superstitious nonsense.

As timer passed, and more and more people were needed who could understand the value of the information contained in aerial photographs, I was recalled to Cairo, after about eighteen months in the desert, to join a man named Thornley, a fluent Arabic speaker and a most civilized and charming person, who had lived in Egypt for years, as an instructor on a series of courses designed to train people to know about photographic intelligence; he had been running these courses single-handed for some time, but could no longer cope on his own. So I hired a room in a pension in Heliopolis run by a formidable Armenian woman. One of the other inhabitants, a man of about thirty, had been given an office job by the military police after a very small Italian anti-tank bullet with an enormous muzzle velocity had gone straight through him somewhere near his solar plexus at such a high speed that it had cauterized the wound in the process, emerging and leaving him virtually undamaged: or so he told us. There were one or two girls in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force living there too, one of whom used to come down to breakfast in distractingly inadequate clothes with predictable effects upon the men present; but if any of us made even the smallest advance towards her, she would assume a flinty middle-class expression of disapproval, retreating to her room and making it quite clear that her stainless steel virginity was as impregnable as a bank vault. She moved after a while, and her place was taken by other who were both more friendly and less well-armoured. I got to know one of them very well, spending most of my spare time with her and eventually moving out of the pension and sharing a flat with her.

I loved both Egypt and its people. Most British soldiers blamed the unpleasantness of being caught up in a war on the place and its inhabitants, though if they had been there on honeymoon they would have loved both; but in the circumstances they used them as scapegoats, loading all their fears and frustrations upon them, and I was considered both mad and unpatriotic to love Cairo and its people. Some of the latter impressed me by the depth and strength of their Islamic faith; after moving from the pension to live in a flat, I had a servant called Mubaraq whose whole life was informed by a kind of matter-of-fact, un-pious awareness of God which influenced everything he did, however trivial. I had never met anything like it in a Christian, and while I regarded it as an interesting survival from medieval times and Mubaraq himself as a kind of living fossil rather like a coelacanth, he was impressive nevertheless. So, too, were some of the mosques which I explored in my free time with Frank Scarlett, an architect, and Ben Nicolson, the elder son of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West and not to be confused with Ben Nicholson, the painter. The great mosque of Ibn Tulun which had been built in about Ad 876 seemed to me to be one of the world's great buildings, and En Nasr, built by Mohammed ibn Qalaum in about 1318, was not much less glorious, while the university of El Azhar lived up to its name, The Splendid. There was a quality of openness about these buildings, a simplicity and dignity and spareness, which reminded me of the desert and of Mubaraq's faith in God, and was in terrible contrast to the tawdry clutter and noisy commercialism of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which I visited later with Ben Nicolson. How much of all this sank down and settled somewhere below the surface of my mind, like rain seeping through to an underground reservoir, I do not know, but I suspect that some of it must have done so. At the time, however, what impressed me even more than the splendours of Islam were the glories of Pharaonic Egypt. I spent two periods of ten days' leave in Luxor, the first with Frank alone and the second with Frank and the girl with whom I was sharing a flat, and the impact of the great temple of Amun at Karnak, the Ramesseum at Thebes and the other great buildings at Deir el Bahari and Medinet Habu, was overpowering. 'Art is a language,' said Herbert Read, and he was right; certainly the gods of ancient Egypt spoke to me during those visits, even if they did so in a language I did not fully understand and of things I did not wish to contemplate. It was impossible to ignore them.

Late in 1943, after nearly three years in Egypt, I was flown home to join the School of Military Intelligence at Matlock in Derbyshire, there to pass on before the invasion of Europe the knowledge about photographic intelligence gained in the Middle East, I think that some of the foundations of my atheism had already been partly undermined by dead men as well perhaps as by Ibn Tulun and the gods of Egypt; but I had no idea at the time that this was the case and, if it had been put to me, I should have vigorously denied it. I was, I believed, as staunchly atheist as ever, and the sight and sound of bombers in their hundreds against the Derbyshire sky at dusk, as they droned their way eastwards to destroy Dresden or Hamburg or some other German city, did nothing to persuade me that a loving deity was in ultimate command of history.

My first child, a daughter, was born on Christmas morning 1944, and some month later, on 6 August 1945, I was pouring myself a gin and tonic before lunch in the Officers' Mess at Matlock when someone turned on the one o'clock news and I heard that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima; apart from a momentary thought that it might have been more humane to have dropped it out to sea or on some paddy fields, having first warned the Japanese to watch its effect, I shared the general feeling of excitement that it probably signalled the end of the war. As everyone knows, it did so, but I was no demobilized from the army until the spring of 1946. Most unexpectedly, the peace, for which in common with everyone else I had been longing for six seemingly endless years, came as something of an anti-climax, flat and lifeless. I returned home to Kent and my paint-box to discover that somewhere along the line I had left behind me, once and for all, the rubble of my youth.
Antony Cyprian Bridge