My father’s WWII duty ended in Northern Germany, at Lübeck, northeast of Hamburg. He was demobbed in late January 1946, after more than six years of active service, having been involved in the invasion, wounded in the fighting in France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. He made his way back to England, where he received £95 and a suit from the UK government, visited his parents in Norfolk, and reunited with my mother in Glenmanus, a small rural village just outside Portrush on the north coast of Ireland.
Nine months later, almost to the day, I was born.
My father had a commitment from his former employer, Sainsbury, to enable him to resume his pre-war managerial career, but he turned it down. Despite having no agricultural background – his father was a classical musician and his mother a teacher, he had decided to start a poultry breeding farm. His interest in poultry dated from when he was rested from the fighting and spent two weeks at a poultry farm in The Netherlands. With most of his limited capital, he bought a pedigree cockerel and twelve hens and started his fledgling breeding farm on a small plot of land allocated to him by his father-in-law.
In the meantime, while his stock of birds slowly expanded, he subsidized his income by playing piano with his dance band, initially at Barry’s dance hall in Portrush, and later at the Northern Counties Hotel, in that era one of the premier hotels in Ireland.
By 1951, the poultry flock grew too large for the small plot of land in Glenmanus. My mother’s uncle Bill Douglas, a retired farmer, granted my father a 99-year lease on some fields that he owned beside Carnalridge Primary School, on the road to Coleraine. A new house was built and in 1952 we transferred to our new home. It was the start of Greenacres Poultry Farm. Expansion was rapid and within a relatively short time, the fields were fully utilized. All income was reinvested, and my parents never had a holiday; they worked every day of every year. There is never a break from livestock on a small holding.
My father’s reputation soon spread and in 1958 Silcock, the leading animal feed company, sponsored a ‘Poultry Demonstration’, to which were invited farmers over all the north of Ireland. A large tent was erected, with tables and chairs, and for two days the invitees arrived and were hosted with presentations, demonstrations, tours of the farm and Irish hospitality.
It was judged to have been a great success and my father’s business prospered.
The farm was never exclusively for poultry breeding. A herd of pigs was introduced together with a small flock of 30 sheep, to keep the grass under control. In addition a flock of turkeys was added and once a year pheasant chicks were hatched for a local landowner.
But disaster struck in Northern Ireland in about 1964 with a severe outbreak of fowl pest, a devastating chicken disease. Ireland was very dependent on its agriculture and despite strict quarantine practices, somehow the disease had entered the country. The government mandated that there could be no movement of any livestock between farms. My father had little capital and in a short time he was out of cash. Despite his years of being a solid client, his bank was of no help. It was yet another example of banks being your fair-weather friend!
Everything on the farm that could be sold was sold and with the pittance that he accumulated, he bought a small grocery business that was then available in Portrush, across the road from the train station. It belonged to a Mr Gibson, who was retiring.
The business was never a great success. Portrush was in long-term tourism decline. There were fewer and fewer visitors and a new supermarket in Coleraine negatively impacted local small grocers. My father persisted for several years but finally surrendered to the inevitable and finished his working years as the store manager at Kelly’s, a nearby complex of hotel, bars, restaurant and nightclub.
After my mother died in 1985, my father returned to his first love – music. He bought a then-state-of-the-art organ and re-established his reputation as a talented musician. And until the week he died in November 1995, he provided background music in several local hotels and restaurants.
My father was talented at everything in which he was involved. He was a brave and courageous soldier, wounded but refusing to succumb. He was an innovative farmer, who challenged the boundaries of poultry breeding. He survived through his prior training in the grocery business. And his talent as a musician never failed him.
He has proven to have been a difficult act for me and for my sons to follow.