The Memories of Barbara Parker
Daughter of John (Mucky) Mason DCM


The Life of a Child in the Lancashire Fusiliers 1947-1959
by Barbara Parker
Daughter of John (Mucky) Mason DCM

Mum and Dad 1941

Any memories of my life with the Lancashire Fusiliers would have to begin with the introduction of my parents. My father, who was born in 1910, worked in a cotton mill in Salford and on the wall of the mill was posted an advertisement to 'Join the Army and See the World'. His mother tried to dissuade him (understandably as this would be only some ten years after the First World War) but, as he worked, he would look at the poster and think to himself "that is what I want to do." He joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1933 and went to Palestine and China, returning home in 1939. War, of course, broke out that year and dad was involved in the bitter experience of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. A German Pincer movement cut off him and his friends and chaos ensued as they tried to make for any coast. He was eventually evacuated from St Malo, with one other LF who had survived, but all his friends from the Palestine and China days perished in the attempt to get out. After his return to England he spoke little of his experiences although he had obviously been scarred by the tragedy. Then in 1941, the LFs were sent down to Bournemouth to train for fresh attempts to fight Germany and it was there he met my mother at a dance and, in the words of my aunt, learned to smile again. Part of the training included very long route marches. These marches happened to pass my mother's chemist shop in the high street and dad would fall out there to get his blisters treated by my mother - she couldn't have had any illusions about a soldier's life after that!



The Chemist Shop

My mother was from a non-military background but she soon seems to have become a staunch LF. From Bournemouth my father was sent to Scotland to train for the North Africa landings with the 78th Battleaxe Division and she went with him until the force sailed in October 1942 to Algiers to begin the long fight through North Africa, Sicily and then up through Italy to the Battle of Cassino. However, one of the first casualties of the landings seems to have been dad's best man at his wedding, which must have upset him a great deal. When remembering him, Fred Lacey always brought a smile to dad's face, as he was apparently one of the regiment's great wits.


Dad, Mum, Fred & May Lacey
Scotland 1942



Dad's first promotion came at the Battle of Medjez-El-Bab - a group of soldiers were sent in Bren Carriers to fire on some German positions that were giving trouble. The others turned back but he decided to have a go and opened up the gun and kept firing until the Germans stopped. Upon his return he was handed a stripe and told to get it sown on straight away.

Dad always said what a hard battle Cassino was and what a good fight the Germans put up. He was awarded the DCM during this battle which was presented to him in 1946 by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. Since I was imminently due to make my appearance into life, my father took his mother, his sister Irene and my elder sister, Marilyn, to the ceremony. Whilst the king was talking to dad, my sister broke away from my grandmother and ran up the red carpet calling: "Daddy, Daddy". Apparently, he was reprimanded for the incident afterwards. I was 13 years old before I knew that dad had won his medal (a letter arrived from the army with DCM after his name one day). He never spoke about it and, whenever I asked, he would say he was just doing his job.
My sister, Marilyn, was born in 1943 and then, after the war, I made my entrance into the world. My first memories are of dad's posting to Egypt with the LFs in 1950 when I was about four years old. Memories are sketchy at that age but certain incidents always seem to stand out. Soon after our arrival in Egypt, my mother, being a young service wife and not aware of any danger, took my sister and I for a walk to explore the Arab quarters. Several youths came out of their houses and started to crowd round with abuse at this unwelcome soldier's wife with her children. She began to be seriously concerned when an older Egyptian came out of one of the houses and shook his finger at the youths - pointing at us children. You have to learn lessons fast as an army wife! We lived in an Egyptian-owned roof flat and our neighbours were Gene Howlett and his family. I can remember playing a game on the flat roof area when a stone raid started. We were all pulled quickly inside where my sister tells me we did our best to see from the window what was going on outside and where a man in a Fez was whipping up the storm. One of our family pleasures was swimming at French Beach where the usual swim was around the buoy and back. One day, to all our surprise, my mother suddenly announced that we were turning back before reaching the buoy. She said nothing at the time but she had seen a very large fish roll in the water. Her first thought was 'shark' but, once on dry land, she hoped it could have been just a porpoise!

French Beach, Egypt
Dad, Me and Janet Howlett

John & Janet Howlett
Marilyn and Me (Arisha)

Another memory is of a group of LF children being taken in a three-tonner to school. We had an armed escort who was not very old and we used to rib him - I expect some of the older girls found him attractive. He used to stand at the back of the vehicle as look out and one day, getting flustered, he dropped his gun on the road. The driver of the noisy three-tonner was oblivious to what had happened and the young soldier had to bang furiously on the back of the lorry to get it to stop. When it did he ran nervously back to retrieve his gun. We, of course, laughed raucously at his plight totally unaware of any danger! My sister remembers another funny incident about a service vehicle: a three-tonner was parked up for the night not far from our houses near the Suez Canal and, such were their legendry thieving skills, the Egyptians managed to steal the wheels whilst the soldiers slumbered inside!

Early in 1953 the LFs were moved on to Kenya to deal with the Mau Mau problem. On first arrival, whilst waiting to be allocated our accommodation, we stayed at The Silverbeck Hotel, which I remember straddled the equator. My sister and I went exploring as children do and, to our distress, we found some kittens that had been put in the river to drown. One was still struggling to live so we triumphantly fished him out and ran to ask if we could adopt him. He was named 'Moses' as we had found him in the bulrushes in the river! Moses never lost his fear of drowning. Whenever my sister and I had a bath, he would prowl round the edge, crying with distress and we would shout "help Moses, we're drowning!" One unfortunate day he slipped on a soapy area and landed in the bath with us. Chaos ensued as two wet children and a panic stricken cat fought to get away from screaming, splashing and sharp claws. He never again paced the edge of the bath but, after that, whenever it was bath time, he would still sit in the entrance to the bathroom crying pitifully.

Moses and Bobby

Married Quarter 30, Nanyuki
Soon after, we were given a banda on stilts to live in which was situated at Nanyuki opposite the 8th Kings African Rifles' barracks. The banda was, in fact, in front of the KAR barracks and my mother, many years later, noted wryly how this made the women and children the first line of defence for any Mau Mau coming out of the vast bush stretching before us. We were given thunder flashes in case of any attack and cutlery was hung from the window catches to act as an early warning of any attempted entry. One night we could feel something shaking the banda and my mother got her thunder flashes ready but it was only some cows that had strayed onto our patch.

One of the bandas had a monkey chained up outside as a pet and a bush baby in a small cage, which makes me shudder now. The monkey used to love eating locusts and I perfected the art of catching them on my way home from school (this consisted of holding the back spiked legs tight) and feeding them to him. He used to chatter in anticipation at my approach before grabbing at the proffered locust and biting its head off. A thick yellow substance came out of the locust and, as this would run down his paws, he used to lick it just like a child eating an ice cream as it melts.

Often Mau Mau attacks consisted of burning down houses and I can remember exploring the debris of one and finding some ornaments that had survived the blaze. I can also remember dangerously running through the huge rolls of barbed wire placed round the bandas - I don't think my mother ever knew!

Sometimes, after a mess function at Nyeri, we used to sleep the night in a mud hut with a thatched roof. One morning, after there'd been a "do" for the adults the evening before, my sister remembers that we children got up and went over to the mess. There was a piano there and my sister started picking out "God Save the Queen" when a soldier, who hadn't made it to his bed the night before, shot up and stood to attention. He was not very pleased to see us!!!

Of course, sad memories are bound to be there and I can remember the dreaded huge Safari ants climbing up our pet rabbit's hutch and finding him dead in the morning in a swarm of them and our black servant being taken away by the police for having a stash of the forbidden 'pombe' drink, said to be the alcohol the Mau Mau drank before a killing spree. We also had to say goodbye to our beloved dachshund 'Bobby'. One incident we came to laugh at later, although unnerving at the time: the Mau Mau prisoners had been brought to cut the long grass round the bandas on an extremely hot day. Mum, feeling sorry for them, sent out a tray of iced orange juice. To show their gratitude they returned to their job, with smiling faces and white flashing teeth, and proceeded to cut as close to our banda as possible. They were using the traditional weapon of the Mau Mau, the panga, which is a big curved knife (useful for work but also for killing) whilst we watched them nervously from the window. Moses, the cat, was having a field day catching rats, almost as big as him, as they tried to flee the pangas. He laid them out proudly in a line for our admiration!

I can remember two names from other families living in the row of bandas opposite the KAR. My sister and I played with Mary and Ann Osborne and there was also a family called Wicks. The families, of course, made the usual trips to the lakes and to Carr Hartley's animal farm, which I believe still exists today under another name. We also often saw Colonel Secretan's family and I can remember their daughter, Vicky, staying the night once when her mother and father were all dressed up with somewhere important to go.

Marilyn with Woffly
Our last posting was to Rochdale where dad was an instructor in the Territorial Army. I can remember him finding it difficult to adjust to the TA - when he told the recruits they needed to cut their hair for the army he got a lecture on how many pounds they spent getting it styled!
My parents finally settled in Bournemouth (where I still live today) and dad became a postman for the rest of his working life. I can remember him getting up at 4am and his day consisted of two delivery rounds - all this at 50 years of age. Colonel and Mrs. Secretan settled in a town near to my parents and they visited every year with a pot of honey from the bees that they kept. Fred Majdalany and his wife also visited my parents not long before Majdalany's death

Me at Carr Hartley's


When I look back, life must have seemed tame for my father after his career with the Lancashire Fusiliers. My parents had been through the depression and then six years of the war. Their children were, of course, born with a comparative silver spoon and with the arrogance of a youth made confident by the years of plenty and peace which others had fought so hard for. Born into the life of the LFs, like all children, I took the family support and atmosphere of the regiment for granted. I have since read many history books and come to know just what a great regiment I had been associated with.

Today I remember my attachment to the LFs with great pride. There are always drawbacks to anything in life and the army was no exception. However, on balance, I am glad I was a service child. What I lacked for in a stable education at one school and scant contact with wider members of my family, I made up for in knowledge of other cultures and to know that, once England's shores are behind you, you cannot rely on the checks and balances we take so much for granted. Service children learn to make new friends easily and to adapt to new situations, which many civilians find so hard. My parents have now passed away, and the great regiment of the Lancashire Fusiliers has passed away, but my experiences will always be treasured and today, in my display cabinet in pride of place, there stands my father's bright and distinctive yellow hackle.

This photo was taken in Kenya and since this feature has been on site Barbara has been contacted by Carolann Kidd who was also in Kenya and they are all on the photo
Left to right:-
Marilyn Mason, Stanley Wicks (Carolanne's brother?), Beatrice Wicks
(mother?), Carolann Wicks (now Carolann Kidd), Barbara Mason, Ann and Mary Osborne with Vicky
Huntley in the background.

Marilyn Mason and sister Barbara on steps of school at Nanyuki Kenya

Marilyn proudly wearing her Dad's DCM.

Class pic of Nanyuki school with Carolann,Stanley and Beatrice Wicks plus the Osborne sisters.X marks Marilyn

Mucky Mason at Buckingham Palace to receive his DCM,with his mother and his half sister Irene. Daughter Marilyn is sitting on his knee.

Stanley Wicks holding horse, Marilyn Mason riding

Click here to see John (Mucky) Mason's page includes Barbara's trip back to Monte Cassino

23rd July 2010
Dear Joe,

Many thanks for drawing my attention to Gladys Warne's photo collection and
it is indeed dad on the first photo. I know we went to Cyprus for a
holiday in 1952 but the photo seems to have been taken in 1957 so I am
asking my sister if she can throw any light on it.

I have just returned from a battlefield tour of WW1 in France and Belgium.
Some time ago we inherited some WW1 diaries and I spent time in transcribing
them and wanted to see where the writer of the diaries had been. Of
course, there were signs of the Lancashire Fusiliers everywhere and I have
taken some photos you might like to see. Apart from the many panels at
Tyne Cot and the Thiepval Memorial there were, of course, many headstones to
the LFs. I have photos of these but I thought I must send you some you may
not know about. In Ypres stands St George's Memorial Church and the first
two photos are from there.

The second two are where we found ourselves
walking down a sunken road as part of the tour. I asked the guide if it
could be the one that I had seen on the old film where the Lancashire
Fusiliers had been waiting for the order to go over the top on the first day
of the battle of the Somme and he didn't know but we then found the second
photo which speaks for itself. You can imagine how I felt and before we
left I picked a poppy to press.

I haven't forgotten that it is nearly time to visit Kitna Price's grave

with best wishes