By Bryan Hodgekins
Key Themes: autobiography, depression, war, poverty, ECT
‘Born to Be’ is about Bryan Hodgekins life, suffering the bombing, evacuation, playground of bombed out building, begging for money (mud larking) and accepting it as normal. The child never questioned the poverty, lack of food or belongings. He believed that physical abuse was normal and was deserved. His natural personality is a bright happy go lucky optimist, yet the terrible ordeals he experienced left life long scares. However, the book is not depressing it is an uplifting tale of a child of a different generation. Bryan never lost his belief in people. This experience did make him determined to achieve. He self taught himself literary skills to express his true nature in this heart rending book.
About the Author
Bryan Hodgekins was born in April 1938, in the back streets of Portsmouth. He grew up against back drop of hunger, poverty and war. In the streets where he lived there were bombed out houses. These were his play ground.
Bryan was an optimist but even he couldn’t escape how these traumatic years affected him. Despite early disadvantages and the desire to prove himself, the past caused a life of trying to beat years of depression.
Bryan needed to achieve in his life. In the Marines Bryan earned the title of Commando through his dedication and support of others. Later he became a self employed electrician. But despite these achievements the darkness from his past forever haunted him. When his daughter was five she was diagnosed with sclerosis of the liver that was terminal. It was at that time he fell into a deep depression which has, off and on followed him through his life. He was forced to have Electric Shock Treatment, which didn’t help and eventually changed his personality making times difficult for his family. He still suffers, but now has learned to overcome it and is enjoying life. Bryan has written many plays, musicals and stories and has had three of his plays produced at local theatres.
Then came D day, and what a time we boys had, as Portsmouth was packed full of soldiers with tanks, big guns, and boats with wheels on which they called ducks. And when we managed to sneak down to Southsea seafront we could see all kinds of ships as far as you could see. Not only were there our soldiers there, there were Americans, Canadians and lots from lots of other countries. I remember asking one of the Americans for some chewing gum with the well known saying “Got any gum chum?”
He laughed as he gave me some, and as you would expect all the other boys gathered round. Then one of the boys asked if Clark Gable was there, another boy asked about John Wayne. Again the American soldiers laughed; one told us that Mr.Gable was out fighting the Japs and John Wayne was still fighting the Indians. They continued to laugh as we went on our way.
The next day we had to go to school, and were kept in because of the doodlebugs. So we missed going back down there. But the following day we went down there very early so we could see them before going to school. But when we got there almost everybody had gone. There were still lots of ships though, and some had big blocks of concrete behind them.
Then after we left school that evening we wanted to see some more, but were not allowed to. But we could hear in the distance big guns, and what a noise it was, considering it was over twenty miles away. Then came the big aeroplanes flying off to where the sounds were coming from. We all cheered as they went over. What a sight it was. To us boys it was one big game. We were not thinking about any one of our soldiers being killed; only Germans.
A few days later we watched some of the other ships leave, including the ones with the great big blocks of concrete. Then we saw great big ships and ferry boats with big red crosses on their sides coming back. As you might have guessed by now, we boys were living the war.
Then everything went quiet, apart from the doodlebugs. Then all of a sudden everything stopped, there were no planes flying over, no boats of any consequence in the harbour and not a solider in sight. Yes, the war was over.
There was lots of dancing in the street and lots of cuddling as the men and women came home from the war. It was nice to see all the uniformed men come walking down the street to their wives and families. We boys always gave them a cheer. Mind you, there was one soldier who was very thin and did not look very well. My mum told me “He was rescued by the Australians from a Japanese prison camp.”
I did try at the time to understand why they treated our soldiers like that, and wondered if we were the same as them. I do remember that man was very ill for a very long time.
After all the homecomings and celebration came the street parties. I even now have a problem explaining the delight of it all. That’s when I tasted my first banana. I had to get a grown up to help me because I didn’t know how to peel it, would you believe that now. After it was peeled I remember just looking at it. I wanted to eat it straight away, then on the other hand I wanted to keep it in my hand for as long as possible.
Then came the moment when I took my first bite, not a great big one, just enough to taste it, and then rolled it about my mouth. The taste to me was out of this world. It was then that I ran into a corner and shielded it, in case some one might snatch it off me. I can tell you, that banana lasted me a full half hour and when I had finished I started to lick the inside of the skin. I came out of the corner, not quite sure of what to do with the skin. Then as I walked to the tables in the middle of the street, a lady said, “You look as if you enjoyed that. Do you want another one?” She then went on to press a banana firmly in my hand. I didn’t say anything, for I was near to crying with delight. I just ran back into the corner as I remember thinking the lady had pinched it for me. So this time I gobbled it up quickly. Then Mr. Bob our local policeman shouted “Come on, sit down at the table Bryan, we want to get started.”
As I sat down some of the grown ups who were sitting down with us started banging the tables. I wondered what they were doing at first, thinking it was a naughty thing to do, then I saw the other children doing it so I joined in. Then all of a sudden, all the women in the street came out of their houses with large plates loaded with food and placed them on the table. Again there was food I had never seen before. There was so much of it there was not enough room on the table for it all.