Leslie and Eric Dickens

Arthur Hamilton Dickens, fifth son of Old John Dickens (written by his grandson Hugh Thomas)

Arthur Hamilton Dickens was born in 1881 in Highbridge, Somerset, near Burnham on Sea, when his mother returned from Malta. He died in 1943.Arthur became an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was stationed in India during the Frist World War. In 1906, he married Florence Bennett, born 1885 in Aden, the daughter of a master gunner. They had two sons, Leslie Arthur Hamilton (1911-1989) and Eric Thomas (1913-1998).

In the 1920s, on their visits to see Old John Dickens in Lincolnshire, these lads encountered their uncle, Ernest George Dickens, a bachelor ex-officer retired to Hogsthorpe, with money to spend and a big car. They said that he was their favourite crazy uncle, full of surprises - of the pleasant variety. He would drive the car at high speed over narrow hump-back bridges over the dykes, yelling: 'Wembley!'

Eric and Leslie lived with their parents in Plumstead in the 1930s and were part time soldiers in The London Scottish, a Territorial Army regiment. When war came in 1939, they both became Army officers. At the end of the war, Leslie retired with the rank of Major and became a Director of Boots in Karachi. Like his father, Arthur, Leslie became a Freemason and rose to the rank of Worshipful Master of the Lodge in Pakistan. On a home leave, Leslie and his wife, Ivy (aka Judy), visited us in Sheffield and my brother and I were deeply impressed with their super car, wonderful luggage, clothes and perfume. Higher beings from another planet, wow!

Leslie and Judy had a son, David, born 1945, who was a good athlete at Tonbridge School in Kent (cricket, boxing and rugby), and became a chartered accountant living with his wife Audrie in Guernsey. Before his death in 1989, Leslie was awarded the OBE.

Before the war, Eric worked as a broker for the California Canning Company in London, dealing in soft fruits and specialist foodstuffs imported from the United States. He was doing nicely, because one of his directors saw him as a promising young fellow and had him earmarked for a senior position in the parent company in California.

Eric, Ruth and Sunny - 1980 - New Jersey

In 1938, Eric's boss travelled on the Hindenberg airship, on its last voyage and died with 35 others when it burned and crashed in Lakehurst, New Jersey. When Eric and his second wife, Ruth, visited John and Anne in NJ in 1980, where John drove Eric down to Lakehurst, and where there is still a small airfield. Eric applied his cheerful charm to the Navy officials and they gave them a private guided tour of the field, the zeppelin hangar and the scorched area where Eric's boss had perished.

Eric was an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps and carried troops into battle in the European theatre. Prior to the invasion of Europe, Eric was stationed in Iceland where he created and led a dance band to make the long winter nights shorter. At the same time, his wife, Peggy, was an officer in the ATS and John and his parents, Ernest George and Mabel visited her when she was stationed near Sheffield in an anti-aircraft battery. Peggy ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel, commanding both men and women, whilst Eric remained a Major. Both were awarded the Territorial Decoration (TD).

Leslie and Judy - 1981

Eric's No 13 Troop Carrying Company RASC lifted both British and US regimental groups into battle, including, for example, troops from the Grenadier Guards and 101st US Airborne Division. Eric saw action from the Normandy landing beaches through to Berlin. He was pictured at the entrance to Hitler's bunker, close to where Hitler and Eva Braun's bodies were incinerated. Eric was one of the first Allied troops to enter the bunker.

After the war, Eric continued his army career, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel. He spent some time in Eritrea, a country he loved, and learned to put chickens to sleep. Local merchants stroked their chickens on the back of the neck, causing a trance-like state which allowed the birds to be laid out in a row in the market, alive but motionless. Eric's men had heard of this skill and before their Christmas Dinner, brought a live turkey to Eric and asked: 'Can you do a live turkey, Sir?'  Eric said, 'I don't know, but I'll try'.  He put the bird under his arm, artfully massaged its neck and, to wild applause from the regiment, the great bird fell asleep. Many years later, his elder son Hugh still upholds this family trick at parties to great astonishment and some applause.

In 1950, I visited Blandford camp, where Eric was the Commanding Officer. My strongest memory is of Eric driving a large, very long car, equipped with two huge air horns; I believe the car was a Humber Super Snipe. The blasts from these trumpets, said Eric, announced his progress and helped to keep the regiment on the alert.

Eric and Peggy had two boys. Hugh Thomas born 1948 and Paul Gerard, born 1951. They both attended Wellington College, a public school with strong army connections. Hugh continued through RMA Sandhurst and became an officer in the Royal Armoured Corps. He retired from the Army in 1996 as a lieutenant colonel, having commanded the 9th/12th Royal Lancers. Paul is a successful financial adviser living in Devon. Both Hugh and Paul are active in field sports with horses, dogs, guns and fishing lines.

John Ernest Dickens

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