Fred Rouse, was a typical Cockney lad. Stroppy at times, a lean, tall, gangling boy. He and my older brother became good friends when they both started senior school together, Queens Head Street School, Islington aged eleven. Over the next few years, Fred became a very frequent visitor to our home. Although Mum, thought of him as a rough diamond, he was always polite and respectful whilst in our house and in return Mum would always include Fred at meal times.
Eventually Fred revealed to my brother how desperately unhappy he was at his home. Apparently, his real father had been killed in the Second World War and his mum had married a brutish bully who disliked Fred and wanted him out of the house. That was fine by Fred, but he had neither the experience nor the means of taking care of himself. I’m guessing that as Fred was now a teenager, he was a bit full of himself and probably answering back without knowing the consequences. One evening it all kicked off at Fred’s home and he came to us to ask if Mum and Dad would take him in. That was a huge ask, as we only had four rooms – kitchen, two bedrooms and the living room. There was already, mum,dad and us three boys. That terrible evening Fred was sobbing pitifully, and I hoped he could persuade dad to let him sleep on our bedroom floor. My parents were not rich as dad was only earning £2.10 shillings* a week food, school kit, and other costs, dad gently explained it was just not possible given our circumstances. He advised Fred that in the very least his mum had a duty of care toward him, and he should go home- if his step-father would not admit him he should go to the police station and report his so-called dad and mum as he was still only fifteen.
Fred did as my dad had suggested. Then he was told he had to find a job or get out. Fred came to see us and told Mum, he had an appointment the following day to see if the “Royal Navy” would let him join. Of course we all wished him every success.
Nearly four years later, a very smart looking man was once again on our doorstep, but this time he was a very confident. He had lost all of his cockney accent, speaking in quite a clipped, articulate and deep voice. Dressed immaculately in a distinctive sober suit, he told his story to us over several cups of tea. His naval interview had gone well and on being welcomed into the service, was asked to consider which branch of the service appeal to him the most. He, of course asked for a short breakdown of what service opportunities might be open to him?
It turned out, Fred became a “Sub-Mariner” and absolutely loved the comradeship, travel to all parts of the world he even appreciated the discipline and the engineering training he was expected to absorb. He had forged a close relationship with a young lady, who came from a distant part of the world that I had never heard of. The pictures of him in uniform were outstanding and I seriously thought of joining up. However, by that time I had started my apprenticeship.
That was the last time we saw Fred and I often wonder what became of him. I would like to think he might have risen through the ranks and became a trusted officer, with a responsible and happy life.
*Corrected for inflation that is £64 a week in 2017 well below the average wage in 2017.