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BOB CURTIS: Farewell to old friend John

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

St Mary's square gang: John Davis

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IT'S strange how when Pat Ivey telephoned to say that John Davis, ex-resident of Higher Brixham had died, the ol' memory box drifted astern almost 70 years, to when John and I were part of Cowtown's St Mary's Square Gang.

Sitting quietly for a few moments I remembered John's next-door neighbours, Ron, Stan and Billy Ivey.

Close by lived Des and Dave Waldron; across the road were the Greenham's — Charlie, Terry and their younger brother, Tony.

The Glidden boys, Roy and Fred lived in Horsepool Street and close to the church, Arthur King.

In truth, we weren't really a proper 'gang' as such. More a mixture of wild scallywags; youngsters who loved kicking a tennis ball about in Horsepool Street after school. We went seagulls' nesting during holidays, played conkers and lived in total fear of PC Banks, the local bobby.

We admired John because his was the only father among our group who drove to and from work. His transport was a council steamroller and each night it was parked on the square.

After supper, when Mr Davis went to the Bell Inn we kids clambered all over the steamroller… pretending it was a German tank.

As the years rolled on and the 'gang' went their separate ways, there was added respect when John came home in the uniform of the Royal Marines. And more so when he entered local politics and in 1997 was appointed mayor of Torbay.

Farewell, John Davis. You are well remembered by the gentle folk of Higher Brixham.

WHEN people moan about immigrants taking advantage of this country's generosity, reaping benefits and civil rights without contributing to the system, I sometimes have mixed feelings.

Yes, it's wrong that 'foreign' families are housed in expensive houses or given financial support for relatives back in their homeland, especially as many UK pensioners, having paid their dues, struggle to get by. That seems totally unjust.

Nevertheless, my mind drifts back to being in difficulties in a foreign country. As a Junior Ordinary Seaman on the Liverpool registered vessel MV Mooncrest, we were docked in the Italian port of Civitavecchia.

Acting as night-watchman, my afternoons off were spent exploring the ancient Italian town.

The ship was on charter to the French Foreign Legion, and there was a lot going on that a 17-year-old JOS didn't understand… like wholesale smuggling of tobacco and cigarettes.

Coming back to the ship one afternoon the quayside was crowded with police and custom officers. Standing in the bunch of curious onlookers I watched the crew being led down the gangway and bundled into police vans.

The Irish bo' sun noticed me standing there and made signals to keep quiet. When the police vans drove off and the watchers drifted away I discovered the gangway was guarded by the police. What to do now? Going to the local church and explaining my predicament the priest advised me to go to the police station and give myself up. Not even a cup of coffee was offered.

Walking around the harbour I met the local cobbler who went from ship to ship selling homemade sandals. I'd purchased a pair a few days earlier and he recognised me and knew about the crew being arrested.

In very poor English he offered to take me to his home, where I met his wife and 15-year-old daughter. Speaking better English than dad, she explained that I could sleep in the workshop and be part of the family, in exchange for helping her father sell his sandals on different ships in the port.

This went on for 10 days and I enjoyed the experience. The cobbler introduced me to his brothers, cousins and friends and never hid the fact I was 'illegal'. But they couldn't have been kinder.

Each day we'd pass my arrested vessel which was still under guard by policemen and, to be cheeky, I even said 'good morning' to them… in Italian!

Suddenly, one day the gangway was empty and venturing back aboard, I discovered the ship's owners had paid the fine and the vessel was free to sail. Nevertheless, I've never forgotten the kindness shown to the 'illegal immigrant' by the cobbler and his family.

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