Published: 00:00, 30 July 2016
He is used to sharing childhood memories of village life as a member of a special community group but now Bernard Crowhurst hopes to reach a wider audience with his memoirs.
The 81-year-old founded the Spare Parts Club, a group of lifelong friends who regularly get together to reminisce about growing up together in Darenth.
But he has also been busy putting pen to paper, diligently handwriting his lifetime experiences of growing up in the north Kent countryside, being evacuated during the Second World War, serving with the army in the Far East and working for more than 40 years as an engineer at Stone House Hospital, the former City of London Lunatic Asylum.
His tales are fascinating and impressive in equal measure, not least because Mr Crowhurst has written them all from memory, giving him the perfect working title of “Off the Top of My Head”.
A family friend is now helping to put them all together in a printed format, and Mr Crowhurst said he would be delighted if his life story was published.
“I’ve got marvellous memories and I’m fortunate that I’m in my 80s but can still remember everything. Looking back on my life, it’s been incredible I think, a really beautiful life.
“There are lots of stories within this story of mine that I think would be of great interest to a lot of people.
“It’s all handwritten because I’m not computer literate and at times I sit down and start writing and will still be there four hours later, then I’ll go weeks not doing anything.
“But although I have written a lot, there’s still a lot more I could add.”
Mr Crowhurst’s story begins with his birth in October 1934 and charts his early years living in Lanes End, Darenth, and going to Darenth Infants’ School in Green Street Green Road.
The grandfather considers himself very lucky to have grown up surrounded by woods and, together with the start of the Second World War, provided him with a rich supply of tales to tell.
“We lived in the woods more than at home and all with the blessing of our parents, for they knew we were safe and enjoying ourselves despite the war going on around us.
“We used to find a lot of bombs that fell into the soft earth and still intact and we became experts at disarming them, even at the tender age of 10 or 11.
“The Second World War was in its infancy but was the beginning of the most exciting time of my young life, a lot of which would scare the life out of most people today, especially the modern health and safety brigade”.
Life was not all fun and games though, with air-raids, bomb blasts and loss of village life to contend with. As the war raged on, Mr Crowhurst had a short-lived taste of evacuation in Devon, before returning to live with his grandmother in Anne of Cleves Road, Dartford.
His teenage years were spent at Dartford East Secondary School, where Mick Jagger’s dad, Joe, was maths master and a fellow pupil was Dave Charnley, who went on to become a British, European and Commonwealth champion lightweight boxer known as The Dartford Destroyer.
Mr Crowhurst excelled in sport and athletics, but it was his enjoyment of metalwork which led to his first job at Dartford-based Evridge Engineering, having left school in 1949. He later joined his father on a construction site at Littlebrook Power Station before working life was interrupted by National Service in 1952.
After basic training Mr Crowhurst set sail on Empire Trooper for Korea, only to be told on reaching his destination in July 1953 that the war was over.
However, it was while stationed in Singapore and later Hong Kong that he first set eyes on the woman who would become “the love of his life”, Patricia Emery, in a photograph sent from home.
Their relationship may have begun thousands of miles apart but it went on to last 54 years, with the couple marrying in March 1956. Three years later they moved into their only home in Kirby Road, Stone, and had their daughter, Lynn, in September 1961.
Mr Crowhurst’s career continued at the London Paper Mills in Dartford before he started in the engineers’ workshop at Stone House Hospital, a job that was to last 42 years and also led to him being chairman of the staff sports and social club for 18 years.
“It was a wonderful place and had cinema projector screens and a fully-equipped theatre stage, often performed on by actors and actresses from RADA who went on to become famous names,” said Mr Crowhurst, who still lives in Kirby Road.
“One activity I particularly enjoyed was being involved in both the patients’ football and cricket teams, playing for them in more of a policing role as some could be a little unpredictable as to their behaviour.”
“There is so much more to tell but on July 21, 2008, I lost the love of my life and so I have decided to I’m going to stop writing then. She was a remarkable woman.”
Mr Crowhurst retired in 1997 but has gone on to give local history talks. Retirement also gave him and his wife more time to enjoy exotic holidays around the world.
In his writings, Mr Crowhurst has only got as far as 1981 when they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. But he has decided he will stop once he reaches 2008 – the year his wife sadly died after an illness which saw her spleen destroying her blood platelets.
“I am a very positive person and I have never given up on anything in my life. When I was in the army I was taught to fight to the end, not that I fought,” he joked.
If you can help Mr Crowhurst publish his life story, or would like him to give a local history talk, call him on 01322 272595.
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