Extracts from Chapter 1
In African cultures, ancestors retain a functional role in the world of the living. African kin-groups are often described as communities of both the living and the dead. When people die in Africa, they are not buried in distant cemeteries such as we have in Europe, but within or very close to the family compound as they are still considered to be part of the family. In many cultures, an ancestor continues to survive as long as he is remembered. But where there are no written records, individual ancestors may soon be forgotten.
The oldest members of the family in any culture are usually the custodians of the family history. Perhaps becoming interested in who one’s ancestors are is a feature of growing old, a ‘hobby’ for those who have retired! But younger generations might do well to ask for these stories to be told whenever possible as they are part of their family’s tradition, their own personal history and part of what makes us who we are. The stories may get altered as they are passed down orally until they become myths or legends – they are only as accurate as the memories of those recounting them and may be elaborated on from one generation to the next. As Roger, my husband, who is a great story-teller, says, “There is more to the truth than just the facts”!
My mother, Cecilie, came from a very different background [from my father]. Her father, William Mann, was a self-made businessman who imported vegetable oils from West Africa. Both her parents were from Irish families.
As a teenager, I loved a beautiful watercolour painting of Dartmoor by William Morrish which was hanging in our home. It depicts a silvery stream winding its way towards me through pink tussocks of heather; in the distance, beyond the vast expanse of heather, are some misty blue hills. I have always loved heather. I saw this painting long before I ever saw real heather. It captures the misty atmosphere of late summer and beauty of heather moors. “Where did that painting come from?” I asked her. “My father gave it to my mother”. It has always been one of Cecilie’s favourite paintings because it is so evocative and reminds her of family holidays at Bude when she and her father, whom she loved to spend time with, explored Dartmoor together.
But, as I only discovered in 2003, my grandmother was not the only person to have a William Morrish painting of Dartmoor. Where is that second painting now? An almost identical painting hangs above the fireplace in the home of a man whom I didn’t meet for the first time until 2003, a man who turned out to be my half uncle. “Where did you get that painting?” I asked for the second time. “From my mother.” “Where did she get it?” “My father gave it to her.” I felt anger rising within me.
The mysterious beauty of the two paintings is, sadly, not matched by the mystery of his two wives and two families, a situation which was anything but beautiful. For many years, they lived within a few hundred metres of each other in Chiswick (West London), but without ever meeting or even knowing anything about the other family, apart from the fact that they existed.
What sort of man is it who can appreciate the wild beauty of Dartmoor and want to give paintings of it to those whom he loved and who undoubtedly loved him, and yet lead a double life? What made him a man of opposites and duplicity? He loved the delicate beauty of flowers and yet struck fear into his families with his anger and violence. He carried his youngest boy, Charles, on his shoulders as he showed him the wonders of Kew Gardens, yet denied him his pocket money week after week when he failed to answer correctly all the difficult mental arithmetic questions he fired at him every Saturday morning. He loved to walk in remote countryside with his eldest daughter, my mother Cecilie, yet came home at night drunk and violent. How does one begin to understand someone who is capable of such deception that hurt so many people? What turned a shy, sensitive boy, who loved music and nature and beautiful things, into a bully and a womaniser? Was he himself so hurt and damaged in childhood that he didn’t know how not to hurt even those whom he loved?
He came from a harsh background, a suffering community, a repressed minority. Will was the second of six sons born to William and Johanna, who were both Irish Catholics living in London. One can only guess at the hardships and suffering that both Will’s parents were born into. His grandfather John was an Irish bricklayer’s labourer who had perhaps come to London during the potato famine. His mother, Johanna, was born in Ireland towards the end of the potato famine (1845-1851), when perhaps as many as a million people died and more than a million emigrated. Her family stuck it out through the famine and didn’t emigrate to England until later.
Will’s Victorian father, who had a severe face with a thick droopy moustache, was a shoemaker and bootmaker. He and Johanna married in Stratford in the East End of London and lived at first in West Ham before they moved with their first son, Jack, to Hammersmith. Then Will was born in 1879.
As with everyone, Will was partly a product of his upbringing. One can guess that he had a strict Victorian upbringing in what was a male dominated household, perhaps with a lot of bullying and fighting for dominance. His mother was not beautiful – a large woman with thick, heavy features who perhaps never knew much tenderness when she was growing up in the shadow of the potato famine.
Does all this excuse Will’s behaviour towards his family? No – but perhaps it helps to explain it. The cycle of deprivation and oppression, hardship and aggression is hard to break and change. And yet, in later generations, it is being broken.
Besides his love of beauty, Will was also musical. Together with his brothers, he sang as a boy in the choir of Westminster Cathedral. Although he was very bright, he had to leave school in 1890 when he was only eleven. As Will grew into a young man, he was good-looking, of medium height and slender. His dark hair, which was parted in the centre, had a slight wave on each side. Later, his handsome fine-boned features were enhanced by his light frameless glasses.
With only an elementary education, Will started work as an office boy, a job which he lost when he threw an ink pot at the Managing Director! Already, his nasty temper was causing problems. Despite leaving school so early, he taught himself and made his own way. He was an entrepreneur who was determined to be a success and have a family for whom he would provide everything, including the education he never had. At the age of twenty seven, when he was still living at home in Hammersmith, Will married Maud Cogan in 1906.
Maud was a beautiful twenty four year old who had been born in Staffordshire to Hannah and John, although they moved to London when she was a child where they lived in Fulham. Her father was also Irish and born towards the end of the potato famine. But he came from a wealthy family and so was not so badly affected by the famine as Will’s parents and grandparents were. John Honahan Cogan trained as a doctor at Cork University in Ireland and came to England soon after. But he was struck off the medical practitioners list sometime after Maud’s birth in 1882 and became a “general agent”. Maud’s mother, Hannah, had been married before, but her first husband had died when she was just thirty three, leaving her with a baby and three young children. It wasn’t long before she married John and their first baby, Kitty was born. Maud was one of four children Hannah had with John. Maud not only lied about her age, saying that she was younger than she actually was; but she also lied about her actual birthday, a fact which was only discovered more than forty years after she died! Her birthday was always thought to be on November 30th, but was, in fact, 24th January. It was not uncommon to pretend to be younger than you were, but why would she lie about the date of her birthday? Maud’s youngest sister, Violet, later married one of Will’s younger brothers, Frank, whose daughter, Pat, was a close friend of my mother, often staying with her.
When Will and Maud married, he was, by then, a commercial traveller. The first of their two children, Wilfrid, was born two years later in Ealing and Cecilie five years after that in Sutton. By this time, he was an oil and tallow merchant and soon set up a business with a Mr Cooke (Mann and Cooke) which later became “Produce Merchants”. He travelled abroad, particularly to West Africa, building up contacts and searching for exporters of vegetable oils. He was going places.
It was the long absences which made it possible for him to start an affair without arousing suspicion. He was attracted to his pretty young secretary and bookkeeper, Phyllis, who was sixteen years younger than Maud. It wasn’t long before Phyllis fell pregnant and Anne was born (in 1919), six years after Cecilie. It wasn’t a one-night stand – Will loved Phyllis and committed himself to stand by her. Divorce in those days, especially for Catholics, wasn’t an option. And so started the lifelong deception and double life of living with two families and two homes. He had two more children with Phyllis – Betsy in 1923 and Charles in 1925. Although he was never able to marry Phyllis, the children grew up without ever realising that their parents were not actually married. The fact that he was often not at home was explained by his need to be away with work.
With two families and two homes to keep now, it wasn’t long before Will went bankrupt (in 1922), not helped by his serious drink problem and his inability to handle money. After he went bankrupt, he gave all his money to his wife, Maud, to look after and save – or so Maud believed. But much of it must also have been going to Phyllis. At some point in the 1920s, Maud discovered about Phyllis when she found a letter in one of his pockets. But Will would never give Phyllis up. And no doubt, Phyllis needed him to stick by her in order to provide not only for Anne, but, as the relationship continued, for the other children as well. It was in the interests of all three of them to continue to live the lie. The two women were in a weak position because of being utterly dependent on him financially and socially although they must both, at different times, have considered exposing him. Will would not have wanted a scandal to threaten his business aspirations and associates. Life was tough for both Maud and Phyllis as each tried to keep up pretences and lead normal lives in their separate homes which were only a few hundred metres apart. This was necessary not only for the sake of the children, but because it was the only way they could exist. Neither of them had many choices in life.
Although, or perhaps because, Will had grown up in an all-male environment, he was never able to relate well to his two sons. They were both brilliant and, although he wanted them to have the educational opportunities he was denied, he felt threatened by them as they grew older. Although there was seventeen years between Wilfrid and Charles, the patterns of relating were repeated. He tried to control them and break them by bullying them – but he only succeeded in alienating them. Both Wilfrid and Charles grew up fearing and hating him, and bitter about what he was doing to their mothers with whom they had close relationships.
Will related slightly better to his first daughter at least. Cecilie especially loved going for walks with him, whether in Kew Gardens near their home, or in Devon when on holiday. But she used to hate the terrible rows between him and Maud when he came home late at night, often drunk, and perhaps having spent the evening with Phyllis. Cecilie would creep out of bed onto the landing, listening in fear and misery as she sat on the floor holding onto the banister posts. She loved her father – but hated what he was doing to her mother and their family life and tried in childish ways to keep the peace and mediate.
Although they never met, Maud found out where Phyllis and her children lived. Cecilie’s cousin, Pat Mann, the daughter of Maud’s sister Vi and Will’s brother Frank, although seven years younger than Cecilie, often stayed at Cecilie’s home where they shared a bed together. The two families were close, and Pat’s parents gave Maud a lot of support through the difficult times. Pat grew up knowing more about Will’s double life than did Cecilie and Wilfrid (who, anyway, had left home for university before he really knew anything about it). As Pat grew older, Maud sometimes talked to her about “the other family” and once took her round the corner to show her where they lived just as the little boy, whom we now know was called Charles, walked into the house.
Maud was careful with Will’s money. She saved much of it, which enabled Wilfrid and Cecilie to go to St Paul’s School, a renowned independent day school, “to have the education your father and I never had”. A few years later, he was also paying for the education of his second family – as he once told Cecilie, “I want them to have the same education that you and Wilfrid are having – it’s not their fault”; but he obviously couldn’t send them to the same schools.
At first, he sent Anne and Betsy to a boarding school in Brighton. Anne then went to a Convent school, but Betsy was sent for four terms, until the family moved out to Pinner, to Haberdasher Aske’s School. Cousin Pat Mann was in her school netball team which played against Haberdasher’s. At the team tea after the matches one day, a friend of Pat’s pointed to a girl in one of the Haberdasher’s teams and said, “Look, that girl looks just like you”. Pat went to talk to her. “My friend thinks we look like each other. What’s your name?” “I’m Betsy Mann.”
When the family moved to Pinner, Betsy was also sent to a Convent school while Anne was transferred to a Convent in France. Just before the Second World War, Betsy, at the age of fifteen, was sent to the same Convent just as Anne left it to come back to England. Betsy was there when war broke out and was trapped in France for six terrible years. She was treated like an orphan and was always at the bottom of the pile, the end of the line. She suffered terribly. Meanwhile, Charles was sent to Merchant Taylor’s school. The children grew up never knowing that their birth certificates recorded their surname as being Anderson – they always used the surname Mann.
It seems that all five children had a flare for the sciences and maths. But this wasn’t acceptable to Will who perhaps fancied himself as a gentleman, in which case, the Classics (Greek and Latin) were more appropriate subjects. There were battles between him and his children, who were all clever and capable of going to university, about what they would do. The eldest in each family (Wilfrid and Anne) won the battles, the others lost. Wilfrid succeeded in going to Imperial College where he did Physics and went on to become one of the most brilliant nuclear scientists in the world. Cecilie wanted to do Medicine, but gave in and did Classics at Cambridge. Anne, the eldest of Phyllis’s family, battled for the right to train as a nurse and went on to reach the top in her profession, teaching in some of the best hospitals in England. Betsy was so broken by her experiences in France during the war that she never fulfilled her potential. Charles was a mathematician and wanted to be an engineer, but, like Cecilie, was bullied into doing Classics at school. However, as the youngest of the five, he was never able to finish at school for financial reasons. He got taken on with the RAF under a special scheme which enabled him to do a six month basic course at Cambridge University. This was a wonderful experience for him in which he learnt a lot and was encouraged by an elderly tutor who was the first person ever to tell him that he was good. In fact, he, too, was obviously brilliant. After three years of service in the RAF, Charles was then meant to return to Cambridge to do his degree, but this never happened because there was no money for him from Will. The last time Charles met his father was when he was twenty. Then, for the first time in his life, he stood up to his bullying father and they had a terrible row. Will cut off all links with Charles and he was left to make his own way in life. He didn’t even send him a card for his twenty first birthday. Will died about two years later. Charles went on to become a lawyer, ending up as Company Secretary for the shipping company P&O.
Had it not been for his drinking and temper, his womanising and inability to handle money, Will could have been successful and contented – but he let himself and his family down. He developed tuberculosis. The only treatment known in those days was fresh air – TB patients were nursed out of doors or on verandahs for as much of the time as possible, even in the winter. The ultimate in clean, fresh air was to be found in Switzerland – so he went there to a sanatorium on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) near Lausanne which used up most of the money that had been saved. He died there in 1947, aged sixty eight, a broken and lonely man although Maud visited him just before he died. Will was buried far from his homes and families. He died without a will and so had no say in what happened to his money. £3,600 (equivalent to about £120,000 in 2015) was left for Maud and Wilfrid (who was still living at home with her) to administer.
Maud used to say that when she was with him in Switzerland, a son came to see him and tried to blackmail him into giving him money – otherwise he would reveal the truth of the circumstances. But since this was neither Wilfrid nor Charles, did Will have yet another mistress and family? I have never had enough information to be able to trace him, as I did with Phyllis’s family.
Will’s material legacy was distributed at the behest of others, but he left behind a far greater legacy. Not only was there a legacy of pain and trauma, damaged and broken relationships which continued to be felt through the succeeding years and generations, but there were five gifted children. The double life he led was not entirely his fault – both Maud and Phyllis were accomplices, although in those times, their options were very limited. It wasn’t until after Phyllis’s death that her children began to discover the truth – then they felt hurt and angry that she had never told them, even when she was ill and dying. But she obviously felt she was doing the best for them by protecting them from the harsh and sordid truth.
Clement [my father] left for Uganda in 1935, under the auspices of CMS (then known as the Church Missionary Society), by boat from Tilbury Docks in London just a few weeks after he turned twenty two. This seems to me quite courageous at that age, coming from such a sheltered and privileged background. Cecilie did a year of teacher training at Homerton in Cambridge after completing her degree and then, in 1937, went to teach at Queenswood, a Methodist girls’ private boarding school in Hertfordshire.
Though separated across two continents, Clement and Cecilie developed their relationship by writing weekly letters which, sadly, they burnt although we still have the letters which Clement wrote to his parents each week. After four years in Uganda, Clement was due to return to England for leave in 1939 but was unable to do so because of the outbreak of the Second World War. He taught for six years at King’s College, Budo just outside Kampala which was the leading school in Uganda. For a year, he was the personal tutor to the young Kabaka (King of Buganda), Freddie Mutesa II, which meant Mutesa actually had to live with Clement.
Cecilie was accepted by CMS to go to Uganda and left Queenswood at Easter 1941. In June, Clement wrote and asked her to marry him. She eventually managed to get a berth on the ship Thermistocles which was carrying troops and left Liverpool in March 1942. Because it was during World War II, it sailed in a convoy under Navy protection. It is interesting to speculate that Roger’s father, who was in the Navy escorting ships at that time, could have been on one of those ships protecting the ship my mother was on! Because it was during the war, the Suez Canal was closed and so the boat went round the Cape of Good Hope, the southern-most tip of Africa, to Mombasa in Kenya, a journey which lasted ten weeks in difficult and cramped conditions. She then travelled on dirt roads across Kenya to Uganda.
Although Clement and Cecilie hadn’t seen each other for six years, Cecilie brought with her a sapphire and diamond engagement ring, which belonged to Clement’s grandmother and had been given to Cecilie by his mother, and a wedding dress! Cecilie first went to teach at Mwiri College near Jinja and Clement was transferred to Mbarara, in south western Uganda, to be Headmaster of Mbarara High School.
Clement and Cecilie were married in Namirembe Cathedral on 10th December 1942. Cecilie had to finish her contract at Mwiri before going to join Clement in Mbarara in 1943. Just less than two years after their wedding, I was born in 1944.
Clement and Cecilie went back to England for a year’s leave in 1945, after the end of the War. My father had left home in 1935 for the heart of Africa as a young bachelor straight from university, with no teaching experience, and returned ten years later as a Headmaster with a wife and a baby and another on the way! My brother, Dennis, was born in Norfolk in 1946 in a small cottage in Blakeney where they lived for nine months before returning to Mbarara.