Charity & social welfare
Kent, Bruce (1 of 6) National Life Stories: General
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2009-08-31, 2009-09-05, 2009-09-24, 2009-10-06, 2009-10-29
Interviewee's home, London
Kent, Bruce (1929-) (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 1: [Session 1: 31 August 2009] Bruce Kent [BK] in Blackheath, though they lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb. He had an older brother George, and a younger sister Rosemary. His father was an invalid from the First World War. He came to start a branch of the Armstrong Cork Company in London. His mother followed him. She came from an Irish Canadian family and was born in a village. They met in Montreal. When BK went there, it was a wonderful place for children with outdoor pursuits summer and winter. His father was determined and hard working. He was a nice man with a weakness for the bottle. He was on his own from 1940-43 as the family went to Canada. They went out by ship, which was quite dangerous at the time. When they came back it was like getting to know a stranger. His father came from a Protestant Canadian family. He kept his word about Catholic upbringing, and the boys were sent to Stonyhurst when they got back. [8:31] His mother was even more gregarious than his father. She was a wonderful woman. She was generous and a strong Catholic. They had a life of entertaining. They both ended up in St Joseph’s hospice Hackney. His father was furious when BK became a priest, but eventually came round. Story of the end of his life. They thought that his mother would go first, but she lived for much longer. Memories of incidents. [16:10] In 1940 they arrived on the boat at Halifax and got an apartment in Montreal. They went to a Protestant day school. In England he had been to a boarding school, so this was a lovely contrast. Anecdotes. BK was belligerently Catholic. BK came under the influence of Hugh MacLennan, author. He did question his mother’s faith. In her village, Rapides-des-Joachims, the family practically built the church and BK is very disappointed that it has now been sold. Story. Grandmother was still alive but ill, and picked BK out as “going to be a priest” It was an atmosphere of Catholicism. The village was right up the Ottawa valley. The family house is now a hotel. They had a store and had been wealthy. More details. It was on the Quebec side of the river but difficult to get to. The men would cut ice blocks for storage in sawdust in the winter. In summer the logs would come down and BK would make a raft. He supplied frogs as bait for the fishermen. [29:29] Coming back, BK was a big sulker and his father would chat him out of it. He, Kenneth, had started the factory making cork products here. During the war they made decking for ships. The family were very comfortably off. BK had a mastoid operation in Harley Street. They had nice holidays at Frinton, and France. He had piano lessons. There were common gardens where they played. Hampstead Heath was wonderful. BK went to Wellbury near Hitchin as a boarder. It was probably ghastly, though he did not look at it like that then. Boys were being flogged all the time. George hated it, BK conformed. It was very Catholic with endless stories of English martyrs. After the war Rosemary went to the Sacred Heart nuns in Hove, and eventually on to LSE. Story of George using BK’s money to buy a motor bike. Story of him due to graduate from McGill and not being able to introduce his fiancée. [39:22] In 1943 BK’s social life revolved round the church in London. The church St Edward’s is on the Finchley Road and Hoop Lane. The suburb did not allow for Catholics when it was built. It is now 100 years old and BK has written a piece for them. They would go every Sunday. His father came on special occasions. He became more tolerant as time went on. George nearly got thrown out of Stonyhurst and his father made them keep him. His wartime diaries always mentioned the Psalm he would say before bed and he would pray on his knees. Amazing commitment, he had a faith. [47:20] The family came back on a neutral Portuguese ship to Lisbon and the boys went on a seaplane to Ireland, and then on. Again a dangerous route. His mother and sister came a month later. It was dark and there was little food in England. BK remembers arriving at Stonyhurst in the blackout. They were teased for their accents, and called Tiny and Butch. BK adapted though George didn’t. The discipline was very strict. They never came across any state school boys. It was a very Catholic atmosphere, a persecuted minority. Too much power was given to the boys, they could beat others. Beastly. The Jesuits took them to France in 1946 and they taught them to sing folk songs. They went harvesting too, exhausting but fun. [56:40] They had an incident with the village boys, whom they did not know at all. It was a lesson in conflict for BK. Hatred can be whipped up. BK left school in 1946 and was sent to a crammer to do maths and science. He liked history and geography and literature and wrote and enjoyed the debating society. BK remembers VE day and a horse drawn vehicle. It was a limited education. The school had a settlement in Ladbroke Grove and they were patronising to the boys there. BK liked rugby and tennis. After leaving school BK worked in the laboratory of the factory for a few weeks. He was waiting for the call up in October and was able to go to Oxford later with all expenses paid.
Life story interview with Bruce Kent (1929-), Vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.