My father Donald was called up to join the army in the summer of 1939, before war was actually declared. He lived in Cambridge with his parents Reuben and Maud who had the Portland Arms Hotel on the junction of Chesterton Road, Victoria Road, Milton Road and opposite the end of Victoria Avenue. He was only just twenty and had enjoyed a sporty life, rugby, cricket, shooting, fishing and most often, rowing. Donald did not have any choice in the matter of becoming a soldier, he didn’t want to do it but he had to serve his country, and although he may not have fully known then the true horrors of Hitler’s vision, he was a socialist and anti-racist – even in those days.
On the morning that he was due to leave home, he got up early probably at dawn and took his fishing rods and walked the quarter a mile or so to the River Cam; he had fished in the river, swam in it, rowed on it, boated on it, skated on it and he knew it as well as any road he walked along. He went down near the lock on Jesus Green and began casting, no doubt thinking of the day ahead and wondering what lay in store for him and the other lads he knew in the same position. He must have thought about the prospect of the war, and remembered tales he would have been told growing up in the twenties about the horrors of the first war.
His float bobbed and the line pulled and he tried to strike for the fish but it took the bait and swam; he was a skilled fisherman and he played the fish, realising that it was big, occasionally seeing the silver flash of it as it broke the surface of the river. He probably knew what sort of fish it was but there was a great variety of life in the river then, perch, bream, chub, roach, dace, gudgeon, eels, even trout! Donald was a man of great patience and determination and was always prepared to play the long game… and in the event after a long struggle he managed to bring the fish to the bank, a huge pike. He estimated it was well over ten pounds.
He carefully took the hook from its mouth, avoiding its razor-sharp teeth, then gently lowered the beast back into the water and with a flip of its tail it was gone leaving a swirling eddy behind.
Donald stood for a moment watching the river flow past him in the early morning light, then gathered his rods and tackle and slowly walked home to the pub for breakfast before he went away to war.