In a time of awful poverty and depression, it was the toughest of starts in life – a life chronicled in a new book compiled from Leslie’s memories and published now, two years after his death.
In his final years, Leslie, who lived for much of his life in Cheshire, shared his reminiscences with his son Clifford and daughter-in-law Anne on a weekly basis.
Anne has now expanded them, fully researched dates and background and published them as From The Workhouse To Vienna (available at £14.99 plus p&p from Cliff at [email protected]).
“Leslie was born in the Broyle Road workhouse,” Anne explains.
“The circumstances were his mother Mabel was 19 at the time. The family lived in what is now called The Crooked S off North Street. The family was large and very poor.
“Mabel was in domestic service and became pregnant. As often happened, she did not put the name of the father on the birth certificate. Leslie never knew who his father was.
“On the day Mabel was having Leslie she just went to the workhouse and had Leslie there. She stayed there three months and was then discharged, but before they were discharged she had Leslie baptised in the workhouse. But three months later, they were back again in the workhouse, and they were allowed to stay another three months.
“And then after that Mabel met a soldier. Pregnant, she married him. Seven days after she married him, she and the soldier put Leslie back in the workhouse. The soldier obviously didn’t want Leslie.”
Leslie (1918-2008) stayed at the workhouse until he was three-and-a-half when he was taken to the Lavant Children’s Home.
“He never had any visitors. His mother just moved on, to Portsmouth, and had quite a lot of children, about 13. She never visited Leslie. He had no memories of his mother.
“It was a lot later on when he had left the home that he did have some contact with her by letter, but they never actually met.
“He lived in Chichester until he was 15. His principal memories were growing up in the children’s home. It was a rather unhappy experience.
“He did have some happy memories, as children do, but this was the 1920s when times were very, very hard for everybody.
“The home was run by a master and a matron and when he was about 12, there was a different master and matron and then another different master and matron. The council took it over, and the years were not very happy. It was very harsh.
“His memories were of harshness and routine and discipline. There was certainly not any love given to the boys. That’s just the way it was in those days.”