Written by Frank D. Cole 29th of December, 2015
Never a dull moment!
In 1932, aged 11, I was elevated from the Litherland Council School to MTS and so came the first great change in my life.
Five years later in 1937, I emerged to seek work and so lighten the financial burden on my parents (Lorry-driver, factory-girl and part-time pianist). I found a position as “office boy” in a specialist marine insurance company for a weekly pittance.
Boredom was my main problem and so days after my 18th birthday I joined the TA and only weeks after this I was embodied as a regular soldier.
Under the age of 20 and not possible for overseas posting but because I had a full driving licence I spent the next two years driving every sort of wheeled transport around gun and light sites in Merseyside and the Midlands.
I was sent to the OTC in Bristol in 1941 and came out as a very new young officer in May 1942. My first posting was to the 46th Infantry Division in Kent (part of Montgomery’s 12 Corps) which was in preparation to form the British North Africa Force and for this we embarked in December, leaving for Algiers. After landing in Algeria we waited for the second convoy with arms and transport before starting off eastwards, direction Tunis.
This first problem resolved, we went further into Libya to start training for a water landing. For this we, the 46th and 2 other British divisions (56 and 78), were to form the spearhead landing force of the 5th US Army.
This almost disastrous campaign due to lack of security on the US-side resulted in the Hermann-Göring-Division waiting for us, almost with glee. After 3 weeks on the beach, other landings (First Guards Anzio) let us break out and, as planned, proceed northwards until eventually we arrived at the foot of Monte Cassino. At this point, tired and depleted we reverted to Brit. 8th Army and were sent back to Egypt.
We were brought up to strength and the next stop was Palestine. After arranging a temporary peace we were required in Italy and so “pack up again” and back to the mainland. After many skirmishes and encounters our services were urgently needed in Greece so some of us were flown to Piraeus and the rest, more leisurely, to the northern border Macedonia.
Once more we were needed urgently back again in Italy to try to break through the German Gothic Line. We did so, in the area of Forli / Faenza and then it was forwards to Austria where on VE-day we were already in the southern part of that country. There we had the unpleasant task of returning 15,000 Cossack and 2,000 Hungarians to the Russians and only after this could we move further into our occupied area of Steiermark. Here I was posted after a short time to Brit.Mil.Gov.
Life became once again peaceful and slowly less interesting and, trying to follow my desire for excitement, I volunteered for the Burma Frontier Force (BFF). Called before the final selection board in Udine I and 2 others were returned, as talks on independence had already started and my eyes were not standard. This brought me back to Brit.Mil.Gov. again in Austria and, already 18 months over my release date and seeing no prospect of further interest I, reluctantly, decided I had to “bite the cherry” and return to civilian life.
Back in Liverpool, I renewed my marine insurance and was told that I would be going overseas for the Company very shortly. In fact, this was exactly 11 months and in this period I imported and wed my Austrian fiancée from Graz, bought and repaired a bomb-damaged house reported back to the TA and lived for 5 weeks in my new house before embarking on 24th of April, 1948 on the MS Caledonia bound for Karachi via Bombay.
The voyage was very pleasant in comparison with earlier Troopship journeys and after 6 weeks in Bombay I was again in a coastal steamer for Pakistan. Through the wisdom of Whitehall, Pakistan was divided into 2 halves – West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with hostile India between. Communication between was difficult but, after a while I managed to establish a small office in Chittagong in addition to my HQ in Karachi. In the small seaport, now Capital of the new country (14th August, 1947) space was at a premium with every country and larger firm wishing to establish a post there. Alone I managed to find a bed with Indian, Italian friends, also in hotels and finally in a large tent on the lawn of the Scind Club. My office space was cramped and I shared a 16 sq.m. room with, in each corner, myself, Vickers Armaments UK, Gulf Oil, USA and the door.
After 12 months my wife joined me and, under threat, my Principals in Liverpool agreed to build a house for me, just before we left, after 3 years, to enjoy 6 months leave in Europe. Business grew and the same pattern of 6 months leave after 3 years’ service until, after 10 years, I decided to resign and take my small family back to England.
For my new employers, I was based in Manchester with a miserable inherited 3-men-office. This had to be changed and I enlarged my operations area to the whole of UK with connections in Vienna and Graz. After 8 years of feverish activity, vacancies took place in the upper hierarchy but promises earlier made were ignored and so I resigned.
This time I changed the branch of insurance and was offered a post from a Lloyds Broker as Managing Director in their flourishing subsidiary in Zürich. Here the world was my oyster and I took over and enlarged the international business with contracts in Sidney, Accra, Reykjavik, Hong Kong, Tennessee Valley Authority USA and other distant parts. My frequent absences and, sometimes longer, led to my family break-up. However, “business as usual” until my heart attack in 1978. My London Principals, in the English manner felt that retirement and sanatorium was the only possible result. And so, in 1981 (aged 60) I was asked to go. This I did – but only for 4 days – for I then set up my own office, taking 90 % of the international business with me. Once more feverish activity in the world and this continued for another 25 years until my eyesight forced me to give up.
My second wife (Dresden) died 18 months ago and so I live alone in my house, 2000 feet high on the slope of the Albisberg very well looked after by my permanent staff of 2 ladies (German and Polish). I still maintain vivid interest in world politics and finance and when I wish to travel, I am transported by one of my ladies in their car. I am just celebrating my 95th birthday and still look forward into the future.
My first wife returned to her birth place in Graz, my son and his American wife, living in Australia, all speak to me on Sunday mornings via Skype. My daughter after 17 years in S. Africa, has gratefully returned to CH, living only 23 km away from here.
In conclusion I can only say that the best decision of my well-filled life was to come to Switzerland.