Uncle Leonard was the only uncle I had from my father’s side of the family. One of his father’s brothers had been the first husband of my grandmother, who was still ‘Aunt Anna’ to him. My grandmother, now widowed for the second time, lived in Elborough Street, Southfields and Uncle Leonard lived round the corner in Replingham Road. Whenever I stayed with Nana, as I called my grandmother, I would go and pay a visit to Uncle Leonard, whom I always found working at the bench in his shoe repair shop, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and sometimes unshaven. He was always glad to see me, and when I left he would give me a few coppers from the till. Besides having his shoe repair business, Uncle Leonard bred Sealyham dogs. They lived under the counter in the shop and if I was lucky there would be puppies to see. After talking with Uncle Leonard and playing with the dogs I would wander into the living quarters behind the shop to say hello to Auntie Louie.
All this was before I was eight years old, and before I was confined to bed with valvular disease of the heart. As I look back I can still see in my mind’s eye Uncle Leonard’s kindly smiling face, and it occurs to me that as a young man he must have been quite handsome. It also strikes me that there was a strong resemblance between him and my father and that the resemblance was not only facial but extended to their characters. Both were good-natured, generous, unambitious men, who were devoted to simple pursuits, in my father’s case his garden and in Uncle Leonard’s his Sealyhams. Although Uncle Leonard was about the same age as my father, as far as I know he had not fought in the First World War as my father had done. The eldest of his three sons did, however, fight in the Second World War and was awarded the Military Cross. I never met either him or the next eldest brother, but I did know John, the youngest of the three, who used to visit me when I was staying with Nana after my convalescence. I remember a photograph of the two of us. I am sitting in my wheelchair in Nana’s porch and John, who was of about my own age, is standing beside me. He is still in short trousers and already beginning to look like his father.
Soon after my return to England in 1964, a friend drove me through Elborough Street and into Replingham Road. Nana’s house, with its white porch and well-kept front garden, was still there, but Nana was not, having died some years earlier, and when we turned into Replingham Road, I scanned it for Uncle Leonard’s shoe repair shop in vain. The name of Lingwood was no longer to be seen.