Howard Widdicombe

Counsellor in Woking

Personal History

My father, an only child, was born in 1898. He ran away from school and illegally enlisted in the army in 1914 (he was underage!) in order to fight in the First World War. He was wounded in the first battle of the Somme and again in the Russian campaign where he was awarded a medal for gallantry. I believe that this experience 'shaped' him for the rest of his life. Like many of his era, he probably suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, never talked about his experiences and spent most of the remainder of his life as a detached, isolate, individual who was prone to unexpected outbursts of temper, often culminating in physical violence towards whichever member of his immediate family was the object of his anger and irritation.

After the war he worked as a Principal Clerk in Probate Registry in London. He married and had two sons. In the Second World War he became very involved with the St John's Ambulance Brigade which is where he met my mother. He divorced his first wife in 1947 and married my mother in 1948.

My mother was born in 1914, the middle one of three children and, as such, 'suffered' the well documented experience of middle children - that of not being considered special or warranting attention. After leaving school she worked for the Inland Revenue. During the Second World War she became a nurse specialising in burns and was part of a theatre team who treated many servicemen who had been disfigured. She met my father through her nursing activities and gave up her job when she became pregnant and dedicated her life to raising her two sons - my brother and me

My younger brother had epilepsy caused by forceps damage to his skull during birth. Although it was partly treated by medication, he always had an unpredictable tendency to mood swings and epileptic fits which my Mum and I coped with as my father could not bear to be around 'mental illness' as he perceived it. Much later in life my brother also contracted emphysema as a result of heavy smoking and his job as an architect restoring historic buildings which meant he often worked in a dusty atmosphere without adequate safety precautions. He had a lung transplant to help improve his quality of life but died in 2013. He has three grown up children - two boys and a girl and two grandchildren.

I grew up in a 'blended family'. In the 1940's and 1950's there was a social stigma to being divorced and more especially remarried. My Father and Mother constantly had to live with implicit (unspoken) disapproval of their relationship and were always seeking signs of approval/ respectability from others around them. My parents had a conflicted violent relationship as far back as I am able to remember. We all lived in fear of my father's violent outbursts and the unspoken rules in the household became 'don't rock the boat', 'stay invisible, don't draw attention to yourself'. We lived a very insular existence as a family unit. Family and friends were hardly ever invited to our house and we only really ever went out to see my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles on my mother's side of the family.

From about age six I felt it was my job to hold the family together. I often felt scared, nervous, and vulnerable and didn't know what to do. I lived in fear of our family being broken up at any moment because of mounting financial debt and my father's violence and believed my brother and I would be taken away to live in a children's home. I don't remember having a playful, carefree or enjoyable childhood. I was always treated as someone older than myself and huge expectations were placed on me to succeed academically - we aspired to becoming 'pillars' of the establishment that everyone else looked up to and admired! I was very ill as a child with serious digestive and respiratory problems which I now understand to be a consequence of the continual stress and anxiety I felt as I grew up. I did not have the strength to do much physically. I spent large amounts of time either in bed or at home ill. I learned to become highly sensitized to my environment and to pick up any clues / signals as to what was happening in order to be prepared to avoid unpleasant consequences.

I have a grown up family from my first marriage consisting of a daughter, son and identical twin daughters. I also have two sons, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum with associated learning difficulties and the other who has hydro nephrosis and a multiple food protein intolerance, both potential life-long impairments, from my second marriage. I also have four grandsons and five grand-daughters to keep me busy in spare moments.