Colin Vincent Heath
Colin was born on 9th June 1942 at Chapel Bungalow, Figheldean, and spent the first three years and four months of his life there, moving with the family to 4 Larkhill Road, Durrington, in October 1945.
Colin was born with a club foot; this may or may not have been related to the fact that our mother had to have an appendix operation quite late in her pregnancy which both she and her baby were apparently lucky to survive. Colin’s disability meant that he was very late in starting to walk, and then only with the help of special built-up boots which had to be replaced regularly as his feet grew, and which I think our parents had to pay for. He was always rather clumsy, but he was also unfailingly cheerful and never let his disability interfere with his life if he could help it. At the age of four, so not that long after moving to Larkhill Road and probably not yet fully accustomed to using the stairs, Colin somehow fell, from only a few stairs up, in such an awkward way that he badly fractured his elbow (the left, I think!), which was badly set and later had to be re-set again, but was always crooked - for the rest of his life he could never fully straighten his arm.
Colin went to Bulford Village C of E Primary School and then to Durrington Secondary Modern School. Throughout his early schooling he was hampered a bit by his club foot and surgical boots, but when he was 13 he had a big operation to straighten his foot and was in hospital in Alton, Hampshire, for several weeks; afterwards he was able to wear normal shoes and his mobility improved.
On leaving school Colin got an apprenticeship at Boscombe Down, on completion of which he became a full-time employee at the air base – but curiously I have no recollection of ever having been told exactly what he did there. I think it was pretty high-level “hush-hush” stuff. I remember that once he was flown out to Bahrain for a week or more, and that our mother was quite concerned about it because he had not really been well for some time.
On his return, his health continued to give rise to concern, though for a while there was nothing that anyone could put a finger on to identify what his problem was. However, early in 1967 he had a small operation to remove a strange lump which had grown on his tongue, and in the summer of the same year he had quite a major operation to remove his suprarenal glands, which were apparently “infected”. He did not seem to get much better, though he did insist on going back to work for a short time. In May 1968 I remember getting a phone call at work from my mother, to say that she had just accompanied Colin to a hospital appointment and had been told privately that Colin had cancer, which had started with the lump on his tongue and then his suprarenal glands, had spread to his kidneys and throughout his other organs. She was told he had only about six months to live – but that on no account was Colin to be told this, and nor was the word “Cancer” to be spoken in his hearing! This seems very strange now, but it was quite usual in those days not to confide fully in seriously-ill patients.
Shortly after this Colin had to stop work for the last time. He was never told that he had cancer, in accordance with his doctors’ wishes, but he knew all the same – not just because of the stepped-up visits from his family, but also because one day, while lying on the sofa in the lounge too ill to move, he was watching a TV programme during which a new drug was mentioned as “looking very promising in the treatment of cancer” – and he recognised the name as being that of the same new drug that he had been put on a little while earlier.
In October 1968 Colin went into the Hammersmith Hospital; the doctors told him they wanted to find the best ways to make him more comfortable, but they told the family that his cancer was quite rare and they wanted to find out as much as they could about it from Colin – not with any real hope of curing him, but in order to try to help future sufferers.
I can’t really remember exactly how long Colin stayed in that hospital, but by about the end of November it had become clear that he was nearly at the end of his life, and our mother wanted him at home so that she could care for him herself. This she did, with unfailing devotion, until he died on 17th December 1968.
It was evident at his funeral on 21st December (which in hindsight seems very soon after his death, though I’m not sure that we should read anything into that) that Colin had been a much respected and much loved member of the staff of his department at Boscombe Down; some very senior figures, as well as his immediate work colleagues, told the family how highly thought of Colin had been. But even then we never found out exactly what his work had been……….