Memoir courtesy of the grandson of Archibald Vere Simpson

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I have always had a particular fascination with my grandfather for many reasons.  As a child the fact he was simply the oldest person I knew was enough. Later the boys inevitable fascination with soldiers kicked in. His physical prowess always impressed. I can still picture him running all the way up The Avenue in Kingston  to meet me from school when he realized I had caught an earlier bus and he had just missed me, he would have been in his mid seventies!

I have fond memories of my parents waking me up after a long journey to visit him in Radcliffe on Trent, opening my eyes  to see the trees above Cropwell Road from the back seat of dad’s red Triumph Herald convertible, smelling the box hedge as the car went up the gravel then rushing in to find him, usually in the back room with his pipe and dominoes. His lifetime spanned the proliferation of the motor car, space travel, computers, two world wars, the advent of global telecommunications, and, whilst I am sure that any life when studied in detail seems as rich, that fact that he formed the link between my world and these historical events makes him special.

He was possibly Archibald after his mother’s brother Archibald T Taylor. According to the 1891 Census he lived with his father William Wood Simpson and his second wife Frances Annie, elder brother William Francis and his step brother Lewis, from his father’s first marriage, in Lenton Nottingham. By 1901 the family lived at 18 Cecil Street with new siblings Leslie Colin and Dorothy Grace. He worked as an errand boy for ‘Burtons’ a grocers in Willoughby Street in central Nottingham, riding a bike with a big basket on the front. Brian recalls this street having a good sweet shop which they would go to en route to visit their granny. Here he learnt to wrap parcels exquisitely (a tradition not passed on). Archibald also sold loose tea from the bike to the local pit villages (mining) such as Wollaton. He received an unusual education for the time, winning books for good work, leading to an understanding of science.  He was a very good athlete and won money  running, cycling and skating, presumably to supplement the family income. He was taught to swim by a one armed swimmer credited with introducing the Crawl to the UK.

By 1911 both parents had died so he and his siblings had to fend for themselves. He now lived with brothers leslie and William at number 18 Cecil Street whilst Dorothy lived with her grandmother Ann Taylor at number 7. He was now listed as an asylum clerk. At the outbreak of war  the owner of the mental hospital initially prevented him from joining the army so as not to lose his skills. He married his first wife, Jane Jones, in December 1913; war broke out in August 1914 less than a year later. His brother Leslie Colin Simpson was killed in the battle at Hooge on 9th August 1915. Presumably joining up as a result of his brother’s death, Archibald was granted a commission in the 27th Northumberland Fusiliers on 8th November 1915.  He kept a book summarizing his life which details his time during the first world war and there are several entries that I would like to think define him. One reads “Battalion in Arras Battle 9th April and 28th April. Battalion won Divisional Football Competition May 1917. Won 3-1, scored 2 goals.” The Battle of Arras was a very bloody conflict yet the football was a higher priority. In a similar vein another entry states “ Born on 27th march 1920 at 9-10pm a son to be named Leslie Colin. It was boat race day and Cambridge won by four lengths. Also semi finals of the England Cup and Hockey International”.

He was a quiet and shy man possibly as a result of the war and only told Dad of his experiences in the last year of his life.  As a commissioned officer in the trenches he had men under his command.  One Sunday a shell landed on the church parade killing several top brass and signaling officers so he was given the task of mending the telegraph lines instead of leading the charge “over the top’. The officer that lead the charge in Archibald’s place was killed instantly: his name was also Simpson. Before the war he attended church; after the war he stopped for understandable reasons.

As an officer he had a batman who sharpened his razor for him then shaved first to check it. He was frightened of moths and once left a trench to avoid them. He kept his 0.45 service revolver on the top of the kitchen dresser, dad and Brian would play  with this but recall being hardly able to lift it. Archibald said that if they had to shoot someone they should always shoot them in the right shoulder so as to disarm them and not kill them.

After the war he returned to the mental hospital working in the office. He quickly worked his way up  to running the whole hospital with over a thousand inmates. At one point he ran a second one in tandem at Mapperly. The hospital was completely self sufficient with two farms and a steam engine driven power supply. He was very proficient at running anything. He had an assistant Mr. Bingly (who was famously so afraid of going to the toilet in the trenches that he only went once a week after Sunday church parade) and just two secretarys. The hospital was at Saxondale just near Radcliffe on Trent. All the inmates had a job, except the dangerous ones, at Archibalds insistence. The family always ghad one of the turkeys reared on the farm for Christmas. There were very good concerts and sports days each year. Brian recalls that once a lady inmate stopped mid race and removed all her clothes. In another tradition, perpetuated by his sons, he would always have a sleep after lunch with strict instructions to his secretary that he was not to be disturbed. He would navigate his way around the country by reference to Mental Asylums rather than pubs. Brian recalls that everything was always locked and all the signs had his father’s signature. On one occasion in the 1940s an inmate, who thought he was a Japanese prison guard, killed another inmate with a fire tender. As the Director Archibald was charged with murder and had to go to court in Southampton to prove successfully that he had taken all precautions to prevent it.

A newspaper cutting from 1922 describes a strike by nurses at the hospital who were being forced to accept lower wages and an hourly increase to 66 hours from 60 hours per week. It says “the strike led to violent clashes during which one female charge nurse felled a policeman an uppercut to the jaw. She thought she had killed him and fainted on top of him”.  Archibald quelled the trouble by turning fire hoses on them.

I can just remember visiting the hospital with my Grandpa and can recall walking down a corridor with him whilst he talked to one of the residents. Archibald would do all the accounts himself and the night before they were due he would wake up in the middle of the night and write down the final figures; when he checked them in the morning they were always correct. Dad and I also seem to have inherited this ability to solve problems in our sleep but unfortunately not mathematical ones in my case. He also had the ability to sleep for a specific amount of time without needing an alarm. Eventually the hospital was nationalised and lots of staff were brought in to run it.