Bernard Henry Robert
Bernard Henry Robert was born on the 24th February 1918, at Bristol, the youngest of the three sons of Louis Felix 'Henri' Audcent and his wife Henriette Marie Angele Ferney. Educated at Prior Park College, RC Public School, Bath, it was his original intention to become a Franciscan Monk, and he moved from Prior Park to St Bernadine's College, Buckingham, Bucks., a special college to train Franciscans in September 1932.
There is available a considerable quantity of correspondence written by him to his parents whilst at this latter Seminary. He passed his School Certificate there in July 1933. He remained there hoping to take his Matriculation, but in the autumn months decided that he no longer had a vocation to be a Franciscan Monk, although he retained a desire to become a priest. On the 14th November 1933, Fr. John OFM, of St. Bernadine's College wrote to his father asking him to send Bernard's fare so that he could be sent home. The family had hoped that Bernard could remain there until Matriculation, but because of the costs of training, and upkeep, Fr. John could not see his way clear to assisting in the matter.
His mother noted: that she thought that a visit made by his cousin Didier (Lemoine) or Bernard's visit to his friend Bunny, that year, had influenced his decision. Bernard doesn't comment himself on the matter, he just decided that he did not have a Franciscan vocation. Bernard's brother Jacques, however, was to confirm that indirectly it was the bad influence of their first cousin Didier, who had been educated at the famous French School of St Cyr as was his brother Marc. Indirectly, because Bernard did not really want to remain with the Friars but did not know how to tell his parents who were so proud of his apparent vocation, and Didier's visit gave him enough of a jolt to make a firm decision.
In the following year (1934) at the age of 16, Bernard decided that he would like to join the Royal Air Force. His mother refused to give her permission so he waited until she left for a holiday in France and approached his father to sign the required papers, which he did. By the time his mother had returned, he had already left home and commenced his service as a clerk. In March 1938 he, and his best friend Geoffrey Collins, were transported from England in H.T. Lancashire to RAF Air Headquarters, British Forces in Iraq, Habbaniya, IRAQ, and there is a series of letters from him to his mother and father covering the period of transportation up and until Christmas of that year in Iraq.
During the year, he received a major shock for his best friend Geoffrey died of fever following a fatal bite from a sandfly. Bernard corresponded with Geoffrey's family for some time, sending them money on occasion. Bernard's son Michael (b.1943) was to be given the second name of Geoffrey in memory of his old friend. There was the apparent offer of a civil service job at Teheran, in the embassy, and he would have been one of two applicants, but we hear no more of this and he also applied to be a airman-pilot, having decided that a clerk in the civil service was not as exciting as flying, but was removed from the list of applicants by his commanding officer, apparently because of his young age, who suggested he reapply again later. On the 29th April 1939, he was Godfather, in absentia, to David Audcent one of the twins born to Jacques (his brother) and his wife Sylvia. In his absence abroad, Sylvia's younger brother Edward Henry Peat stood in for him.
He returned to England at some time unknown probably because of a telegram in 1940, and we learn from a third series of letters that he was posted to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he arrived in 1941. At that time he was posted to the Personnel Section of the RAF. Whilst there he met Martha Thompson Connell (then aged 19) who was serving in the WAAF. Martha was born in Edinburgh on the 21 March 1921, the eldest of four daughters of a James (Jimmy) Connell, a foreman riveter at Leith Docks and his wife Jean Kelley, who held strong Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) religious views. Bernard and Mattie, (always called Mita by the Audcent family), became engaged on the Friday before 23rd September 1941, despite the opposition of her father, who then forbade her mother to attend the wedding.
They were finally married on the 25th April 1942 in the presence of Bernard's relations and Mattie's sister, Chryss, who acted as Chief Bridesmaid. Mattie was given away by her new brother-in-law Jacques Audcent, in the absence of her father. The reception was held at the Windsor Cafe, Durdham Downs, Clifton. Of this marriage there was issue to two children MIchael Geoffrey (1943) and Jean Moira (1945) who were both born in Edinburgh. A reconciliation took place with the Connell family after the birth of their first grandson, Michael. At some time unknown Mattie was to become a convert to Roman Catholicism, and she ensured that her children were brought up in the traditional Audcent family faith, and were sent to suitable Catholic schools.
Bernard was posted to Germany in the autumn 1945 and saw service in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany before the end of the war. He was then ordered to remain in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation, and remained there for 3 years. He was joined by his family from 1946 - 1948 when they all returned to Edinburgh. His daughter Jean was baptised in Germany. During the period following the war, Bernard rose to the rank of Warrant Officer. It is understood that he was offered a commission but refused it and at the request of his wife Mattie left the RAF. Later in his life he often regretted this decision. His RAF qualifications were not recognised in civvy street and he found great difficulty in obtaining a position in line with his intelligence and capabilities.
They settled in Edinburgh where they occupied a pre-fabricated home at 11 Drum Crescent, Gilmerton, Edinburgh until 1967. Bernard worked variously for the Herring Board, as a photographer, operating a mobile shop and as a mushroom grower. Unfortunately he was much too generous and soft-hearted to make a successful businessman and from 1953 Mattie also had a full-time job to make ends meet. But despite their money worries life was usually happy in Gilmerton for the Audcent family. The area was populated by many families of ex-servicemen most of them in the same financial predicaments as the Audcents.
Bernard and Mattie were a popular couple and had a very active social life. There were many parties and outings in the succession of old but prestigious cars which Bernard owned. Best remembered was his beloved old Jaguar which Bernard loved with passion and the rest of the family hated. It smelled of musty old leather and continually broke down. Bernard always attempted car repairs himself, both because he could not afford garage bills and because he loved to pull things apart and put them together again. Sometimes he was successful, but often he was not, in which case the broken down car would spend a long time immobile outside the front gate much to Matties disgust.
During these years Bernard also became very much a part of the Connell family and Jimmy and Bernard became great friends. Jimmy even persuaded Bernard to become an avid fan of his favourite football team, Hibernian, and they used to attend matches together. Jimmy also persuaded Bernard to try golf, a game at which game Jimmy excelled, but despite Jimmys excellent coaching Bernard could never master even the rudiments of the game of golf and gave up, to the relief of both men.
Michael and Jean had a fairly happy childhood and adolescence. Money was always tight but no-one went hungry. They eventually left home within two days of each other, Jean married Brian Weddell on Saturday 3rd April 1965 and Michael emigrated to Australia on Monday 5th April. The suddenness and finality of their leaving was a shock to both parents. Although the children kept in touch they were never to live as a family again.
Bernard decided that it was time for a change of direction and get that executive job he had always wanted. He enrolled in Technical College in his early forties and obtained qualifications in Rubber Technology, graduating top of his class over men less than half of his age. He then found a position as Production Manager at the Dunlop Rubber Company and In 1966 they promoted him and asked him to re-locate to Manchester, Lancashire. Initially he lived at 26 Fields New Road, Chadderton, Nr. Oldham, Lancashire, and then he and Mita bought their first new home. On the 14th November, 1966, they moved into 118 Block Lane, Chadderton.
All seemed wonderful, at long last a good steady Managerial position, a new home, and a new life, but disaster struck the family. Towards the end of 1967 Bernard discovered that he had inoperable liver cancer, and he died on the 16th March 1968 at Chadderton. His son Michael in Australia was told of his fathers condition in early March and arrived home just too late on the 18th March.
Bernard was cremated at the local Hollinwood Cemetery, Chadderton on the 21st March (To my dismay this all took place when I was away from home and uncontactable, and I always regretted not being present at the burial of my Godfather, to see him off - dba). He left his wife Mattie a widow, and she was to remain in their home for some time, before finally deciding to move to Australia in 1979 to be near her only son Michael and his family. She herself died of throat cancer, 21 years later, in Australia on the 9th March 1989 at Ryde Hospital in the suburbs of Sydney. She was cremated and her ashes are in the Gardens of the Crematorium at the North Suburbs Cemetery in North Ryde, Sydney. A very sentimental and sensitive person, the intervening years proved to be exceptionally difficult for Mattie. She was very proud of the achievements of her children and grandchildren, whom she loved dearly, but she clearly missed Bernard and never got over his untimely death. He had been the focus of her life. Bernard was an extrovert, a friendly and outgoing man. For the most part the shy and quiet Mattie was happy to sit back and enjoy the show but she was unquestionably the strong central core of the family.