we are not amused
“You are quite the most un-impressive young man I have ever met….,”
said the girl’s mother at a lunch with the prospective groom in London. Further, the mother said that for her daughter to marry, “a young man like you, sodden with drink, would be madness and a total disaster. You will understand that I hope sincerely never to see you again…”
So writes Hank Adlam in On and Off the Flight Deck: Reflections of a Naval Fighter Pilot In World War Two, his memoir of wartime service as a carrier pilot in the Royal Navy. When the war ended, he was serving aboard HMS Colossus, a Royal Navy carrier in the Indian Ocean. He had miraculously survived years of aerial combat and had been decorated for bravery on several occasions.
Prior to returning to England, his ship had to undergo two weeks of engine repairs in Cape Town. Since the local young men were away serving in the forces, there was a man shortage. Into this hothouse descended the fighter pilots from the carrier, including Adlam who was young, slender and cut a dashing figure in his uniform. “For this first and only… very brief moment in my life, I might have appeared as a figure of glamour,” he writes.
The young fighter pilots found themselves the center of attention from females of the social elite who were desperate for male company. The wealthy families of these young women held dozens of receptions and cocktails parties and dinners for these heroic young men and they took all that was offered to them, including the daughters.
A beautiful young woman by the name of Pam set her cap for Adlam on the basis of several dates which involved some heavy kissing. Indeed, after three more dates she decided she was in love and wanted to marry him. A good idea all around everyone thought except for the woman’s mother, as we saw in the beginning, and Adlam himself, who writes, “while at Cape Town, I escaped marriage by the skin of my teeth. She really was a nice girl…” While they had no formal engagement, they had an understanding, at least on her part.
After he sailed away, she wrote him long letters—every single day—letters, “written to me in loving terms by Pam…” Each time his carrier docked for fuel and stores on its way back to England, “stacks of these letters in their mauve envelopes were waiting for me…and I came to absolutely dread them.”
Whatever feelings of romance he had for Pam were killed by this deluge of letters from her which he stopped reading after the first twenty or thirty.
Her parents were divorced and her formidable mother lived in London. Upon arrival in England, Adlam made a luncheon appointment with her mother, as he had been instructed to do by Pam’s father and other relatives in South Africa. The purpose, so Pam and her family in South Africa thought, was for her mother to meet this “marvelous young naval officer.” In doing so, she would be so impressed that she would give her blessing to the union and the two love birds could finally get married.
The biggest obstacle? Adlam didn’t want to marry Pam, did not love her and had no intention of marrying her. Alas, in the months between their meeting in South Africa and his final arrival in England, he had not had the courage to tell Pam he wasn’t going to marry her—so he decided that instead he would tell Pam’s mother. Only he didn’t get that far.
Adlam explains, “nevertheless, I wanted very much to make a good impression on her mother so that I would appear mature and a man of the world while explaining to her that I couldn’t marry her daughter.”
He reserved a table for lunch at a very expensive restaurant and arrived early and very nervous. So nervous in fact he knocked back three martinis before Pam’s mother got to the restaurant. If you are or have been a drinking man, you will know that three martinis on an empty stomach before lunch will certainly make you a bit unsteady. Adding to this unsteadiness, was wine during lunch of which he drank most of the bottle.
Before he could blurt out to Pam’s mother that he didn’t want to marry her daughter, she said she had to leave to catch her train. Adlam called for the bill and in the most embarrassing moment of all, didn’t have nearly enough money to pay it. So Pam’s mother had to pay for half the lunch.
When she stood to leave, naturally Adlam stood as well and it was then that she let loose with the words found in the first paragraph. She added that she was immediately going to send a telegram to the family in South Africa repeating what she had just said.
I would say that this is the most embarrassing story I have ever encountered of a meeting between what was thought, by the mother and daughter at least, to be a prospective groom.
Hank Adlam later met a woman he fell in love with and married, quickly, since she was pregnant by him. Nonetheless, it appears from his memoirs to have been a happy union. Thank God.