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10:43am on Saturday, 9th September, 2023:

Uncle Charlie


My mother used to tell me anecdotes from when she was young, and I managed to persuade her to write some of them down. I'll maybe type them up some day, but they're all pretty mundane.

Well, the ones she wrote down were.

One of the stories she told me, she refused to write down. It concerned her Uncle Charlie.

John Charles Wighton MM, 1899-1964, was the eldest of my grandmother's three brothers (and the fifth of eleven siblings — my grandmother was the youngest). He was something of a rogue: he won the Military Medal in the First World War for bravery, but was demobilised late after being detained in Paris for allegedly stealing a bicycle. He had many scrapes with the law in his life, but was very likeable and never wronged any friends or family. His wife, Auntie Violet, was also rather impish; at least three of her children, and possibly four, were fathered by men other than Charlie. He knew, but didn't mind in the slightest as she was something of a kindred spirit.

This story is one that my grandmother told my mother out of the blue one evening, when they were alone together. She herself had got it from her sister, Auntie Edie, who could tell my mother more; my mother never plucked up the courage to ask her, though.

So, there was a man in the village who was known to be a skinflint. He kept his money — and there was rumoured to be a lot of it, by village standards — in a strongbox under his bed. He wasn't in good health, and Charlie used to go round his every so often to do odd jobs for him.

The man's health gradually declined, and he spent more and more time in bed. People were starting to think he didn't have long to live.

Charlie apparently thought so too. One evening, he went round to do some work. Next morning, the man's daughter found him dead and the strongbox gone from under the bed. The doctor thought he might have been asphyxiated with a pillow, but wasn't certain enough to call in the coroner — the man could have just died from natural causes.

The strongbox was never found, but Charlie was no longer troubled by a gambling debt he'd run up.

The reason my mother didn't write this down is because she liked her uncle and didn't want anyone to think ill of him. I liked him too: even though I was only four when he died, I remember him vividly. However, I myself have fewer qualms about relating this tale, because I suspect that most of the people in the village would have drawn their own conclusions but chosen to keep quiet: it was in-character for Charlie, and the man with the strongbox was not well-liked. Besides, he would have died within a couple of months of his own accord anyway.

I did ask my grandmother about this once, but she denied all knowledge of it — even though my mother was present when I asked her. This is how family facts become family rumours.

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