Will the Grass be Greener?

It’s the question to ponder when considering Death.  Some of us will be happy to find the grass just as green as it is on this side of the divide. Some may be hoping to encounter an improved variety providing an even more vivid colour.  Some will just hope that there will be grass at all.

The question brings to mind the strange story involving Henry Longhurst. For those unfamiliar with the name, he described himself as being born to travel first class, but without the price of a ticket.  From a comfortably well off family, he graduated from Cambridge & from there seemingly effortlessly into sports journalism, a pastime interrupted only by Army service in WW2 & a spell as an MP in the 1940s. A fine golfer himself (a pre-war German Amateur Champion), he became best known for his dry wit & understatement, bringing a literary style to TV golf commentary both here & in the U.S. , in such demand that he worked for ABC, CBS (then the Big 2 of U.S. TV) & the BBC at the same time – something almost inconceivable, then & now.

Henry’s dulcet tones can be heard from 35 seconds in. A masterclass in golf commentary

He was also, all told, one of the all time great gin drinkers, whilst remaining great company, in or out of his cups. However, by the late 1970s’, Henry was dying of cancer & had stopped working. He retreated to his home on the Sussex Downs (a pair of renovated windmills) & the only visitors he received there were those he considered long term friends.

DJM, Going Postal
Easy with the tonic please

One such was the legendary figure Douglas Bader. He had lost both his legs in a flying accident in 1931, slow rolling his Bristol Bulldog fighter at an airshow. Being a “forceful character” he obtained his commission from the RAF in 1939, flying Spitfires specially converted with manual controls. At Dunkirk & the Battle of Britain he destroyed 30 enemy aircraft, but managed to collide with a Messerschmidt, only baling out over France after leaving an artificial leg in his plane. After his capture by the Bosche, they permitted a replacement set of artificial legs to be airdropped, whereupon he used them to escape. Recaptured, he used the legs in many subsequent attempts, so many that his legs were eventually confiscated each night. After the War, Bader turned some of his attention to golf, & despite his handicap (sic) became an excellent player. Needless to say, this man of indomitable spirit was the perfect companion for a dying friend.

DJM, Going Postal

DJM, Going Postal
Sir Douglas Bader 1940 & 1955  (CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC, DL & FRAeS)

In their talks over glasses of gin, as men of a certain age do, Longhurst & Bader solved the problems of golf, politics, family, & life. When the last bottle of the evening was empty, Bader went home. However, Henry’s days were drawing to a close, & one afternoon he said to Bader, ” Douglas, old chap, there is something I’ve always wondered”  “What’s that, Henry?” Bader replied. “I’ve always wondered : Will the grass be greener on the other side?” Neither being particularly religious men, they talked for a while on the subject to no particular conclusion & parted company. That very week, Henry died, & in his mourning, Bader forgot all about the conversation.

Months later, Bader was in London to speak at a Lord’s Taverners Dinner. On arrival at the venue, when he emerged from his cab, there standing on the street was by all appearances a bag lady. She approached, Bader put his hand in his pocket for some coins, when she said “I don’t want your money. Are you Sir Douglas Bader?”.   He said he was.  She then said “I’m a clairvoyant. I have a message from a friend of yours in the spirit world named Henry. I don’t have his last name & I don’t know what the message means”.  Intrigued, Bader asked her to continue. ” He said, Tell Bader : The grass is greener on the other side”.  With that, she walked away, leaving Bader so shaken that he did not stay for the Dinner, but went home in the same cab that had brought him.

This story was never told in Bader’s lifetime. He confided it prior to his own death to a journalist friend, Peter Dobereiner. The details of what happened are presented here exactly as Bader related them to Dobereiner, who himself wondered about the truth of the matter. He thought it might have been Henry’s idea of an elaborate hoax, but it remains to this day a great mystery. The only part I know to be verifiable is the non appearance of Bader at the Dinner. I was there & very disappointed not to be able to meet one of my all time heroes.

Will the grass be greener on the other side?

We can only wait and see.

© DJM 2019

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