John Symons

A Stranger On The Shore

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Tracing the life of the author’s father, this passionate, vivid memoir follows him through his childhood in the west of England, his successful 25-year career in the Indian Army prior to the country’s independence in 1947, and his final years in Devonshire, where he raised a family while the symptoms of Huntington’s disease gradually set in.
Born of a family of impoverished Cornish fishermen, he and his six sisters cared for their dying mother after losing their father at the start of the First World War, before Huntington’s reared itself in their lives and led to the early death of three of the siblings.
An absorbing, tense story of an emerging family crisis, this is an inspiring narrative showing that, through courage and faith in the face of great adversity, peace can be found.
William Symons was born in Newlyn in 1878. Following family tradition he became a fisherman and a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In 1914, following some early action at sea in the First World War, he died at the age of 36 yrs, leaving a widow and seven children, a boy and six girls. Unknown to him, and to his family, he left another legacy. In his body he carried a faulty gene, which, if inherited, could lead to Huntington’s chorea, a disease that normally becomes apparent in middle age. William died before symptoms appeared but the disease, known at the time as St Vitus Dance, was to claim the lives of a number of his descendants.

This book chronicles the life of his eldest child, and only son, William John, who was 12 years old at the time of his father’s death. There was a small naval pension and William earned what pennies he could in his spare time until he left school the following year aged 13 years and went to work, initially for Dick Bath, the coal merchant. Somehow the family managed to stay together even after the death of his mother, Florence Louisa, from tuberculosis in 1921. They attended St. Peter’s Church, where the vicar, Mr Phelps, knew the family well and gave them his support.

In 1919 William (always known as ‘Jack’ in the family) signed on as a soldier in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and thus started a lifetime career in the Army and, from 1922, a long period of service in India. Mr Phelps helped him to weigh everything up and arrive at the decision to make this move. And so the story unfolds’.

Eventually, at the age of 70 years, chorea would claim his life, but it was a life that saw a lot of happiness. Not least the birth of his two sons. The elder of these, John Symons, is the writer of this book.
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191 printed pages
Original publication


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