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A Tale Of Two Brothers

A Tale Of Two Brothers

Winners, they say, are born. It is not just a question of the right combination of genes that combine to create the particular physical or mental abilities, but a special quality of self-belief bordering on arrogance at times, and the willingness to take risks when prudence would suggest caution. The other side of the coin is that losers too appear to be born that way, even if they are equally gifted by nature.

This is a story of two brothers who at first glance were apparently identical in appearance, but so totally different in character that it was difficult to accept the evidence of your eyes. On closer examination, however, you would suddenly realise that they were not truly identical, but mirror images of each other.

They were both highly intelligent, but Keith, the older brother by a couple of hours, was a rather grave little boy who seldom laughed. Leonard on the other hand, was everyone's idea of a perfect child, always smiling and laughing — the kind of child who engaged every adult who met him.

They were born in London in the February following the Armistice that brought the slaughter of the First World War to an end. Their father Frederick came from a lower-middle-class family in a large town in the Midlands of England where his father worked as a senior clerk in local government. He was a bright boy and when he was eleven passed the competitive qualifying examination for a free place at one of the new county secondary schools. Although he was not a high flyer his academic record was good enough for him to stay on at school beyond the statutory leaving age of fifteen, and although he initially considered a career in teaching he eventually decided to follow his father into public service. He passed the Civil Service entry examination with high marks but before he could apply for a position war was declared and in August 1914 he enlisted as a volunteer in the British Army.  In November, following basic training, he went to France with his regiment, and by summer 1916 he had risen through the ranks from private soldier to the rank of Captain. In November 1916 in one of the last battles of the Somme Offensive, his war came to an end when he was severely injured in a shell burst, also suffering serious damage to his lungs from exposure to mustard gas. 

Following surgery, in a military hospital, Frederick was sent for rehabilitation to a stately home in the Home Counties which had been taken over by the Army as a temporary hospital for the duration of the conflict. He fell in love with one of the nurses, the daughter of the owning family. In common with many other upper-class young women, Eileen had wanted to do her part for the war effort, and when her brothers went to France with their Guards regiment, she volunteered as a Red Cross Nurse. She had hoped to go to France as well, but her father used his influence to keep her at home out of danger. At first, her feelings for Frederick were no different from those she felt for the other soldiers, but there was some special chemistry between them, and gradually pity turned to affection, and affection to love.

Frederick had recovered sufficiently to leave hospital by late spring in 1917. But as he was assessed to be unfit for further military service, he was discharged from the Army into civilian life where, because of his military experience and distinguished war record, he was offered a post as an administrative officer in the War Office. Despite opposition from her family, and particularly her father, Eileen and Frederick were married at Battersea Registry Office in August 1917. They began their married life in a small rented flat in Brixton from where Frederick took the train to Westminster six days a week, but by 1923 when the boys were four years old, they had saved enough money for a deposit on a small semi-detached house in the North London suburbs.

Frederick never fully recovered from his war injuries, and by 1929 he was suffering increasing periods of ill health when he was unable to work. In 1930 he was diagnosed with the advanced stages of tuberculosis and was admitted to an isolation hospital in the summer of that year, where he died just before Christmas. Before Frederick’s hospitalisation, Eileen had been able to use her nursing qualification to supplement the family income by working part-time as a private nurse caring for wealthy elderly patients. However, even with this extra income, the family's savings were rapidly running out and when Frederick died her family insisted that she moved with the children back to her family home, where she was allowed to live rent-free in one of the cottages on the estate. Although he had not approved of her marriage, her father insisted that the grandchildren of a peer of the realm should receive a proper education, although he had barred them from ever inheriting the peerage if his son failed to produce an heir. So at the beginning of the autumn term in September 1931 both boys were registered as boarders at a small public school in a coastal town in Dorset.


With his carefree and engaging personality, Leonard soon adapted to boarding school life and rapidly lost his provincial accent and attitudes. By his fifteenth birthday, he acted and sounded like all the other pupils who had been born into the upper class, with their characteristic air of social superiority. It also became apparent that he was a natural leader and quickly gathered a small group of admirers around him, and they often got into scrapes, although this was less out of maliciousness than youthful high spirits. Although they regularly broke school rules, they were generally punished rather lightly by schoolmasters who had known life in the trenches and who were reminded of their own indiscretions when on leave from the Front. Leonard’s lively intelligence, natural charm, and persuasive tongue might also have had something to do with it. 

In complete contrast, Keith was an introverted loner who did not naturally fit into the communal life of a British public school. He was as physically well developed as his brother but lacked the coordination to excel at team games, and he loathed the Army Cadet Corps and its endless drills and hierarchical structure. There is no doubt that if he had not been Leonard’s brother, he would have been subjected to merciless bullying and practical jokes, but generally, the other pupils left him alone. His social isolation did not bother him, and he spent as much time as possible studying, either in his room or the unusually well-stocked school library, the legacy of a farsighted former headmaster. As a result of his lack of interest in the refined social graces of his upper-class peers he never lost his London accent, and in later life, he was often thought of as boorish and common by those who didn’t know him.

Both boys did well academically, although Leonard spent far less time in private study and regularly borrowed his brother’s notes when he was revising for examinations. Their natural aptitudes and inclinations were as contrasting as their personalities, and whilst Keith excelled in mathematics and physics, Leonard displayed a flair for languages — it was said that he could pick up a new language in a couple of days. Their headmaster recognised their intellectual qualities and encouraged them to take the entrance examinations for his alma mater Cambridge University, and in the autumn of 1937, they entered the hallowed portals of Trinity College. In their final year at school, they had often discussed their future careers and what subject they would choose to study at Cambridge. Keith had become very excited by the work on nuclear physics taking place in the Cavendish Laboratory under the leadership of Ernest Rutherford, but 
Leonard regularly changed his mind. However, as a result of political events in Europe and the threat of another European war, and with the encouragement of his mother, he eventually decided to study modern languages and political science.

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, both brothers talked about volunteering for the Armed Forces. But when Keith spoke about this to his university tutor, he was advised that he could make a much greater contribution to the war effort by continuing the research he had already started into harnessing the power of nuclear fission. Leonard, however, volunteered for the Royal Airforce in May 1940 as soon as he had completed his final examinations, and was immediately sent for basic pilot training in Canada.

Unlike Leonard, who had had a string of girlfriends at university, Keith had really had little time or opportunity for meeting members of the opposite sex. However, all this changed over the Christmas holiday of 1940. His mother had invited a friend from her nursing days and her 19-year-old daughter Eveline to share their Christmas festivities, such as they were with food rationing. In Leonard’s absence, Keith was under obligation to act the part of host and was therefore unable to keep quietly in the background as was his usual inclination. For the first time in his life, therefore, he was more or less forced to spend time in the company of an attractive young woman. Almost inevitably he fell in love with Eveline, feelings that seemed to have been reciprocated, and they started writing to each other regularly once the holiday was over. Where Keith was almost painfully shy, Eveline was vivacious and outgoing and recognising that he would never take the initiative she invited him to stay with her in London over the Easter holiday. Although Keith did not formally propose, by the end of two weeks it was more or less agreed that once Eveline reached the age of 21, they would get married.

Leonard did not complete his pilot training in time to take part in the Battle of Britain, and only returned to Britain in February 1941 when he was assigned to one of the many fighter squadrons defending Britain’s ports and factories against German bombing raids. Although Keith had written to tell him about Eveline, he did not meet her until the summer of 1941 when he was at last allowed to take leave following the end of the major Luftwaffe bombing offensive.

Once the United States entered the war in December 1941, the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States began to publicly coordinate their military strategy. Their primary objective in Europe was invasion of the continent and military defeat of the German army. However, there was serious concern that the Germans would develop a nuclear bomb and in September 1942 a secret research facility was opened at Los Alamos in New Mexico to bring together all the work on production of a functioning nuclear weapon. Many leading British scientists were sent to Los Alamos and amongst their number was Keith who had been carrying out crucial work on enrichment of uranium. Although he had not yet submitted his thesis and his research remained secret until after the end of the Cold War in 1989, he was awarded a doctorate for his work after the end of the war when he returned to Britain to take up an academic appointment at Manchester University in the spring of 1950.

With the end of the Luftwaffe air offensive over Britain in the summer of 1941, fighter squadrons were required to take on an offensive role. The limited range of British fighter aircraft meant that sorties could not penetrate further than about 60 miles over enemy occupied territory and their major role was in tying down as many German fighters as possible, especially following the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Leonard’s squadron was based in Kent, and he was regularly able to go to London for a couple of nights, and after Keith had departed for the United States, he and Eveline began to see much more of each other. As time passed and her memory of Keith faded, Eveline started to fall under the spell of Leonard’s sparkling and witty personality. Sadly the day came when she could no longer deny her attraction to him, and as there was no formal agreement between her and Keith, she accepted Leonard’s proposal of marriage in the summer of 1944.


Leonard was demobilised in May 1946 after a distinguished and highly decorated wartime career and immediately joined the Diplomatic Service, initially being based in the Foreign Office in central London. He and Eveline rented an apartment in Knightsbridge and were renowned for their cocktail parties where guests might find themselves rubbing shoulders with important politicians or show business personalities. If it was possible, Leonard was now an even more attractive person, especially to impressionable young women, and over the next few years had a number of discreet and not so discreet affairs. Eveline turned a blind eye to his peccadilloes, which generally did not last for more than a few weeks. However, when he was involved in a major cause célèbre in 1949 with a famous actress and a government minister, she insisted that he would have to mend his ways if he wished to progress further in his career. They moved to the Home Counties where they bought a large detached house with about an acre of land, and eleven months later Eveline gave birth to a girl who was christened Gillian. A second child, a boy named Peter, followed eighteen months later, and Leonard appeared to have settled into the role of devoted husband and father. Keith, who was now living as a bachelor in Manchester, bore no rancour for his betrayal by Leonard and Eveline and was delighted to become godfather to his niece and nephew.

Eveline realised that Leonard was finding the life of cosy domesticity boring and that he still hankered for the bright lights and thrills of life in the city. She knew that on the quiet he had been writing poetry for several years — mainly love poems based on his many amours, some of which were distinctly erotic in nature — and that he had also written a rough draft of a fictionalised account of his years as a fighter pilot. It was a measure of her own particular genius that she saw the possibilities of combining the two genres in a uniquely different kind of war novel. When she casually mentioned the idea to Leonard he at first dismissed it, but she persisted, and by subtly appealing to his vanity she, at last, persuaded him to give it a try. To his surprise, once he had started working seriously on the project, he found the intellectual challenge extremely rewarding. By the summer of 1951, he had finished a complete draft of a novel in which poems were interspersed throughout the text acting as a kind of counterpoint to the action. It was typical of his nature that once he had finished the project to his own satisfaction, he lost interest in it, but Eveline then took charge and sent the manuscript to several publishers. The first three rejected it, but a minor publisher of art house fiction saw that it had possibilities and accepted it with some minor revisions, and a small print run of a first edition was published in spring 1952.

Leonard’s novel could have sunk without trace, but some people are just born lucky, and by pure chance, a copy ended up in the hands of a BBC radio producer of a new late-night programme about experimental fiction on the Third Programme. Leonard was invited to be interviewed on-air and to read a selection from the book. As a consequence, his novel became a must-have book for intellectuals, and Leonard rapidly became known as an up-and-coming author. The first print run very quickly sold out and a much larger second run was ordered. As is often the way one of the major publishing houses that had initially rejected the manuscript now changed its mind and bought the publishing rights and as well as publishing a quality hard back edition of the novel commissioned a second novel and proposed a separate collection of Leonard’s poetry. However, at this point fate intervened and the second novel languished in rough draft, although a small volume of his selected poems did appear in 1953.


In the years following the end of World War Two Britain became increasingly dependant on oil, most of which came by tanker from the Middle East via the Suez Canal. The Foreign Office quickly recognised that it needed more Arabic and Farsi speakers, and with his well-known ability with languages, Leonard was sent to language school to become proficient in these tongues. In 1954 Leonard was posted to the British Embassy in Cairo with the vague title of Adviser to the Ambassador, but really to spy on the government of President Nasser. In order to preserve diplomatic appearances, Eveline was required to accompany her husband, and their children were left in the care of their grandmother, Eileen. Shortly after their arrival in Egypt, Leonard and Eveline were on the move again to Baghdad where Leonard probably had a major role in the formation of the Middle East Treaty Organisation —better known as the Baghdad Pact — with the intention of containing the expansion of Soviet power in the Middle East. Following the Cairo instigated riots in December 1955 in the capital of Jordan Amman in protest against Jordan joining the Baghdad Pact, Leonard was moved once more to Jordan with a role that was never satisfactorily explained.

In March 1956 there were further bloody riots in Amman, and Leonard and Eveline were killed by an explosion that wrecked their official limousine. Their deaths were officially put down as an unfortunate accident, but there had been rumours of an affair between Leonard and an Iraqi princess who was later betrothed to King Farouk II, the Hashemite king of Iraq who was himself assassinated during the coup of 1958.

With the death of their parents, there was much debate between their respective grandparents as to the fate of Gillian and Peter. At this point, Keith intervened and with surprising firmness insisted that he should be allowed to officially adopt them as his own children. When his condition as a confirmed bachelor was used as an argument against this, he replied that he was able to offer them not only a comfortable home and a good education but also love and stability. He also pointed out that in appearance at least, he was identical to their deceased father. In the end, he got his way, and Gillian and Peter moved to live with Keith in a large detached house in Didsbury, a leafy suburb of the city of Manchester, where he was now Professor of Physics in the university.

Under Keith’s wise and gentle tutelage, Gillian and Peter blossomed and in their turn went to university and eventually made good careers, Peter as a consultant cardiologist and Gillian as a political journalist and commentator. By the time of his retirement in 1987 at the age of 68, Keith had five ‘grandchildren’ ranging in age from fourteen months to seven years who were to be the delight of his declining years. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 many of the military and scientific secrets of the Cold War years began to be released into the public domain. For the first time Keith’s part in the development of the first nuclear bomb was officially revealed and recognised and in 1993, he was belatedly awarded an MBE by the British Government. Although, there were many, who believed that the quality and originality of his work in the 1940s was deserving of a Nobel Prize.

In his retirement, many of Keith’s colleagues suggested that as one of the few remaining scientists who had worked at Los Alamos he should write a history of those years. Although he did contribute a chapter to an official account of the British role in the development of the atomic bomb, he surprised everyone by revising the draft of his brother’s unfinished second novel. This was published in 2003 shortly after the invasion of Iraq by British and American forces. It quickly became a best seller, and was particularly popular with opponents of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, exposing as it did the murky history of her role in the politics of the Middle East in the years following the end of the Second World War.

Keith died peacefully in his sleep in 2006. When his adopted daughter, Gillian, was sorting through his possessions she found an album of black and white photographs of her mother from the early 1940s hidden at the bottom of a drawer in his bedside table as well as the official photograph of him outside Buckingham Palace after receiving his MBE from the Queen. However, the only family photographs on display were those of him with his ‘grandchildren’ on their many camping expeditions to the Lake District. He had requested a quiet family funeral. Most of his former colleagues had predeceased him, but the crematorium was full to overflowing with former students, which was probably the greatest tribute to a life lived modestly in the service of others and the love and esteem in which he was held by those who had known him.


*Author’s Note — the popularity of given names in English speaking countries is changing all the time. This is a particular problem when writing a historical piece, and for authenticity, I have chosen names appropriate to the birth years of my characters drawn from members my own and my wife’s families born at approximately the same time. Frederick and Eileen were the names of my wife’s grandparents, Leonard, Keith and Eveline were the names of her parents and Peter and Gillian the names of her brother and my sister.


This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © 2020 by Keith Paver

All rights reserved, including all copyrights and all other intellectual property rights in the contents hereof.

The compositions and contents herein are not to be copied, reproduced, printed, published, posted, displayed, incorporated, stored in or scanned into a retrieval system or database, transmitted, broadcast, bartered or sold, in whole or in part without the prior express written permission of the sole author. Unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and is an infringement of National and International Copyright laws.

All names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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