Kennedy epitomised optimism and hope in less cynical age

From: M Taylor, The Avenue, Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

I WAS 15-years-old, in the process of being educated, or their version of education, at the Grammar School in Doncaster on the day President Kennedy was killed.

In fact I was coming away from some school event, perhaps speech day, I cannot recall, with a group of boys. In the High Street in Doncaster, near where I think the Wimpy Bar used to be. It was there we heard the news.

Although at 15 I was not particularly politically astute, I had lived through an age of austerity and post-war depravation. Coming from a humble and poor background, at a repressive and class-driven school, Kennedy represented a changed world, a future and hope.

It is hard to explain to my children and grandchildren the world at the time the 60s began and how the journey through the decade changed so many things. Britain was a grey place. Everything was grey, particularly politicians Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. No fault of theirs, it was the system. It is hard to explain the Cold War, only people of my age can remember the “four minute warning”, how to prepare for a nuclear attack. As boys of 15, we discussed how to spend our last four minutes, something to do with girls I recall! Better than being taught how to hide under a school desk!

However history now tells the story of the Cuban missile crisis, for me Kennedy stood tall and resolute. He also, against political opposition began the process of change in the USA to break down racial segregation and provide new laws for civil rights. Sadly the death of Martin Luther King followed that of Kennedy five years later.

Getting men on the Moon, doing things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. The 60s was the great decade for me, the football was better, still a sport and not a business, the World Cup for England, European Cup for an English team, Doncaster Rovers even had two good seasons. The rugby was better and cricket brought great Test matches with the West Indies.

The world of music went through revolution, out went the old 1950s two-way family favourites stuff, in came the Stones, the Beatles, Dylan and American R&B influence.

We had Cassius Clay, another huge challenge to the establishment. The Profumo affair and Christine Keeler. The death of Marilyn Monroe. Dr Beeching. The sexual revolution never quite travelled as far as Doncaster, not for me anyway, changing clothes and style, first pint of bitter, trying to get a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, trying to get girls tipsy (that was the word) on Babycham. I could write on and on.

But the decade was epitomised to me by Kennedy. Although his death was early in the decade, he influenced so much change and was a major influence in changing the world. He started in his short time the process of changing black and white into colour, he gave me ambition and aspiration.

He made policy mistakes, of course, but the fact that we now, 50 years on, continue the debate about him and his achievements says he stood tall and resolute. A true agent of change. Kennedy, and Jackie, brought a new approach, youth, style and energy. Brand Kennedy before celebrity became the new religion.

He was a link in the chain for me, raising my aspirations. Had he lived longer, I believe his methodology of bringing change to the USA and to the world would have been to its benefit.

When I am in Doncaster, in the High Street, I still recall where I was when I heard of the death of JFK.

From: John Hopkinson, Tankersley, Barnsley.

THEY say you remember three distinct events in your life – well the assassination of John F Kennedy is certainly one that I remember vividly. I was 11 years of age on that fateful Friday evening in November 1963 and lived with my parents in the village of Birdwell near Barnsley.

In common with many houses of that period we did not have a bathroom – our downstairs kitchen doubling as bathroom. Friday night was bath night for me, and to ensure the privacy of a shy 11- year-old, my mother erected an improvised screen made from the clothes horse and bedding sheets.

This was assembled in front of our blazing coal fire and water teemed into the tin bath from the sink in the corner. Other readers might recall how hot the metal bath became on the side next to the fire!

Friday night was also the night my Grandma visited – a lady of few but meaningful words! I remember sitting in the bath, conscious of the fact that I was sitting naked separated from two ladies by a flimsy piece of material, trying desperately not to burn myself, when the first announcement was made from the huge TV in the opposite corner that news had come in from Dallas that President Kennedy had been shot but as yet there were no further details.

My Grandma’s words still echo in my ears to this day: “He’ll be bloody dead next.” True enough...!

The following Monday morning at school assembly we were addressed by the headmistress who delivered a long and passionate speech about the devastating and life-changing tragedy that had occurred. She then went on to express concern about our future. A wise lady was Miss Dunnett.

The mystery of the assassination of JFK has been of interest to me ever since – I’ve read books, watched documentaries and films but yet I believe we still don’t know the truth. We probably never will.

I still have a burning ambition to visit Dallas to see for myself – maybe next year?