Fertile as gold lush corn will grow, These words which soon my pen will sow, And in small measure I shall find, The meaning they have left behind, And often, in my deepest thought, Elusive memory I have sought, Urge my hand to take my pen, Give reign to fancies now and then, So why do I write? Who can tell, What demon holds me in it’s spell? This hidden voice, so far unheard, Translated into written word, Could King Canute, arms open wide, Hold back the ever flowing tide. My moving pen will often find, The deepest echoes of my mind, So thus unleashed, my mind set free.
MY FAMILY- Recollections of early years as the eldest child.
I feel I should make some mention before I start to speak of my family memories of the house we all lived in, a small, terraced house, hardly one would imagine anywhere near large enough for all it contained by the time my parents had completed our rather large family.12 Canning Road – Betty, Lou, Fred and Del.
There was a large room with dividing doors which was placed to the left of the street door, a long passage way led down two steps into a small kitchen off which was what we called a scullery, known nowadays I believe as a ‘utility room. ’To the left was a door leading into a medium sized garden. In the corner of this room, next to the garden door was the big white stone copper with its heavy wooden lid, familiar to most people of my age group. There was a work surface of sorts at the end of which stood a shallow stone sink, not the large ‘Butler’ sink which would have been far more useful in many of our family situations.
Halfway along the passage was a flight of stairs at the top of which was a small box room looking out to the back garden. Next to this was the toilet or ‘lav’ as most people knew it in those days. From a small landing were two or three more stairs leading to another larger landing with one fairly large room (the master bedroom) to the left and on the right another slightly smaller room which accommodated four of us most of the time! Oh, those summer nights!
The master or front bedroom overlooked the local police station’s backyard, providing a great deal of interest and fun at times especially when the drunks were brought in! Not when the stray dogs were kennelled there for a night or two and kicked up a shindig all night long. Dad was not amused and had many a brush with the duty sergeant, or when the young off-duty policemen enjoyed their games of snooker in the games room with their windows wide open at night in the summer heat!
Not a great deal of space in which to bring up a family as large as ours but somehow we managed and I don’t feel any of us are the worse for the experience.Aunt Rose
I have tried to remember as far back as I can and believe I may have been as young as three or four years old when our Aunt Rose, mum’s sister, received official confirmation from the War Office that her fiancé Dick had been killed in the first World War. Until this time she had been told only that he was registered as missing. She must have felt this to be so after all that time, bearing in mind that the war had been over some 14 years by then but `Hope springs eternal’ I suppose in all of us and it still comes as a shock when one has the final confirmation of the facts. Of course the reason becomes only too clear when one realizes the conditions endured by the troops during that terrible time. Most of them died in the trenches where they stood, trampled quite often by their colleagues, trying, in sheer panic to escape from what they must have known would be their fate, suffocated by mud and slime. Small wonder that only identity discs were left after all those years and certainly little compensation for all the relatives left mourning them. Aunt Rose never fully recovered from this experience and this, I believe caused a great deal of the bitterness for which she is often remembered. I sometimes wonder, looking back on things, how she must have felt to see her sister producing her large family when she herself was denied that privilege by such a cruel stroke of fate. It couldn’t have been easy for her.
Another of my memories, from a very tender age and also I know of my brothers and sisters was of our family sick-bed. This consisted of an old sea trunk. Where it came from we never knew, one didn’t ask such questions. My father was a great one for acquiring all manner of things, often to mum’s consternation but always to her questions came the same reply, ‘It’ll come in handy’ I must admit, most of the time he was right! If anyone felt poorly they were directed to the corner and once installed were treated to dad’s favourite remedy, a vile concoction, purchased over the counter by parents who could not afford a doctor’s visit. It was known as ‘Fennings Fever Cure’ efficacious in every illness known to man I believe! A visit to the ‘corner’ almost invariably resulted in a spoonful of this being poured down the throat. The almost spontaneous reaction was severe vomiting, not at all pleasant and not many were known to stay for a second dose, thereby having the desired effect. Illness in a large family is a great inconvenience when there is already a heavy enough work load.
My father had been married before and during that time lived next door to mum, he was at No. l2 Canning Road and mum at No.14. I understand his first wife was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and some time after she died he married our mum. I was born the month before mum and dad were married although it was not until much later in my life I became aware of this fact. It had always been kept a dark secret and if I ever needed my birth certificate for any reason there was an excuse as to why I couldn’t have it. This caused me a great deal of inconvenience on a number of occasions and I found it hard to understand why.
Mum had two sisters, Lily and Rose. Lily, the eldest, married a man twice her age and went to live in Norfolk, she had two sons, Leslie and Arnold. She was a Christadelphian, something of a religious fanatic and tried to bring the boys up in her way but I think without much success. She came to stay with us once and I think our brothers taught them a thing or two. Their version of ‘Men of Harlech’ being one example! I don’t think they were ever the same after that visit!
Aunt Lil, Uncle George, Leslie and Arnold
The other sister was Aunt Rose who I have previously mentioned. There had been another sister years before, whilst they were growing up named Hannah who had met a nasty death, having been run over and fatally injured by a brewer’s dray (cart.)
There were also 4 boys born but apparently they had died at birth. Mum had a very sheltered up-bringing but had a bad experience with a step-mother when her father had re-married. She was the youngest child and was adored by her father but stayed home and was a maid of all work while her sisters went out to their jobs so she had little experience of life to draw on, probably the reason she succumbed to my father’s charms and the reason for my dubious beginnings! Grandpa, mum’s father, was a Baptist by religious persuasion and in those days, Baptists were known for their narrow outlook and strict religious codes of behaviour. I can only surmise at the trouble her announcement of an on-coming birth must have caused her, particularly as she was a salvationist in the ‘Sally Army’ often selling ‘War Cries,’ a religious paper in the local pubs. Anyway, mum moved into No.12 and was then, I suppose, faced with the task of coping, not only with a rather sickly baby – I weighed only just over five pounds at birth, had whooping cough and pneumonia during my first few months and only just survived, she had also to deal with a very stroppy teenage step-daughter as well.
I don’t remember much of Iris, I shared a bedroom with her at one stage but wasn’t old enough for her to have made any impression on me. She had been sent away to an approved school as these places were then known and was allowed home on leaves at times. She ran off eventually and married a man old enough to be her father and finished up with seven children. She lived in London for some time, at one time at the end of our road, and then moved to Mildmay Park, from there to Keighly in Yorkshire. I remember once while she was living at Mildmay Park and had had yet another of her off-spring, I was dispatched on the No. 236 bus to cook the tea and look after the family until their father came home. I don’t recall how old I was then but far too young to have been sent on such an errand I’m sure!
From a very tender age I was expected to cope in these crises and consequently grew up pretty fast! Iris ran off and left her family whilst living in Yorkshire and her children know nothing of her whereabouts even to this day nor yet whether she is dead or alive. Our father must have carried this burden all his life, not knowing what had become of her. On his death-bed he called for her night after night, no doubt wanting to make his peace with her before the end. I felt we should have tried to find her but mum was adamant that she wanted things left as they were so there was nothing we could do but it used to break my heart when Norman and I sat with him to hear him calling for her.
After dad died some of the family managed to trace her children and still have some contact with them, two of the girls are living in Australia I believe. I have never felt I wanted to become involved, it was more important to me that dad should have been able to trace their mother and I still feel sadness that this was not possible.
I know very little of dad’s family, he would take me, as a very small child, Fred too, to visit his mother occasionally, her name was granny Kiff, she had remarried during dad’s teenage years, hence dad’s name being Savill.
She was a little old lady, always dressed in black and lived in the basement area of the family house in Kentish Town. I was fascinated by her room which was full of stuffed birds in glass cases. Being a basement it was always very dark and added to the air of mystery which I felt around me whenever I was there. Some of dad’s half-brothers and sisters lived in other rooms in the large house and dad would go with them for a drink, we, Fred and I that, is were left outside with various other children of the family and if we behaved (as if we dared do otherwise!) We were rewarded with a huge pub biscuit and a glass of lemonade. This whole thing was a great treat for us, I never knew dad to go for drinks when we were at home, except with his brother-in-law Bert, his sister Bessie’s husband when they came for a visit. I never remember mum going into a pub at all, good thing really as I don’t know where the money would have come from, it was a job to make it go round as it was.
On one occasion dad had taken me to his firm to show me where he worked, a great honour to be singled out for such a treat! We were waiting on the platform at Camden Town for the underground train to come in when a sailor, standing near us and obviously the worse for drink, started to lower himself on to the train lines, imagine my absolute horror. Nobody else seemed to notice him but dad did, without a word to me, he clambered down after him and with the help of one or two other waiting people, pulled him, back onto the platform. No reporters flash guns or anything to record dad’s bravery and quick thinking, nothing to record the incident but for me, my dad was a hero! Those who had seen took little notice and the sailor certainly was unable to show any gratitude, he was far too drunk to know what he was doing.
Dad never missed an opportunity, when I travelled with him on the underground to point out to me that he helped to make the first London escalator, he worked in an iron foundry, they had the contract with the firm Waygood Otis to make all the metal parts. One way and another I couldn’t help but feel that my dad was special although he was very strict with us, not given to demonstrations of affection but he worked so hard to keep his family together and brought us up to have respect for everyone. He was very particular about table manners and believed that silence whilst eating the meal was important, time for talking afterwards. If I think about it I believe dad taught us all a valuable lesson- if a job needs doing, don’t fuss, just get on and do it! His own life was the best example he could have given.
Dad had a blood sister as well as a step-family, she was younger than him and he had a great fondness for her. Her name was Bessie, I was named after her. Her husband, Bert was a park-keeper at Kenwood, they lived in the park-keepers flats at the entrance to Kenwood. They had two boys, Bert, always known as little Bert to distinguish him from his father, and Ken. Bessie was a lovely person, in constant pain with severe arthritis which crippled her hands, always happy in spite of this affliction and with a wonderful infectious laugh which we all loved. She knitted constantly in spite of her hands, generally socks for her three men and her visits, almost every week or so on a Saturday evening were a tonic and a joy to us all.
Our main outing, when we were children was always to visit Aunt Bess on Bank holidays. We would walk from home, dad pushing the big bassinette pram, a child each end and the rest of us holding on to the sides. I often complained at the distance we had to walk not that it made any difference, we couldn’t afford the fare anyway! Dad said it was good for us to walk, the best exercise and who were we to argue, how times have changed!
We would walk round the fair which was always held at Hampstead on Bank holidays although we never had a ‘go’ on anything and to be honest I don’t think we even asked. It was accepted that there were limits and we seemed to know what the limits were from a very tender age. We’d find a nice spot, eat our picnic Mum had made for us (Mum stayed home, it must have been bliss for her!) Then we’d make our way to Aunt Bess who would always find some little treat for us. We thought her flat was very ‘posh,’ they even had a bathroom would you believe? All too soon it was time to take the long trek home, I reckon we all slept well on those nights, we must have been exhausted but I only ever remember it as a great treat so it couldn’t have done me much harm. Don’t know about my poor old feet though!
As we got a bit older and I daresay dad had done enough overtime he would give us a real big treat during his summer holiday. We would be taken by train to Southend for a day on the beach of course all our food etc. had to be taken with us, we had no idea what ‘eating out’ was. Imagine all the clutter by the time we were ready and what excitement there was when we thought we spotted the sea from the train window. Dad loved the sea dearly and I wish so often when I am walking along a sea-shore that he had been able to share what we now take for granted. He worked so hard all his life, never had a chance to retire and had so few treats, it seems so unfair.
There were very few ‘perks’ in dads job but there was one which proved to be a big blessing and saved him a lot of money. When the machine belts had to be replaced, they let him bring the old ones home (thinking back on that last statement I’m not quite sure if they were actually aware of him taking them, as I’ve said, dad always had his eyes open for anything ‘handy’ that might be going). Anyway these belts were leather, about ½ inch thick and he made excellent use of them mending our shoes. He would, as he termed ‘clump them,’ this appeared to be building up the sole with the leather to make a good strong pair of shoes, my goodness they were heavy by the time he’d finished and I doubt very much whether they were still the original shape! I would often hear the boys’ friends call out to them when they played football in the street, ‘What ya goin’ in for, Sav?’ I know why they had to come in now and again – they needed to rest their feet! We had a round rubber heel on all our shoes so that it could be turned round as it wore, thus ensuring it lasted twice as long. Woe betide anyone who came indoors with one rubber heel missing, it was a case of about turn, get back outside and stay out until you find it. Not an easy task if you’d been playing in the park!
We very seldom had new shoes, mum would either buy them from the little pawnbrokers in Blackstock Road, (they had a stall outside the shop with shoes people hadn’t reclaimed from pawn after a certain time), or dad would bring them back from one of his weekly forays to Club Row on a Sunday morning. Never mind whether the shoes were a good fit or not, if they were a bit big you’d ‘grow into them’ (Oh those blisters!) On the other hand, too tight, ‘You’ll soon wear them in!’ Little wonder what rotten feet some of us have now!
There was always great excitement when dad returned from his Sunday expedition to Club Row. He would open his old straw bag onto the table as we watched in fascination to see what wonders he’d found on his travels, we never knew what to expect. Sometimes out would tumble a dozen or so day-old chicks, skittering and cheeping all over the kitchen table. Dad always kept livestock, mum would say he was interested in anything that would breed, I didn’t realize her meaning at the time but I must say now I see what she meant.
Thinking back there always seemed to be a new baby or a toddler in the house and being the eldest girl wasn’t always a good thing. I was as young as nine when I first started being ‘mum’ and at ten years, when Alan was born it was accepted that I would stay home and run the household in mum’s place. I was handed the housekeeping purse and told ‘You know how this has to be spent, I’ll leave it to you.’ In those days of course, childbirth meant a fourteen day stay in bed, no getting up an hour after as things are today. There were no labour-saving appliances, every job meant hard labour from the old stone copper, fed constantly with any old junk which would burn to make the copper boil and give the wash a good clean. Fred was a great help to me whenever I needed to get a boil up. He would scavenge around for bits and pieces and would help me to put the wash through the big, heavy wooden rollered mangle. This was a vicious monster as Cyril could tell.
He was helping mum put the wash through one day when his fingers caught between the rollers. He must have been screaming in agony. In her sheer panic, mum, instead of unscrewing the pressure screw at the top to loosen the rollers turned the handle back again to get his fingers out, thus giving the poor kid another dose! She was mortified when she realized what she’d done. I don’t remember Cyril offering his help after that! I don’t think he’s ever forgotten this incident.
Fred always did the family weekly shop with me on a Friday afternoon after school. Mum would make out her list and we would go along to the grocers in Blackstock Road, just round the corner from our road, it was known as Saunders and it was a fascination in those days to watch your order being weighed up. Almost everything had to be weighed and emptied into bags and butter (If you were well-off enough to buy it) was patted into shape with wooden sticks, wide at the ends with a pattern on, quite often a thistle or a cow and when the butter was placed into the wrapper the pattern was embossed on the pat of butter. Sugar, dried fruit, all that sort of thing was loose, also lentils, dried peas, etc., etc., I loved to watch the order being prepared and of course, everything was priced, after weighing, on a scrap of paper which was finally totalled by the assistant. People in shops could add up in those days, no relying on calculators! We had our own shopping trolley, not unique, most of the boys had one like it! It was a cart which the boys had made themselves out of all manner of oddments, old pram wheels and scrap wood they found lying around. This cart had many uses, it would be a ‘dung’ cart in the morning and a bridal carriage in the afternoon when we played ‘weddings.’ I would often complain about sitting amid the remains of horse manure whilst being a ‘bride’ but was told to shut up or I would be denied the privilege! (I don’t think the ‘muck’ brought me the luck it was supposed to on reflection).
When we were children we were fortunate enough to live within five minutes walking distance from a very well kept park.
In those days, some folk will remember parks were kept in good order by an army of men and women known as park keepers. In their smart brown uniforms, complete with trilby, they kept law and order as well as any policeman and had their own methods of dealing with lawbreakers in their own small domain.
The head keeper, a Mr. Fox was known by all the small boys as ‘The Fox’ or ‘Foxy’, well named as it happens by virtue of his exceedingly pointed nose and keen, sharp eyes. He missed nothing and appeared also to have eyes in the back of his head. He seemed to have an in-built hatred for any boy who crossed his path, innocent or not. As far as he was concerned they were all guilty for just being there and “making his park look untidy”! My four brothers had good reason to remember feeling his wrath, he gave them a lesson they’d not forget in a hurry! I must tell you, these brothers of mine, scamps they certainly were, into all the mischief they could find but never anything malicious you understand. Often they would find small ways of outwitting ‘Old Foxy’ and taunting him as he chased them as far as the park gates. This time however, they had gone just a bit too far. There was a sizable boating lake surrounding two small islands on which the many swans nested and tended their young each spring.
On this particular day the boys, enjoying a great game of ‘skimming’ with the pockets full of stones they’d collected on their way, were startled to hear the ‘Foxy’ war cry, ‘Gerroff you so and so kids, you’ve disturbed my nesting swans!!
Off ran the boys at full throttle, ‘Foxy’ in hot pursuit. Confident of their safety once through the gates but feeling it best to give him time to cool off before their next foray, they ran the rest of the way home, through our ever open street door, up the stairs and into the safe haven of their bedroom where they rocked with glee and told each other how, once again, they’d outwitted ‘Old Foxy’.
Their joy was short-lived however as there came a rat-a-tat on the door and on peeping from the window, shock and horror, someone cried ‘Oh no, it’s ‘Old Foxy’! quick, hide!
I must explain, our father was a strict disciplinarian, respect for all, people or other people’s property being one of his strongest rules.
They heard father’s footsteps as he trod the passageway to the street door and then after a moment or two in his deep, strong voice, came the command which they knew had to be obeyed at their peril! ‘You boys, get down here at once!!’
Nobody defied our dad and got away with it so down the stairs they slunk, all four of them and there they stood in single file, the closest they had ever stood to ‘Foxy’ whilst he recounted his sorry tale, father hanging on his every word.
By this time, a small gathering of their chums had assembled outside the house, just in time to hear the boys, under our father’s instruction not only apologising but being made to shake hands with the enemy!! The humiliation of that moment lived with them for a long time and the street cred of the ‘Savs’ as they were known must have sunk to rock bottom. Even worse, our dad’s parting remark- ‘Get inside all of you, I’ve not finished with you yet!
Yes, they all remember ‘The Fox’
Memory is the strangest thing, Sadness or happiness it may bring. Stored away until recall, Childhood memories are best of all. A cold and frosty winter’s day, Children running in from play, Frozen fingers, noses red, North wind whistling overhead. Into the kitchen, cosy and warm. Sheltered from the winter’s storm, Snuggled in comfort by the fire, Long toasting fork with prongs of wire. Slice after slice we sat and toasted, Till our tingling hands felt roasted. We’d all sit round and eat out fill, Soon forgot the winter’s chill. On a sunny summer’s day, Jam sandwiches and lemonade. We really thought we’d got it made, We’d leave at two, got back at three To tell poor mum we were home for tea! Or we’d play at weddings, I was the bride, A four wheeled cart, mucky inside! Don’t be so fussy the boys would shout, We’ll go down the hill and tip you out! When we all meet now and stories flow I’m sure each one of us really know, The fun we had when we were small Brings the best memories of them all!
One incident which stands out strongly in my mind, I believe it was when mum had Kath in which case I would have been thirteen. We still had gas-lighting and were using the old flat-irons, heated on the old kitchen range. The gas was lit by long wax tapers but had to be done very carefully or the taper would make a hole in the mantle, rendering it useless and new ones cost money. Dad had impressed on me not to allow anyone else to light the gas. Apart from any other consideration, poking the taper into the kitchen fire and then taking it over to the light fitting, over the kitchen table could be a dangerous operation. I had also been told not to light up until really necessary, we hadn’t that much money to keep feeding the hungry gas meter! I had prepared mum’s tea on the tray and before taking it upstairs to her, I called to them all not to light the gas, I’d do it when I came downstairs. I took the tray up to mum and came back down in time to see them all standing on the kitchen table, trying desperately to blow out the flames which were licking their way all along the line of washing which I’d stood ironing until all hours the previous evening and hung on the lines to air. I scooped it all off the line and ran into the scullery with my arms full, dumping it all in the sink and soaking it with cold water. They were all crying and saying “Sorry, sorry Bet, we didn’t mean it. I was crying too to think that I had to get the whole lot dry and ironed again and mended too in some cases. Yes, they’d tried to light the gas as it was getting dark, what could I say? We were all only kids. I sometimes think how it would have been looked on today and what a hue and cry it would cause if kids were left to fend for themselves as we often were. I grew up pretty fast and I think I must have been adult at thirteen, not a teenager as I would have been today!
Derrick was a real imp of mischief and always in scrapes but he was such a lovable little boy that he got away with most things. On one occasion, I had chased him along the passage to wallop him for fighting with Fred, he dodged and got in front of me as I went to go through the little stair gate dad had made by the two stairs into the kitchen (to stop the baby from falling) he swung it behind him and I went sailing head over heels right over the top. I caught him in the end and he got an even bigger wallop than I’d first intended!
The biggest interruption in our close knit family life and one which none of us will ever forget was our evacuation experience when the war began in 1939 and I have tried to record as much of this experience as I can remember although it is one I would prefer to forget. War broke out on 3rd. September 1939, two days after dad’s birthday and four of us were whisked off, our gas masks slung on our shoulders and our few possessions, namely just a change of clothes in a little bag clutched tightly in our hands. Each child had a label pinned to the front of their clothing, stating name and address and also the name of the school they’d come from. Our destination was not divulged, I don’t know whether even the teachers with us were allowed to know where they would end up! It must have been as traumatic for them. There were many children, us included who had never been away from home before, let alone separated from parents in such a hasty fashion. We had been told for weeks beforehand that we were to be sent away if war started but to tell a child that was really quite meaningless, war was not something we had ever been acquainted with in our short lives and in fact I think some children viewed the whole thing as something of a ‘lark’ and a chance to get away from parental control for a while. We had what they called rehearsals at school for some weeks beforehand and we all thought it was a jolly sight better than lessons, especially the boys! We all went on the same train from Finsbury Park station but separated by age into our various classes.
As Lou was only seven she was allowed to travel with me, I had strict instructions from mum that we were to stay together, ‘Don’t let anybody separate you’ mum told me and, being a lot more obedient then than I am now, I readily agreed and thus we were together through the whole sordid experience.
We finished up after what seemed to us to be an endless journey at Knebworth in Hertfordshire, as did Derrick. Mum went the following day and was sent to Hitchin, only a short distance from us as it happened. All expectant mothers or those with children under the age of five were evacuated together, thus with Alan only six months and Cyril about 3 ½ she came within this group. Fred, for some reason best known to the powers that be, was taken a bit further on to a place called Preston near Saffron Walden with another boy in his class.
Mum was quite well served in her billet as they were called, she and a good many other mothers with babies were placed in Hitchin House, a grand mansion with all ‘mod cons’ although of course no true mother is happy when separated from her family in this fashion particularly as it was some weeks before she found out where we all were.
Fred was quite happy too, he was on a small farm just up his street, although Fred was very easy to please, he always was very easy going and it took a lot to perturb him. Derrick really landed on his feet, he was with and elderly couple who would have given him the top brick off the chimney, they loved him and seriously wanted to adopt him. They couldn’t understand why mum was so horrified at the suggestion as she had so many children and thought she wouldn’t miss one! Although Del was only a couple of streets away it was a few days before Lou and I found out where he was.
Lou and I were the ones to come off worse of the whole family, following the train journey, we were all taken to a village hall where we were given a drink and a carrier bag with a few rations in to see us through the first few days I believe. I can’t remember exactly what the bag contained but I know there was a tin of corned beef and a tin of fruit, also a big bar of chocolate. I never remember having any of it though! We were then taken along to a village green and deposited there to await the villagers who were to come along and make their selection.
Thinking back now, I wonder they hadn’t made some sort of stockade and clamped a ticket in our ears giving details of breed, age etc. it must have been just like a cattle market! The cleanest and best dressed children were first to go as one would expect. We were always kept scrupulously clean but weren’t able to be dressed ‘up to the nines’ with mum’s meagre resources, she did a marvellous job in the circumstances and worked jolly hard to keep us decently clad. I was invariably dressed in someone else’s clothes which didn’t always sit as well on me as they did on them no doubt and being tall and lean I probably looked a sorry scrap.
Several people pointed at Lou who was a chubby little child, no doubt seeing her as an acquisition to their family but I kicked up such a fuss and insisted she was going nowhere without me, that we found ourselves left severely alone and finally were the only ones without a home. Along came a young scruffy looking woman who pointed at Lou saying ‘I’ll take that one but I don’t want the skinny one.’ Needless to say I did my act again and when it was pointed out to her that she’d be able to claim two lots of money each week if she took us both she then agreed and off we went. Then started the worst six weeks of my young life!
We had no separate sleeping arrangements and had to sleep in a double bed with the woman who was pregnant and who told me straight away that I’d be useful when she had the baby. I’d be able to look after her. Mind you that didn’t bother me that much as I’d done it all before for my mother. Her husband was what was known as an Army Reserve, men who were called up at the beginning of the war and trained ready to be called into the forces whenever the need should arise. He was stationed only a few miles away at the nearest town, Hitchin and was able to come home on leave quite often. On these occasions we were sent into an empty room next door to sleep on the floorboards with a coat underneath us and another for a blanket. One particular night there was a violent storm and being as we were in an empty, dark room.
The experience was horrific. Poor Lou started to cry and was then taken in with them to share their double bed, leaving me to cope the rest of the night on my own. Mind you, on reflection perhaps I was better off, all the six weeks we were there I never saw her change the bed and the smell of B.O. in the bedroom was something I’d never experienced before. Mum was always so particular about hygiene in the home and though she often had to wash and air bedding to put back on again, we always had clean sheets. The toilet was located at the bottom of the garden and when Lou needed to go in the night I was instructed to take her to the bathroom and let her do it in the bath! To somebody who’d never had a bathroom and to whom having a bath meant the old tin bath in front of the fire, this was sacrilege. This appeared to be the only use she had for the bath as the whole time we were there I never saw it used for anything else! Dad would send us stamps so that we could write home to him but these, together with any bits of money I managed to save all disappeared. She would sometimes go to visit her husband at his army camp, leaving us all day to fend for ourselves and leaving me sixpence to buy some sausages. I was told if we wanted potatoes to get the spade from the shed and dig some from the garden. We’d often be left until the early hours when she arrived back home. I had always been a bit finicky with my food when young so certainly didn’t appreciate her attempts at porridge making, bear in mind that I had long since been initiated into the art of basic cooking and could have done it better myself. Her offerings were more like gruel with dumplings! She was not at all impressed with my constant rejection and decided the way to make me eat it was to serve me the same cold bowl at every meal until I was so hungry I would eat it, however this didn’t work so eventually she gave up but it didn’t do anything for the relationship shaky as it was already! She became very fond of Lou and encouraged her to defy me at every turn. I was often in trouble with teachers because she wouldn’t turn up with me at our various meeting places she was only seven and didn’t understand the situation. We had no proper lessons as such during this time and were told each day where we should meet for what passed as education, mainly nature walks along the country lanes, or sometimes, if the village hall was available we were able to resume what schooling could be crammed into very little time. The village school of course already had its own children ‘in situ’ and there was no room for us. Our lack of learning during the early war years I must say seems in retrospect to have had very little ill effect.
Our poor dad with only weekends at his disposal was visiting at one place or another every weekend. He met me on his way from the railway station on a damp October morning, I was clutching a bag of sugar I’d been sent for at crack of dawn. I had no coat and was walking about with a temperature in the throes of flu. That was enough for him, back he came with me, had a few strong words with our ‘lady’ and took us off for the rest of the day. He also sorted out some of the staff who’d been in charge of us and gave them a piece of his mind. The outcome of this was to see the return of the family to home, sweet home. The following week he started to make arrangements, got mum home first then the rest of us over the next two weekends.
Of course, inevitably, people asked why I hadn’t told anyone of the way we were being treated. Very easy to see in retrospect what we should have done, although mature for my years I was still only ten years old and bearing in mind that we had been placed in this billet as a last resort and, though I had at times been tempted to say something, I was terrified that there would be nowhere else to go and I would have then become even more unpopular than I was already and things could have become even worse!
Apart from the fact that she must have missed her children badly during this time mum probably enjoyed what must have been a well-earned rest cure for her, she was housed in a mansion, vacated by the squire and his lady for the duration, they had gone abroad, probably to America as many did. Some of the staff had been left behind and treated the mums very well. A good many elderly people who were babies then may well have been born in these grand surroundings.
One of my happiest memories, even to this day, some sixty odd years ago is of our homecoming. As we approached our, (I can’t say the gate of our house as that had long since been requisitioned by the government for the war effort, to make munitions) but, anyway, as we neared the street door we were greeted by a wonderful smell of boiled bacon and pease pudding, our mum, bless her had cooked us a meal we’ll never forget and even to this day when I cook this dish I still remember the great taste.
~~~~MEMO: The section above dealing with evacuation has been added to this memories web site as a separate item – see No 40 in the Index ~~~~
What followed after this may have been even worse, at least we were all together during the war years. I suppose it was a case of ‘United we stand‘ and as dad said ‘If we have to go we’ll all go together.‘ I can’t remember whether that was much comfort to us at our tender ages but there you are, children were forced to grow up pretty quickly at that time so I suppose we just took it all in our stride.
Family life went on much the same as it always had in spite of the disruptions of which there were many. It had to for millions during those dreadful years and many people suffered far more than we did. Rationing was one of the hardest deprivations I suppose but there again, as we were a large family we had more coupons to spend `en bloc’ and were able to share things out better than some.
I’ve noted some of the items below so that you may see what sort of amounts we were allowed.
4 ounces bacon/ham. 8 ounces sugar. 2 ounces tea. 3 ounces cheese. 2 ounces butter. 2 ounces margarine. 2 ounces lard.
Per family: 1 Egg per person per day plus 1 pkt. or tin dried egg containing the equivalent of 12 eggs per month.
Milk– fresh milk according to availability plus 1 tin dried milk per month.
Fruit – Priority allowance of 1 pound oranges for children aged 1-5 if available (very seldom and then one had to queue for them.) Children this age had never seen bananas and had no idea what to do with them when they were re-introduced. Alan for instance took a large bite on the one he was offered right through the whole lot, skin and all! I don’t know whether he likes them now but I do remember at the time he was thoroughly disgusted with this long awaited treat!
Bread – Strangely enough this was not rationed at all until just after the war when we had rationing for a couple of years.
Vegetables – apart from onions weren’t rationed but only available when in season, not like nowadays when we are offered such great variety at all times of the year.
In addition there was a points system, started two years after the beginning of the war. Each member of the family was allocated a ration book to buy other foodstuffs for the month. Items included tinned fish, canned meat, dried fruit, syrup, treacle and biscuits. The number of points allowed per week being four, rising after a year or two to six.
There was a great shortage of paper too although one would never have thought so to see the posters stuck on every available space exhorting the public to be careful of so many things, to join this or that, take baths one after another to save water (We didn’t need telling that, we were already conforming in that respect!) Schools in particular felt the pinch, every scrap of paper in an exercise book had to be used before another was issued and paintings in primary schools were done on newspaper, not very inspiring for the young artist I’m sure!
One poster in particular was one asking for all kitchen waste. Large dustbins were placed at various places in almost every street in which each household was supposed to deposit any waste from plates or food preparation. This was collected two or three times a week and was processed into food to feed the pig population who in turn would hopefully be feeding us! Of course we didn’t make many trips to the bins, what we didn’t eat was used to feed our own livestock. We were told not to waste bread too and yet another poster was used for this purpose.
There were so many posters for almost anything, here are a few which some of you may remember….
I sometimes wondered where all these enemy agents were hiding, we never saw any in our neck of the woods, could they have been in hiding in some of those pig swill bins?!
Who could forget the coughs and sneezes one stuck up all over the place! Doctors surgeries, buses, stations, cinemas….. It was as though germs had never been in existence before the war and we were suddenly being assailed not only by the visible enemy but also by the unseen ones, lurking there and ready to spring out at us at every turn!
Then there were those which begged for recruits, one in particular was keen for women to join the Land Army to help keep the nation fed whilst the men dealt with the larger problems. Why I wondered did they always portray a jolly, suntanned girl looking for all the world as though she was enjoying her summer holiday, no mention of the muck, mud and diabolical jobs she’d be called on to cope with in this capacity. I once, in my teens, volunteered to do relief land work whilst some of the girls were on holiday. The team who had gone the week before had been fruit picking so I had quite looked forward to enjoying not only the job, in bright sunshine of course but also some of the fruits of my labours. Imagine my dismay when, on arriving at the farm we were informed that we would be on cabbage hoeing duty for the whole two weeks. The first week was grim but the second, after several downpours was indescribable and it’s to be wondered that I now enjoy gardening so much!
Apart from walls plastered with posters and the bomb damage all around us, another of the sights we all got used to was the huge silver barrage balloons floating about the sky. These were used as defence and were supposed to help stop any undesirable enemy aircraft landing.
They were based in all London parks and when they first appeared there was always an eager crowd of children watching with fascination whilst they were refilled but in the end we all got so used to them that we more or less ignored them.
Clothes too were rationed also by means of a points system and we resorted to all manner of strange materials in order to replenish our wardrobes. You were considered very lucky if you knew somebody in the Air Force, parachute silk being very adaptable for all sorts of feminine garments.
During the war too, we in this country were introduced to nylon stockings mainly by the American soldiers stationed here who certainly knew the way to get round the British girls. Sometimes shops would sell them and when it was rumoured that a shop had some for sale there was soon a huge queue but of course some of the precious coupons had to be exchanged and to start with they were very expensive. Many girls painted their legs to give the impression they were wearing stockings and some of them became very clever at drawing the seams up the backs or maybe their friends did it for them!We were fortunate in a way as, being a large family we had always known what it was to share whatever we had and to make do without moaning so it didn’t seem so strange to us. There were a good many people who tried to buy coupons from mum especially the clothing ones, probably as they thought we’d not have the cash to spend them but mum stuck to her guns and we got our share, as best as she was able. I remember too the Provident lady as we called her, a Miss Gooding who would come every Saturday morning to collect the weekly payment, when necessary mum would request a ‘cheque’ from her for the following week. This was a docket which would allow her to spend so much, to be paid back on a weekly basis. Mum would decide who was in most need and the lucky ones would be taken on a trip to the ‘North London’ the big store at Nags Head and would be ‘kitted out’ with the needed garments. What excitement there was when spending occurred on anything but food. I believe in one of my schoolgirl diary scribblings found in the old cellar of the family home some years ago I mentioned in great excitement that mum had bought me a new vest and mentioned how lovely and warm it was. How pathetic this would seem to today’s youngsters who have so much and appreciate so little!
We loved going to this store as we were all fascinated by the pulley system they operated to take money and give change. The assistant would reach up and take a cylindrical container from a system of wires which transferred the cash or ‘provi’ cheque to the cashier’s office. After some minutes had elapsed, the container having travelled along the wire and been dealt with was duly returned to the relevant counter, the assistant would reach up, take it down and hand the receipt and change (if any) to the waiting customer. In the case of the ‘provi’ cheque it would show how much there was left to spend, It seemed like magic to us, we had no T.V. then so our idea of entertainment was very limited!
Of course we had no washing machines either, the wash was done, always on a Monday. Soiled clothes were put in soak on Sunday night in a huge zinc wash tub in the scullery, no washing powder but good, hard Sunlight soap was grated into the tub and the tub then half-filled with water which had been boiled up in the old stone copper in the corner of the scullery, it was then left overnight. As soon as we were off to school on Monday morning more hot water from the kitchen range (boiled up in big, heavy cast iron saucepans) would be added. The rubbing board would then be placed in the tub and battle commenced. Many the time my poor knuckles were skinned raw on that board whenever mum was out of action, first when Alan was born and I was just ten years old and then three years later when Kath came along. Odd times too when mum had ‘off days’ (probably worn out!) when I had to take over. Once the clothes had been individually rubbed down on the board, scrubbed too if they were badly soiled they were then transferred if they came into the ‘whites’ category into the old copper to be boiled. This as I may have mentioned before entailed keeping the copper ‘hole’ stoked up with all the old junk you could find. What a godsend dear Fred was, he was such a good old stoker! After boiling then hooking out with the wooden copper stick it all went into the sink to be rinsed, in cold water of course, couldn’t waste too much precious hot water in those times when it wasn’t ‘on tap.’ What a deadly job that was in the winter, my hands turn blue now, just remembering it! Next all the whites had to be dipped into a tub of blue to preserve their whiteness, also in cold water of course. On one occasion when Lou was a toddler she fell into a tub of blue, I don’t think she stayed in it for long! There were no ill effects that I remember! Finally some ‘specials’ like tablecloths or doilies had to be starched. Everything then went through the old wooden rollered mangle which stood outside the kitchen door. Apart from this good morning’s work time had to be found to cook the family’s lunch as there was no mid-day meal at school. I can easily recall to this day the Monday smell of washing boiling and bubble and squeak cooking. Whilst mum cut the cold meat and served up the bubble and squeak we would help by putting the washing through the mangle for her before it then went on the line.
We had the usual family panics of course, one Sunday dad had to rush Del to the hospital with a big bead lodged up his nose! Another time Alan tore a finger open on a nail and the old doctor was called in. He must have been in his eighties, very doddery and always, summer or winter with a dewdrop hanging from his nose. His diagnosis that a stitch or two was needed and that he would do it must have struck fear into poor Alan, mum went a paler shade of white and nearly passed out so I was called upon to hold him still. I believe in spite of outward appearance he was in fact a good doctor and whatever he prescribed seemed to work, but his appearance did nothing to inspire confidence in his patients! I don’t know if Alan remembers that occasion but I most certainly do! He had to go to hospital in the end after all that!
Bath time was a great event as you may imagine. Out would come the big bungalow bath as it was called, it was kept hanging on the wall just past the kitchen door. The copper had earlier been filled with water, heated and then bailed out with a long-handled bowl into the bath which was placed in front of the kitchen range (very civilised), towels were placed to warm on the fire guard and the programme commenced! Always the little ones as they were called went first.
Mum would kneel, bath the child, wash their hair then pass them over to dad who sat in his wooden armchair, towel at the ready. I can still feel my head being rubbed until I was sure it must surely bleed when I think of it. How he could rub and no amount of protests made any difference. Being the eldest I was always last and I swear I had to cut the scum aside before I could step in! More hot water was ladled in after each child but never any of the old water taken out. I can’t ever remember complaining but then it would have had little effect anyway except that I might have been given a wallop so it was hardly worthwhile!
After the bath having well cleaned our outsides, dad insisted that that inside must also be attended to,on the table was always a big tub of Brimstone and Treacle together with a spoon. Like his Fennings Fever Cure it was an institution as far as he was concerned. His favourite saying was “Always keep your bowels open.” This of course being a purgative was just the job as far as he was concerned so after a thorough drying down went a generous spoonful of the revolting stuff! Bath nights were always on a Saturday and I think now what a pity it was that he didn’t give some thought to the fact that Sunday ‘afters’ was invariably either rhubarb or prunes and custard! No wonder poor Lou had such problems as a child, had her ‘accidents’ been monitored it would have no doubt transpired that most of them occurred on a Monday morning! In those days in a large family no quarter was given, each member of the family was treated the same there was no time or patience for such considerations ‘Did it suit everybody or did some not really need so much bowel stimulation?
We were quite fortunate during the war years as a family in many ways, our dad was too old to be called into the forces as so many fathers were, he had been rejected medically during the first war apparently his heart was discovered to be the wrong side when he had the forces medical but in any case he was in a factory making munitions so had an exemption on those grounds. The older men and those whom the forces rejected were thus left to help protect the women and children in their area.
Some men became air raid wardens, mainly those who had some administration abilities as were detailed to organise shelters, boarding up of windows shattered by bomb blast and such tasks. They were also expected to patrol streets at night to ensure that no chink of light escaped from windows for fear that even the smallest chink might give direction to enemy aircraft who might be loitering overhead. Their famous, well remembered catch phrase must surely be their constant call ‘Put that light out.’ Other men were given the more menial tasks i.e. clearing bomb damage, putting out fires and helping in general when enemy aircraft left their trail of damage behind them. Mind you, when any disaster struck every man, woman and even the children set to to help in any way possible.
Our dad was one of these men who worked hard all day and then worked in shifts to patrol the streets at night. They were all issued with helmets and torches greatly needed because of course there were no street lights at all and everywhere was in complete darkness. Even car headlights were covered with black slotted discs so that only a minimum of light shone through. This was known as the blackout, very well named, it was almost impossible to go anywhere after dark as even torches had to be used very sparingly and indeed were frowned upon unless you had been authorised to use one in an official capacity! The casual fire fighters like our dad were known as the L.V.Rs. (Local Volunteer Reserves) although I seem to remember there was little of the ‘volunteer’ about their selection! Remember too that most of these men were already working very long hours, all of them in work of some war time significance, most of them doing overtime as well. Women too were recruited for many of the jobs previously tackled by men and did a wonderful job in all sorts of capacities, many of them driving buses, ambulances, working on the land and in fact covering many jobs thought previously to be the sole province of the men-folk. I believe this may, in fact, have been the very start of ‘Womens’ Lib’ as they proved themselves to be so capable they began to think the men were not as essential as they imagined they were!
Sometimes the younger generation would be called in for their assistance. On one occasion a neighbour, old Mrs. Butler who lived next door on the upper floor, had an incendiary bomb through her roof, landing on her feather mattress, (luckily she wasn’t in her bed!) Dad and some of his mates tackled the fire and we older children formed a chain with buckets and bowls of water to help douse the flames. These incendiary devices were dreadful things, they were ejected from the enemy aircraft in a large container known as a `Molotov Basket’ and on the way down would release hundreds of small incendiary bombs which of course could land anywhere. Nobody knew if they would be next. Sometimes now when I read of all the counselling offered to people who suffer some sort of trauma I wonder how we all managed to grow into reasonably adjusted adults given all the nervous tension we grew up with. There would be air raids night after night and we had very little sound sleep for months on end yet now, remarkably our nerves seem quite stable.
One of our very best treats as we were growing up was a visit from mum’s cousins, two dear ladies known to us as aunties Lou and Doris. They would visit us about once a month usually on a Saturday or Sunday from their home in Peckham Rye in South London. They came on a No.4a bus and when we knew they were expected joy knew no bounds. We would be up and down the road every few minutes to see if the bus had come. We would wait on the opposite side of the road as we weren’t allowed to cross the road alone and what a disappointment if they weren’t on the bus but what great excitement if they were! Those two were the main highlight of our childhood and spoilt us so much. We never knew what they would think up for us next. Aunt Lou was so very inventive and clever with her hands and was always thinking up something to please us, although she had no children of her own she certainly knew what made us tick. I remember in particular a cardboard, decorated cake she would make. It would be placed in the middle of the table with coloured ribbons radiating from the centre. We each had a ribbon to hold and at a given signal we would each pull our ribbon at the end of which would be a small gift, always something which pleased. She was a wonderful cook and brought with her all sorts of delicacies she had made. Aunt Doris, the quieter of the two left her sister to do most of the talking but she was a dear and we all loved her.
They had a terrible experience during the air raids and were lucky to have survived. They had been on one of their visits to us when, on the way home an air raid commenced. As was the custom they had to get off the bus to find shelter. Before they could reach cover the bombs started to fall all round St.Paul’s Cathedral in the city.That night the whole of the city was an inferno, what a dreadful time they must have had, it made no difference though they still paid us their usual visits raids or no raids!
I often wonder if they realized how much joy they brought to us kids whose treats were few and far between. Just after the war their little house was pulled down for re-development and they were re-housed in a high rise apartment where they lived for years until Aunt Lou died. Aunt Doris then coped very well on her own without a word of complaint although at times she must have been very lonely. She passed away peacefully in hospital in 1999.
Of course throughout the war years every citizen was compelled to carry one of these identity cards in order that they could be easily identified should the worst occur. Sometimes when there had been a heavy raid and people were buried underneath mounds of rubble they were the only means of telling who they were. Makes me shiver to think of this now!
There were also some government buildings in which entry was not allowed unless this card was produced. As with any of these methods though there were criminals who were able to make clever copies and they enjoyed a profitable time selling to all sorts of undesirables on the Black Market.
Many other things were available too from these Black marketeers. So many goods were in short supply and some folk were only too happy to take advantage and would pay a great deal of money to obtain some of the things they were missing. There were heavy penalties if they were caught but it still went on and as always those who had money were able to benefit and enjoy the luxuries that others went without.
Dad kept chickens and this was a great help during the war as eggs were rationed and most people were resigned to using dried egg powder, not a bad substitute as it was possible to do many weird and wonderful things with ‘make do’ materials when pressed! We called Lou dried egg Lizzie as she loved the resulting fried egg so much. Poor mum though was expected to look after the chickens as well as her ‘tribe’ and was often caught out when she forgot to feed them due, no doubt to her many other duties! Dad always got up about 5a.m. to make sure his birds were fed and watered before he went to work and then mum was supposed to feed them again around tea time before they went to roost. Sometimes she’d dash out just before dad was due in, scatter the food hastily and hope for the best. Dad, alerted no doubt by the sight of so much spare grain scattered around would then feel the chicken’s crops, if they were full he knew jolly well they’d not long been fed and although mum made a strong denial he always knew the truth. Chicken food was also rationed during the war years and dad would boil up potato peelings and all sorts of scraps to mix with the meal, what a pong while this was going on! Of course we were always sure of our Christmas dinners although I wouldn’t touch any of the home killed poultry and didn’t eat any until after I was married and bought it from a shop. Having often fed and watered the poor things I couldn’t bring myself to eat them, it seemed like cannibalism to me although of course the family thought I was weird but it made no difference, I could not be moved. At one stage ducks too were tried, but after mum’s objections to the muddy state of the garden after a few weeks this was abandoned and duck was on the menu.
One year, at Christmas time dad had been ill, most unusual for him and although we had plenty of livestock in the garden he wasn’t well enough to kill it so I made sausage and mince rissoles for our main course, followed by mum’s famous Christmas pudding so I don’t think they minded too much and I at least thought it was a great improvement.
Like all kids we enjoyed and looked forward to Christmas a lot. We would do a play for mum and dad’s entertainment and for aunt Bess who was generally there too. We’d rehearse for weeks beforehand and I’d make all sorts of creations out of nothing for our wardrobe, props were made by Fred. Old pulled out wool became hair and faces were made up from the old water colour paint box, wonder is we didn’t suffer any ill-effects. Often before we got to the end someone, usually Lou would get a fit of the giggles generally due to some suspicious ‘windy noises’ after an over-generous helping of Christmas dinner! I would get very upset after all my hard work but I daresay I soon got over it.
There was very little money for presents at Christmas and Fred and I, being the eldest would save every penny we could throughout the year, in those days one could earn ½ or a penny for running a neighbour’s errands. We joined a Christmas club at a wool cum toy shop on Blackstock hill run by a little barrel shaped Austrian man and his sister. They called us Mother and Father Christmas. Made us feel very grown up. What fun we had when the time drew near to choose toys for the little ones and we spent hours in the shop deciding what we could get with our money. We would also try to make things for them. Fred had heard Lou say she had always wanted a needlework box so he made one out of all the oddments of wood he could find. I painted it blue and did a floral decoration on top. Lou was delighted with it and kept it for many years, she still says it was one of the best presents she ever had.
I was ten years of age when the Second World War started, old enough to be considered ‘adult’ when the need arose. Force of circumstances soon puts on the years! When another baby came on the scene or mum had an ‘off’ day caused probably by the strain and stress of trying to make ends meet, I was called into service! Dad would wake me with a nudge before he left for work, usually about 5.30a.m. with the words ‘You’ll have to get up mate and see to the little ones, your mum’s not well, I’ve lit the fire for you.’ (This being the kitchen range on which, at that time all our water was heated in big, heavy cast iron saucepans and a huge aluminium kettle.)
I had so much time off school I wonder I managed to learn much at all. I loved school and hated to be absent, possibly, because it was a great deal easier than coping at home! More than once, the School Attendance Officer appeared on our doorstep but of course as mum would be upstairs in bed and dad at work until about eight at night he never got very far! I can remember on one occasion being told to let dad know that he would have the N.S.P.C.C. on to him if he didn’t stop using me as a home help but I suppose as there was nobody to make any protest on my behalf, the words fell on deaf ears, so to speak.
As the war got under way, the government collected all the scrap metal they could find, in order to make the ammunitions and equipment needed to keep the forces going. All the houses on our side of the road had heavy iron gates, rather imposing affairs considering the size of the houses. These too were taken by the Salvage Squads, also any metal saucepans and other household implements which could be spared. We were assured that these would be replaced after the war but I never yet heard of this being done!
Now most of the houses sport either modest little wooden affairs or some of them none at all.
We were all equipped with Anderson or Morrison shelter in our back gardens, come to think of it, maybe this was the birth of today’s flat packs as they were delivered in this manner and the resident, regardless of age or fitness was expected to dig out the hole required and to fit them in.
Wooden benches were fitted inside and during the first raids we conscientiously used ours but it very soon became full of filthy, clay covered water so was soon declared useless.
The other type, the Morrison, slightly more sophisticated I suppose, usually supplied for bigger gardens were brick built.They were named after the two Government Ministers who had initiated them. Some people covered the tops of the Anderson with earth and used them as an extension of their gardens. Our dad always grew his tomatoes on ours and lovely ones they were too! He was noted for the size and flavour of his produce, swore it was his mixture of chicken manure and the contents of the chamber pots combined which gave such good results!
Dad was a great re-cycler, even before the practice became so popular. I think I must take after him, as did Fred, we don’t like to waste anything! Dad was always very proud of his garden and as the boys were never interested that was another of the duties which fell to my lot. Mind you, I loved to help him, he had a real feel for the soil and a feel for all natural things which I am pleased to have inherited from him. He loved to walk on the Heath and was so knowledgeable about the birds and trees, considering he had been born and bred in town. I wish heartily that he’d had some of the opportunities we have now to travel and to see so much, he worked so hard all his life and seemed to have nothing else, not fair. He loved the sea in particular but never had a holiday in his life. His only glimpse of the coast was when he treated us to our trip to Southend once a year.
On the few occasions we used the shelter I’m sure we would all agree what a dreadful experience it was. The heat of all our bodies in such a confined space soon had the inner walls running with condensation. I don’t know how we all managed to fit in as not only were all our gang ensconced but by this time, we had acquired a middle-aged man and his wife as lodgers in two of our upstairs rooms. He always brought his foul smelling pipe with him, talk about a pea-souper! I wonder how we ever had enough oxygen for all our bodies! After a few of these nights of torment we all stayed indoors and if the raids got really bad we would all shelter under the kitchen table. There was never room for the whole of mum’s body so she usually had her posterior outside, she was quite plump at the time and we always reckoned that anything that landed would bounce straight back off mum’s backside! It was the silly jokes and laughs which kept us all going during these dreadful years and I suppose helped us to overcome some of the horrors.
I lost a very dear school friend during the worst of the raids and by some strange coincidence I still have, to this day a small keepsake to remind me of her. She was a sweet girl, a devout Catholic named Joan Howard and lived with her family in Kelvin Road at Highbury Barn. She had come home with me after school for an hour or two and went off home afterwards as usual. It had been her birthday a short while before and she had been given a small crucifix by her parents. After she had gone I found she had dropped it in our passageway. I picked it up to give her at school the next day but that night we had a dreadful raid and an oil bomb dropped at the top of her road. I walked to school the next morning and upon reaching what was her road, found it was no longer there. I carried on to school, no counselling in those days! After school that day, Fred and I scoured all the Rest Centres in our area. (These were empty schools from which pupils had been evacuated and were used to give temporary accommodation to the homeless) We could find no trace of Joan and then found a warden who had been on duty that night, he told us there was not one survivor in the whole road. Every house, every family had been wiped out, Joan, her young brother, mother, father and grandmother, all gone! I went to her funeral at the Catholic Church in Kelross Road together with a member of staff as representatives of the school and it is something I shall never forget. We were so lucky that we survived and were only once turfed out as a shell had fallen in the next garden but that was soon dealt with and gave us very little inconvenience. We had many awful raids through day and night and I don’t know how our nerves are not quite shattered as we’ve got older. It was nothing unusual to have to duck under a hedge on the way to or from school when the buzz bombs started to come over or to have to break a bus journey to school, get quickly into the nearest shelter then continue the journey after the ‘all clear’ had sounded. One way and another, we children who stayed in London throughout the blitz had very little schooling!
During the summer months we always had our front room window open and when the siren sounded, very loudly as it was on the roof of the Police Station opposite our house, we would all hop in the window, quick as a flash together with any children we happened to be playing with at the time. We never really knew how many children were inside with us but all the mums knew where to look if their offspring went missing!
Of course we did all sorts of tricks with the rations to make them go further, we would mix butter and marge together and then either make up a thin white sauce with cornflour tip it in whilst still hot and then beat it like mad until it all became solid again or another method was to beat up potato until well mashed and again whilst still hot, tip it into the butter mix and treat it in the same way. This last method was not quite as favourable as the resulting mix was never really smooth and one could always detect the starchy consistency that prevailed even after what seemed like hours of beating! We had no mixers or food processors then just a good chance to develop our muscles!
The meat situation was the hardest to manage especially as the boys were getting bigger and had appetites to match. We tried whale meat but that definitely had a slightly ‘fishy’ taste and was not very popular. In the last years of the rationing once I’d started work I found a horsemeat shop in Soho selling steaks for human consumption. I often queued during my lunch breaks for a couple of pounds of steak. Mum was well pleased but I was told not to let on to the boys what sort of steak they were eating. I wasn’t bothered eating it myself, I’ve never been a great meat eater but it helped mum to satisfy their appetites, that’s all I was bothered about.
Ever the scavenger, when a house was demolished in a bombing raid, dad would take me with him, the old bassinette (pram) in tow and with a nod and an ‘O.K.’ chief to the watchman in charge of the site we’d load up the pram with all the old wood dad could lay his hands on. This was a great help, not only with the expense of household fuel but as coal was rationed along with most other things, we managed quite well to ‘keep the home fires burning’! Dad never stopped finding all he could to help out the family budget, sometimes I must admit, I had suspicions that he found things before they were actually lost!
Still, he was a good old dad to us and worked his socks off to keep us all going. He would always prepare the vegetables for mum, much to my dismay at times as he wasn’t too fussy, with his reputation for not wasting anything and mine for being a bit finicky it’s no wonder I had little appetite for my greens! Washing up was always his job too when he was home at weekends. Shoe cleaning was never done by anyone else to my knowledge and I don’t believe mum ever cleaned a pair of shoes in her life! He’d line them all up by the dresser in the corner of the kitchen on newspaper and they were always ready to wear the next morning, mind you, I think he always used cherry blossom black, regardless of the shoe colour, maybe, thinking back that is why I never remember having shoes which were not black in those days! Of course, this was another way of ensuring that no-one had lost a rubber heel and failed to mention it, one of our biggest childhood crimes!
And the end of My Family, Part One.
My Family, Part Two is on the Index as No 42.
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