Before you read Dennis Fitzgerald’s memoirs, it might be helpful to have some sort of background knowledge about him.
Dennis is the cousin of Maude Masters nee Doyle (Jeff’s mum, now deceased ). As you will read he lived in Wickford at one time. Unfortunately we have never met. I only fairly recently have come into contact with him. Dennis sent his Memoirs to Annette and here is his email that came with the memoirs file:
26 Nov 2010
Hi Annette. That was a quick reply. Sorry to hear about the trouble with the tradesmen, it is universal I assure you. I will attach my memoirs to date with this mail, beware there will be a lot of mistakes, have arrived in Australia but still a long way off to date. My word you are lucky, going on those trips, do enjoy them, I am sure you have earned them, you might send me some pictures of you at sea. I do not move much now since my wife died, the kids are always telling me off and calling me an old stay at home, that’s where I am most comfortable these days, my youngest son has a holiday home about two and a half hours open road motoring away, I drew it all up for him and helped him to build it, do go down there some times, really a wilderness full of colored birds and Aussie animals. I still drive and have a small hatch back but since I married a daughter and cremated a wife my funds are so low and we only get A$375.00 a week pension, does not go far, so I am doomed to a low life, enjoying it though. About face book Annette, I am still on there but I took my picture off, my niece’s girls and their friends keep on remarking about it and saying funny words, it’s a new language on there. Have just got back from my daughters home here at Montrose and picked up her animals to baby sit for the week end, she and her partner are off to his sister’s wedding at Warrnabool some five hours drive away from here, a lovely spot on the coast, there is a big dog, a small puppy and a rabbit. I already have a small puppy, they are sisters, my faithful old dog died on me and my daughter Geraldine got these two, one for me and one for their boy, oh boy did I need a pup!! You should see my house at times, still she WILL grow up I suppose. Hope your weather is good for you, enjoy that sunshine you are about to sail under, our weather is very warm, we are now into our summer and I fear to say our bush fire season. I am OK but Geraldine is not so safe. Hope you are able to open my memoirs as some anti viruses do not like my work.
Thanks again, Dennis
Note from Arthur Cox.
I have posted the Memoirs as they arrived – rather a long file of pages. And to make the reading easier I have split them into 7 Chapters, added a title page, changed a few misspellings and some punctuation and paragraphing.
23rd January 2011.
My recollections of life commenced at the age of five, in the year 1934, while our family was living in our new home at 213 Roman Road, East Ham London E6, an East End borough of that great city. I was born a twin, just a mile or so west of East Ham in the rather dingy dockland suburb of Canning Town, in the old borough of West Ham, an area one might term as a slum, but to my family and relations it was home, unfortunately my memory does not extend back to that period.
A view of Star lane, our house was the other side of the street with no railings, taken on the Jubilee of George V
We had many relation in Canning Town who we left behind in Star Lane, a street which holds many memories for me because my parents often took us back to see the Doyle’s, a family close to the Fitzgerald’s, related through the Sawyer’s, my mothers side, of which there were two female cousins, Caroline Doyle and Maude Doyle, who because of the big age difference, Carry being twenty years older than my twin and I, were more like aunties to us than cousins, we were late babies in the Fitzgerald family, we also had an aunt living In Star Lane, an Aunt Ann, my mothers sister, who moved to East Ham about the same time as we did, aunt Ann lost her husband in the first world war, he was a soldier, she had married again before they left Star Lane. Father used to take us to another street in Canning Town which holds memories for me, Tucker Street, a street that has been taken off the map with development, which was the home at one time or another to two aunts. One of the reasons Alec and I used to like to be taken on the bus to visit the Doyle’s in Star Lane is that they had this lovely train set rigged up in one of their rooms, it was a treat to go and see it. Mother and father were both born in Canning Town and funny enough they were born in the same house, 22 Wellington Road, Canning Town, it seems it was a refuge of some kind for the poor mothers to go and have their babies in comfort, likely owned by the Salvation Army who were our midwives.
We lived a normal family life at Roman road, in a somewhat over crowded condition as there were nine members of the family, father, mother and seven children ranging from birth years of 1911 to 1929, my twin brother Alexander and myself were the youngest. The house at Roman Road only had three bed rooms, the main one, the biggest just taking a bed and wardrobe and dressing table, the next one only holding a double bed and a single one with a wardrobe squeezed in, which five males shared, the eldest born 1912 and us young ones born 1929, looking back I can hardly except how well we all managed, of course two of them were shift workers which must have helped, I can remember some confrontations, as in most families, caused by over crowding, but not of any serious consequence, in 1938 things were relieved a bit by the marriage of the second eldest boy John, talking of us males and how we managed to survive, it is nothing compared to the conditions what the only two girls survived in, my sister Mary was the eldest child, born 1911 and my youngest sister Kathleen, born 1923, both slept in what we used to term as the box room, a box it was, measuring about seven feet by five or six, which of course only took a single bed, how they survived in such a small room is hard to imaging, for females anyway, we all knew how devoted they were to each other, so it was understandable, it seems from what I am told, the house we lived in, in Canning Town, which was rented, was of bigger dimensions, but old of course, very old and slummy, father did not own it, so moving into our own house which was brand new with a garden, must have been quite exciting for all, I know from memory that it was a happy home, it seems that our father Daniel James Fitzgerald, born West Ham London in 1887 from an Irish emigrant line, fleeing from the potato famine and the poverty of Southern Ireland, worked at the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery company all his life and had suddenly got promoted to foreman and so became a bit more affluent, hence he bought the new house.
Those were years that will never vacate my memory, father actually bought a car as well, albeit a second hand one, we were the envy of the other branches of the Fitzgerald line, we used to holiday every year, mainly to the sea side resort of Ramsgate on the Kent Coast, holidays which even at the age of seventy five I can still recall with some pleasure, we were of course, with the car a family that was never at home at week ends, mind you, even with a big Morris, as shown in the accompanying photographs it could not take all the family, but by this time most of our family were of an independent age so did not accompany mother and father on many of the trips.
Alec left and my self right with fathers car on the left
This period at Roman Road started in the year 1934 and the happy life we were leading came to a shattering end in September 1939 with the outbreak of the second world war, we did manage to fit one last happy event in at Christmas 1938, which was the marriage of the second eldest son John, who married a Canning Town girl, Sarah Watkins, a wedding that highlighted the religious problems the family was about to encounter, or perhaps had been encountering all along, the problem was, that Sally was an Anglican or church of England and John was a Roman Catholic, as was our whole family of course being Irish, when their bans were called in the Anglican church in which they were about to be married, in Canning Town, two of our Catholic aunts stood up and disputed the bans on religious grounds, John never took any notice of this and sub sequence visits from the Catholic priest, so was officially excommunicated, which as the years passed by was a forgotten thing, but unfortunately this religious problem did not go away till after the war which changed every thing, in fact my twin brother and I started school in 1935 in our second year at Roman road, all our brothers and sisters all went to St Margaret’s Roman Catholic convent school in Canning Town, no doubt where all the poor catholic children went, where of course all the teachers were nuns, but having moved away to East Ham it would have been too far for little infants to go, so dad sent us to the nearest infants school which was Brampton Road school, a short walk away, from there all the boys went up to Central Park senior boys school, which of course were both government run schools, Central park was a superb school, but of course basically church of England and oh dear that was no good, so father came under fire again from the said aunts and the local catholic priest so we were promptly removed from central park in 1938 the same year as Johns wedding, we were sent to St Michaels Roman Catholic school in East Ham which was some distance away from Roman Road and which of course was staffed once again by nuns and the head master was the Priest, which really was a disaster for Alec and I, a disaster which was rapidly over taken by greater disasters to come. The main recollections and difference of St Michael’s was that the emphasis was on religion and we were punished more for not attending mass than other bad deeds, but these kind of things changed dramatically after the declaration of war with our evacuation of the school to the remote village of Axbridge in Somerset in the west of England, which of course brings a new and dramatic chapter to my life story.
September the third 1939, a date that has indelibly stamped itself in world history and in the minds of us pre 1939 beings and which was about to dramatically change the life of the Fitzgerald family, as of most families in Europe and else where.
My memory of the coming of some kind of event, which of course to nine or ten year olds was quite a mystery, as we were shielded and ignorant of the talk of a coming war, in fact we were to take quite some interest in things that were happening around us, such as workers all over the place who were actually digging holes in our parks and making underground rooms which gave us some mischievous fun, of which we were to come to know as air raid shelters, a refuge away from the bombs and things that were soon to become a fact of life, we also witness many other noticeable things, such as the delivery by the government of these tin parts to every house in the street, with instructions for father to dig a hole for himself at the back of our garden and erect this corrugated contraption with nuts and bolts supplied, then put it in the hole and replace all the soil from the hole over the structure, which became our personal refuge, the occupation of which I will never erase from my living memory.
Sad things were about to enter our young lives, such as the departure of our three brothers Jim, John and William, the first to the Army and the other two to the Air Force, which was to leave such a big hole in our previously happy crowded family, then came the worst blow of all to us youngsters when were given letters by the nuns to take home for our parents to read, then mother and father had to some how break the news to us two that we were about to be sent away from home with the school to some unknown destination, which no doubt left an even larger hole in the family, this I do not think, from memory, caused us too much worry except when the day arrived and we had these labels tied around our necks with our name and address and so forth written on and we took to school bags carrying some of our cloths, we were attired in our best Sunday outfits instead of our school outfits and mother was extremely affectionate to us and looked like she had been crying, it was soon to be time for us to do the same, especially when we were marched to East Ham underground station from the school with our mothers by our side then made to say good by to our parents at the entrance of the station, cry and scream we all did, I can vividly remember to this day how a big policeman prized my hands away from my mothers skirt and gently pointed me into the direction of the train, that was a bad moment, more for our parents I think, as we youngsters once we were on the train and we were under way soon began to take comfort from each other and feel we were about to embark on an adventure of some kind, our train soon arrived at Paddington station in the center of London where we were marched from the underground train to the mainline express train, we were much shepherded by our teachers the nuns and other people into parts of the train, by schools, when that train puffed out of Paddington station we were on our way to, we knew not where, of course our mothers had already arrived home with no idea where their off springs might be going.
After hours of travel and much changing of trains we finely arrived, our school St Michael’s that is, at a little village named Axbridge in Somerset, nestled under the Mendip hills, at about mid afternoon to my memory, it was all beginning to get exciting for us youngsters from the concrete jungle of London to see all these distant hills and woods and so forth, we of course suffered some more shepherding around, to finely find ourselves sitting on the floor of this big chamber in the local town hall, some hundred or so kids I guess, this was the time that all these people that were present, including people to my memory in uniforms of different kinds, including again policemen, who were given the task of finding us all homes to go to and people to temperately foster us, I can remember quite well that it was very late at night, about midnight to my memory and there were four of us children left sitting on that floor, two girls, twins, and Alec and I, twins, by now very tired and very unhappy, especially after seeing all the other children leave, then to make matters worse the two girls parted and left Alec and I to wait our turn all on our own, which eventually arrived and we were taken by these women in uniforms, in a car, in the dark of the night out of town a little way to this very lonely bungalow where we were introduced to this nice tall man and this very fat (pregnant as we were to later learn) not so nice lady, we were both quite happy to be put into a bed, as we were by now the tiredness children on earth, I am sure at this time most of those other hundred or so children from our school would have been fast asleep by then. The morning was to bring mixed emotions and feelings for my brother and I, we were in complete alien surroundings with strange people who we virtually met in the dark, the big man was very nice to us again, after breakfast he tried to quell our fears and tears by taking us out in the garden to show us all these trees and hills, but the fat lady was not so kind, she was making a lot of noise, eventually a person of great proportion and sound was to bear down on us, giving us much more reason to shed tears again, there was much arguing and noise between the nice man and this old fat man smoking this huge cigar, coughing and spluttering, as to create fear in us, he turned out to be the fat lady’s father who was the local car dealer, who’s car show rooms were next to the town hall, a place that Alec and I gave a wide berth to for some time to come, we often used to see him standing there with the same cigar in his mouth, with his fat stomach jumping up and down with coughing, a frightening figure for us, I am sure he used to recognize us both, the outcome of that morning was that the fat man demanded and made the uniform ladies come back and collect us and find us a new home, which they did, this was with a lovely family up on the side of the hill, called the Martin’s, I can remember they made us feel much happier that day, there was Mrs Martin, Mr Martin, who worked for the local council and two children, a girl a bit older than us and a little boy younger, as nice as they were to us, I can vividly remember the ordeal Mr Martin put us through after we arrived at their house, he made us shed a few more tears, he produced this big galvanized bath tub, put it on the kitchen floor and filled it with this steaming hot water, put carbolic in it as I was quite familiar with the smell of that, then made Alec and I sit in it and scrubbed us down, do not forget, we were these two little dirty urchins, who I do not think had, had a wash since we left East Ham the day before, that slummy dirty London suburb, the worst memory of all about that moment is that there was Alec and I sitting together in this hot tub, crying I think, as naked as the day we were born, with all the family and all the neighbours standing around who had come to see the twins from London, this event was soon erased from our minds as the couple of months or so we were with the Martin’s was a happy time, but it was shortly to come to an end with Mrs Martin being taken ill, Alec and I were destined for yet another move, to another family some where, but it was not to be, as father, when he found out, decide that we were not going to be shoved around again, because there was a lot of talk about there would not be any fighting as there would soon be a deal with Hitler, so he decided to come and fetch us home to Roman Road, to the delight of Alec and I of course, but those few weeks of roaming around those lovely hills and rivers of Axbridge must have imprinted itself on our minds with some impact, because, as future events will show we were happy to return again in rather different circumstances.
There we were back in dear old London in those dingy old streets that we grew up in and knew so well and loved, of course there were none of our old street friends around, as they were still in the country some where, we had tasted that other world outside, with its open spaces and much more freedom to roam and all those lovely apple orchids which were there for the taking or scrumping as we came to know it, but unbeknown to our parents, much more frightening events were looming up, which no doubt were being earnestly pursued in Berlin, my memory is not too clear on those few days back home before the worst started to occur, but when it did, it has stuck in my memory and will be there for good, the opening scenario to this phase was the increasing amount of air raid sirens sounding, sometimes with no sign of an aeroplane anywhere, but that slowly changed and many German aircraft began to be heard and seen, then they became so frequent that we used to have to repair to the air raid shelter when it became dark and remain there till daylight and suffer increasing terror in the mean time, I quite distinctly remember the harmonics of the sound of some 100 to 200 aircraft slowly approaching, getting louder and louder, we got so used to them, eventually we knew how long we could stay out of the shelter in the fresh air before the bombs started to come down, or the shrapnel from the ack ack guns flew around, oh dear, those bombs, I can still hear them to this day, mind you television keeps on refreshing ones memory when you watch war films etc, I will declare though, they get it right, it seems that the German air force were ordered to fit these screechers to their bombs, so as to try and terrify the population and make them lose sleep, so as to disrupt industry, I know one thing today, I was terrified, every one i heard was the one that would finish us off, they were so loud, yet the explosion would be a long way away, on reflection after all these years I know what it must have been like for all European people like Polish and then of course the German people themselves when the tide turned, our mother used to have a prized possession, her valuable fur coat, the same coat that Alec and I used to snuggle into late at night coming home after a long trips in our car, on those terrible nights she would not go down the shelter without it, I do not know whether it was because she was always cold down there, or whether she wanted to die in it, I do know my brother and I used cry into it with fear. Talking of the old car, father had to jack it up on blocks in the garage to preserve the tires, because of the complete lack of petrol for pleasure users, well it was an early casualty on one of those nights, an incendiary bomb penetrated it and it was burnt out before father could do much about it, he risked his life out there on that thing, although, had a bomb hit the garage it would have killed us all.
Those nights gave our father and mother much anxiety because they began to realize the big mistake they had made in bringing us home, incidentally those two twin girls that were with Alec and I in the Axbridge town hall that late night many months before were also brought home by their parents, not to be as lucky as Alec and i as not to survive one of those fearful nights. Father made frantic efforts to try and get us back to Somerset, as I think the government would not help this time, he must have succeeded though because it was not long before we had our bags packed again and on our way to Paddington station in rather different circumstances this time, with our father that is, it was not a train full of children this 8time but a train full of soldiers, sailors and airmen, much to the amusement of my brother and I, this time the journey proved to be somewhat more alarming as when we finely arrived at Temple Meads station at Bristol to wait for our train to Axbridge, a porter came rushing up and said the German bombers were coming, the first I think these people had met, he told us to drop everything and rush below for shelter, I think from memory it was something of a non event, but when we came up for our belongings, which had been quickly left on the platform seat, low and behold they had been stolen, so my twin and I had to arrive at dear old Axbridge with nothing to wear, only that which we had got on, I think that same band of uniform ladies who help us find homes that first night came to our help again this time, ironically dads effort to find us new foster parents again in Axbridge turned out to be quite a coincidence because the people who took us in, Mr and Mrs Salter were the same people who took in those two twin girls on that first night months before, the girls we knew as class mates and who did not survive their return to London.
My twin and I soon settled back into life again at Axbridge with our new foster parents, who were very good to us, we were of course reunited with our old school mates of St Michaels who were using the local church hall as a school, as an interesting event happened with our schooling at Axbridge earlier on, you see there was not enough room at the town school to accommodate another hundred or so children, so the authorities decided that the local children would have half a day and we would be given the use of the class rooms on the other half, an arrangement that must have delighted the local children, but not, unfortunately for them, their parents, who of course were the foster parents of some of us evacuees, they protested to the authorities who then had to find us alternative accommodation else where, culminating in us using the St Johns church hall, a one room building, for the whole of our classes,
A view of the St Johns church Axbridge, the hall was to the right top of steps, left of the steps is the arch where there is a stream running under ground where you can see fish swimming. This I can vouch for, caused a class room jungle, our education during this period of a couple of years was value less, our play ground was a pedestrian lane around the church from which many of us never used to respond to the bell at play time, those hills just across the railway lines was so beckoning, I am afraid the Salter’s being good Anglican’s and members of St Johns congregation did not approve of this arrangements, they did, I think, try to get us to another school but the catholic priest would have nothing to do with that, we were a part of his flock and he was keeping us so. Memories of those days at Axbridge have stayed with me for life, I will never forget Axbridge, it was my second home, we urchins from the capital found things fascinating, things that the local children took for granted, there was so much to explore, so much so that we trespassed and took things innocently, which caused so many problems till we were educated to country life, London to a lot of us would never be the same again. Of course all good things have to come to an end, that time came when Mrs Salter said to us one day that she has had a letter from Mr Churchill, just an expression to suit us young ones, it was to say that our parents have moved to a so called safe area out side of London and we would have to go home, what really brought all this about is that on one of those continuing bad nights since my twin and I returned to Axbridge, 213 Roman Road had finely become a victim to a bomb and had been rendered unlivable, the war office had found dad a new home at a place called Hornchurch some eight miles east of East Ham, well it so happened that the house backed on to the living quarters of the Royal Air Force and it was a battle of Britain aerodrome, so we were not home too long before the Germans raided the air field again and hit the mess hall while all the men and women were having their meals, killing many of them and of course damaging our new house, so causing us to move again, this time to adjacent Elm Park in a house which back on to the electric train line station of Elm Park, which really was the start of the London underground system, but of course at this point on the surface.
Dad of course had to find us another school to enrol in and this time free of any religious interference, which had all ceased because of the war, this school was called Sutton Lane boys school, a government school, which was excellent, one exiting thing about Sutton lane school was that it was on the side of a slope in the landscape and down the bottom of slope near the play ground was the perimeter fence of Hornchurch airdrome, which was a battle of Britain field, all us students had a panoramic view of all the spitfires scrambling and taking off in formations to intercept the raiders, it was a school boys paradise, we witness quite a few accidents on that runway, we were involved in one disastrous incident our selves, one day when the wind was blowing towards the runway, such that the aircraft when they took off, just went over the school roof tops with quite a disruptive noise, this day a Canadian pilot took off and it seemed his engine failed just as he was over the school and he was seen to be diving straight for our class rooms, as witnesses quoted he seemed to take evasive action and crashed into the garden beds along side of our class room, with, I remember a frightening explosion, the teacher quickly told us to get under our rather small desks while dozens of shells were thrown into the class room all around us, we were quickly retrieved by the rest of the staff and whisked away, I do not remember any one being injured but the poor pilot lost his life, it seemed that he had a wife and children in Canada to which we all subscribed to their collection, I truly think my class mates and I owe that man our lives, They have now changed the name of the school I am told, to honor the dead pilot. The school is still there but the aerodrome is no longer, it is a park named airfield Park, one of my twin brothers married girls now lives near by.
I suffered a rather bizarre experience in that house at Elm Park, as I quoted earlier our garden backed onto the train station platforms and we had a clear view of all the people on there waiting for trains, on one Sunday dinner time we were all having our meal and I was just happening to look at a train arriving when I let out this rather frightful scream, to fathers annoyance, who scolded me to be quite, when I explained to him what caused me to scream he would not believe me, but what I had witnessed in all its horror was this man who suddenly leaped into the path of the train, I saw his body clearly flying through the air, of course the train suddenly came to a premature stop and there was a lot of commotion that father had to except what I had told him and try to console me, I have seen lots of accidents and deaths in the coming years but that one will stick for ever.
This period of life saw my twin and I reach school leaving age, fourteen years, father found me a job in a big factory in Romford, our large market town which was a short bus ride away, it was with a firm called Roneo’s Ltd, a well known peace time duplicating machine maker, but being war time they were then engaged in making shell and bullet cases and such things, I was enrolled as a gate house messenger boy, the staff of the main gate house consisted of a commissionaire and a time keeper with only one leg, the other he lost in the first world war, he was always falling asleep with his pipe in his mouth, we used to have to relieve him of it before he chocked to death, the commissionaire was also an ex soldier and he had a smart uniform, they were both very kind to me, my job there was mainly running messages and taking people who arrived to see other people, like managers and so forth, I had one of my greatest thrills of my life at Roneo’s, one day I had to take this gentleman up to the drawing office, now, for some time I had always said to the family that I want to be a draughtsman when I grow up, which of course, as you will see later, I did just that, but at the moment here I was actually going up to a drawing office, i got to this posh office passage way with notices every where and one saying, quite please drawing office, we eventually came to this door which said drawing office please knock and wait, so I knocked and waited when finely a man in a white coat came to the door to ask of our needs and I introduced him to the gentleman and told him who he was and who he had come to see, i had a good look into that room, it was quite scary, it was so quite that the man spoke in a whisper, and all the men with their heads down doing their drawings, all had white coats on, I was not allowed in because it was out of bounds as it was all supposed to be secret work, I later found out all they designed mainly were shell and bullet cases, I was full of it when I got home, I could not stop talking about it, some secret agent I would make, there were notices all over London at that time, saying, careless talk cost lives. Roneo’s gave me my second scary and horrid moment while I was working there, for such a young lad, you see every evening at knock off time say 5:30 all the workers used to come down to these big gates that the commissionaire and I used to open to let trucks in and he checked them in, well at knock off time, when the knock off hooter used to sound it was our job then to open these big gates, which at times was very difficult as the workers used to crowd around them ready to charge through the minute the we opened them, some to cross the busy main road to be first in the bus queues, well one day the inevitable happened, a woman, who was one of the first through the gates madly crossed the road without looking and we both witnessed her death, I can remember the commissionaire charging into the gate house to ring for the ambulance and so forth, but as I quoted it was all too late, one thing I do remember after that incident is that we never opened those big gates again, at knock off time they had to use two small side gates with barriers put up outside to check the rush into the road, it seems universal that all officials require a death or some thing like that to make life safer.
My stay with Roneo Ltd was cut quite short as we were able to return to our own home in Roman Road, East Ham, it had been repaired and made live able, this period now would be late 1943 with the war now running in the allies favour, mind that did not mean that our dangers were all past, far from it, we had a couple of more shocks to come with the complements of Adolf Hitler, one of course was the flying bombs or the doodle bugs as we Londoners nick named them, they were not quite so fearful as the screeching bombs of earlier times, but never the less it strained our nerves and caused us young one’s to be scared yet again, actually they were no problem in the day time, unless it looked like coming your way giving you something to worry about, but in that same shelter at night, that we used to lay in and endured those screeching bombs, was a different matter, we had to go down there when it got dark as they were far to frequent to stay in bed in doors, you see at night time you heard them coming with this pop, pop, pop of their engines, then they would cut out, things would go silent while they did their deadly dive, each one when they cut out used to sound dead over head, that was the scary bit, but then the explosions would be at a distance, the scary bit was not knowing whether it was coming down in your direction or not, it was always a relief to hear the bang as you knew you had survived yet another one, one day while I was at work in my new job as an engineering apprentice at John Farrs Ltd in East Ham, quite near my old school, St Michael’s, the spotter on the roof said a flying bomb was coming our way and we all repaired to the shelter where we eventually heard this big bang and the spotter on the roof, who happened to be my uncle Alec, cried out, Roman Road, he always used to tell us where he thought it had landed, oh dear I thought, Roman Road, I knew mother and my sister Mary were at home on their own so I asked my foreman if I could go home and see if they were ok, he said certainly not, what would happen if all the soldiers came home when a bomb dropped in their street, but all the workers talked me into defying him so I went home as quick as I could, yes the doodle bug had landed in the very same spot as the land mine landed that caused us to go to Hornchurch to the other house, 213 was in a bad condition yet again, mum and Mary were ok they went down into the shelter when they saw it coming, they had a bad experience though, because it sucked all the air out of the shelter and then when it came rushing back in again it brought all the dirt and dust with it chocking them, the first aid people soon fixed them up, the poor old house took another battering, we had no windows no doors and no tiles on the roof but they did not make us move again, it so happened that our streets at the time being so close to the docks were lined with all kinds of military vehicles such as tanks, trucks, guns, you name it.
It was so exciting for us youngsters, they were all waiting for embarkation for the D-Day landings, what the authorities did was to let them all repair the houses while they waited, we all got on so well, we used to have soldiers every night for dinner. My employment at Farrs as an apprentice, it was not indentured one of course, as all the skilled craftsmen had gone to war, so I was called a journeyman, the foreman was skilled of course, but a lot of the machine work was done by woman, so instead of, spending most of my time sweeping floors and making the tea as most apprentices were expected to do before the war, I was lucky enough to be drilling, turning, milling and many other good tasks, one of the bosses, George Farr, used to say to me some days, when you come to work in the morning I want you to put on your Sunday best, meaning of course something neat and tidy, I knew then I was going to do one of two things, some detail drawing, as I was attending technical college one day a week at the time, or I was going to be sent out on an errand, I remember one errand I was sent out on, my instructions were to proceed to a place called Farringdon, a suburb up town and go to this factory called Avo Meters Ltd to collect this expensive electrical meter, I duly went to the underground train, found my way to Farringdon to this address that the boss had given me, when I got there, there was much commotion and people around including firemen and policemen, which was not unusual in London at that time with the air raids every night, one of these big policemen said to me, come here lad, where are you going, I said to him Avo Meters Ltd constable, he said well you have come to the right place lad, this is where it used to be, but it was hit with a flying bomb last night, I had to go back to work and tell the boss they are no longer there, another striking event comes to mind of that day, you see to get to Avo Meters I had to go up this well known street in London, which does not come to mind at present, it was famous for all it’s diamond merchant shops, every shop was a jeweller’s shop, with all these people and policemen around, on the way back from Avo’s I was in this street when this his guy rushed past me at lightening speed nearly knocking me over, then straight after, another guy went running by nearly knocking me over crying stop him thief, what it turned out to be was a diamond robbery, there were so many people around I think that helped the thief to get away.
As I quoted while I was at Farr’s they gave me half a day a week off to attend technical classes at Barking technical collage, well the bus used to have to go buy the park where there was a big anti aircraft gun emplacement, as often, there was an alert in progress and I always loved sitting upstairs on the buses, this day the conductor came rushing up telling us all to open the windows and come down stairs, another day when we passed the park we all found out why we had to do that, you see a German bomber must have appeared at that moment as all hell broke loose, the guns started to fire and the blast nearly toppled the bus over, the conductor said if the windows had been closed we would have been cut with glass, some windows actually smashed, it made me nervous after that day every time I past that park on the way to the Tech.
This is the period of my life that I was taken to my first football game at Upton park, West Ham’s Football ground, I have never stopped supporting West Ham, father and all my brothers used to attend the games, in fact as you will see later our father died over there cheering a West Ham goal.
One experience I had while I was working at Farrs was that I had this friend who I worked with, I remember he was a bit older than myself, he was very interested in radio and things, he used to make crystal sets like I did myself, one day he lent me a big pile of army cadet magazines and a pair of earphones, well the magazines were quite a hand full for me to carry, so I stuffed the earphones down my jacket, all the people on the bus seemed to take an interest in them, as they all stared, when I finally got off the bus at the top of Roman Road and walked to the traffic lights to cross the main road the lights were red so I could cross and the first car at the lights was a police car with two uniformed policemen in front and two plain cloths men in the back, they took a greater interest in what I had got stuck down my jacket than they did on the bus, the minute I crossed, the lights went green and they crossed the inter section and I walked down Roman road, now I have always had a great respect for policemen in fact when I was that young it bordered on fear, any how I was worrying about it all and to my horror I suddenly found the same police car pulling up along side of me in Roman Road, they must have done a very quick U turned and came back to the lights and down Roman Road, had the siren been sounding I would have died, anyway I got another, come here lad, call, they inquired what have I got stuck down my jacket, where did I get them from, they asked for them and the policeman in the front took his off and plugged mine in, I answered all their questions, they asked me for my address which was just down the road, they gave me back the ear phones and my magazines and said carry on lad, they did another U turn and disappeared, oh dear, I was terrified and thought my god, what will dad say, father was very strict with us all, so I knew I had better own up to it all when I got home, the result was that I had to get on a bus quick to my friends house and give him back all the things, needless to say the police never showed up at the house or made any inquiries after that, father made me quickly terminate my interest in radio reception, but not for long.
At this period. all my life past events to date were going to haunt me, you see we were born in London, the concrete surroundings was our home, we knew little else, the street was our playground, a football was usually a tin can, we had this huge London sewer out fall one street away, it went for fifteen miles or so from the city way out to the river Thames estuary carrying all London’s effluent, it was big enough, so they say, to drive a double deck bus through, it was really built on the surface and then covered in soil, it had big steps at all the streets so we could cross from one side to the other, this was our country side, it was green with all the grass growing on it, there were even a few shrubs and trees along it’s route, it had no cows grazing or sheep or rabbits and all the lovely fauna you get in the country, we used to love to slide down this big bank on bits of tin, Aunt Ann, mothers Sawyer sister, her new house backed onto this Bank, so you see after the Axbridge encounter my London country side never looked the same again, in fact London was never the same for me, I yearned for Axbridge and the country side, I could not settle down, so I began to pester my parents to let me go back into the country, something which dad would have nothing to do with, the answer for some time was no, but eventually he relented, now dad had this thing with us twins, what one does the other one has to do, something we could never comprehend, Alec of course was a real London boy till the end, as you will see later in these memoirs, but being the wonderful twin he was he agreed to come with me, that is something I will never forget my twin brother for, being still war time of course labour on the farms was in a critical position because most of the males had volunteered to fight, so the government had the land army girls scheme and it also had one for us young boys, it was called British Boys for British Farms, it was run by the YMCA, Alec and I found ourselves back on the express train together, this time going north to Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire, in the center of England, we were in a hostel with lots of other boys where we were sent out to different farmers during the day to learn the trade, then after some period they found us all jobs somewhere on a farm, we were of course boarded in on these farms.
I was taken to this farm near Kenilworth, the farmers name was Mr Foreman, they had two children a girl my age and a little lad, they were very good people, I found myself living in with the family, but it was an old double gabled farm house and under one gable was the families home, under the other was the cold slab floor dairy where they made cheeses and things, my bed room was above the dairy and I used to have to go through the dairy, lift this latched door, they had no electricity, yes even in the year of 1945, so I had to light a candle and go up this wooden carpet less winding stair case which at the top had another lift latch door into this little room, my bedroom, it was very scary to start with, especially when the old howls hooted outside my little window on a moon light night, I soon got accustom to all though, at about half past five in the morning Mr Foreman used to bang on the Dairy ceiling below with a stick to wake me up for milking. The name of the farm was called, What Pits Farm, as it had a water pit in nearly every field, the story went that years ago a worker was told to go and plough the field with the pit in and he cried, what pit, it was very isolated because it was surrounded by woods and Mrs Foremans brother was the gamekeeper, he lived with his family in the middle of this little forest in a fairy tale cottage, he used to breed game with chickens, like pheasants and partridge and so on for the business men of Birmingham to come and shoot, they lent me a four ten single barrel cartridge gun but forbade me to shoot any game, only rabbits, foxes and pigeons, there was only one way into this farm, as at the back of the farm buildings was the Honington airfield which had American flying fortresses on it which constantly used to take off to bomb Germany, there were RAF people on there as well and they all used to keep dogs which constantly used to kill our sheep and Mr Foreman used to shoot them, which made the airman hate him and he hated them, it was a good job that there was this huge wire fence between us, Mr Foreman always used to run the RAF chaps down and this used to upset me because I had two brothers in the RAF, John who was in India and Bill who was in Canada, so this eventually came between us and I got the YMCA to find me another farm, before I left the Foreman’s.
We were having dinner one night and a knock came on the dairy door, Mr foreman went and opened it and called me and standing there looking like a ghost was my twin brother Alec, he had been posted to Mr Foreman’s fathers farm some few miles away, he had been working with lime he had the use of this bicycle, so he cycled straight over when he finished work, I was so happy to see him, I went over later to see him on his farm and the lady was telling me that her son gave me a good report and that she wished Alec was not the same as me, apparently he would not get up in the mornings to do the milking, he left soon after that and went back home to his beloved East Ham, he did not have his heart in the country or farming, he went home and got a good job as a crane driver on a building site with a construction firm called Mowlems and stayed with them for some thirty years or more. Actually Alec became old enough to be conscripted into the army, as Britain was still under the National Service act, so Alec became a soldier for two years, he was in the RAMC’s regiment the Royal Army Medical Corp, I was deferred of course, because farming was a priority in those days, just after the war. Alec eventually got stationed at Woolwich just across the river from Roman Road, he used to come home to sleep with mum and dad every evening when he was not on duty, something mum and dad got used to, then one day he did not come home, they thought, oh he is on duty but days passed and he still did not show up so dad crossed the ferry and went to the barracks to enquire of his son because they had not heard or seen him for some days, the officer said who are you and dad said I am his father, so the officer took him to see Alec, guess where he was, in jail, yes in jail, poor old dad he must have had a shock, any way he served his sentence and started to come home at night again before he was posted to Egypt, I have never found out what he did to deserve that.
There are so many more interesting stories around my dear twin brother I must find space to elaborate on some of them. At the Foreman’s we had a bad experience one day, one of those Flying Fortresses crashed in the field next to our milking pens while we were milking, on top of my blitz ordeals it was something I did not need, bombs were going off and shell flying everywhere, our problem was the herd, they were frantic and most tied up with teats on, it was scary, as I said it was isolated and the air force drove all there vehicles through the wire fence knocking it all over, they did not help us, they were quite oblivious to the drama that was going on inside our buildings, the worst thing was we had this huge short horn bull tethered in an adjacent pen we thought he was going break loose, that would have scattered a few people, I used to have to walk in beside him to put fodder in his manger, at first the boss thought he might have to shoot him, we had a job the two of us to settle them all down, a lot of milk went down the drain that day, none of the Americans survived the crash.
I left What Pits farm because I had this problem with Mr. Foreman and the air force men he was always yelling at them when I was with him. Mr. Charlesworth the man who ran the hostel at Stratford Upon Avon got me a new job in Northamptonshire, at a little village called Barby, this was another very old farm house, but this time in the middle of a village, it of course had electricity and water and all that, the farmers name was Mr Loach, he had a wife and a young lad about five years younger than I was, he was thoroughly spoilt, Mr Loach was not a full time farmer, he was actually an Architect and an ex Naval officer, of course I was living in with them, and a very comfortable position it was, I even shared the same bed room as their son, so to some degree I was spoilt a bit my self, mind you I had to work hard there and take on responsibilities that normally a young lad of my age would not be expected to shoulder these days, you see most of the time Mr Loach would have to go to work in the morning to his office in Coventry, at the war office, so I would be left on the farm to perform the tasks that he would list, in fact we had a maid from the village who used to help out with the evening milking as well as helping Mrs Loach in the farm house during the day, also we had a permanent Italian prisoner of war, who at that junction of the war was literally a free man, I remember his name was Guissepe Villamena, or something like that, he was very good, fond of me and did all he was ask to do, also during the busy days of hay making and harvesting we used to have two or three land army girls working for us, of course this used to make Guissepe very happy until we had three German prisoners of war with us, that was a peculiar situation, as although the Italian was a free man, the Germans were not, in the mornings about 8:30 this army truck used to turn up at the farm, two British soldiers would get out, one with a gun at shoulder arms, the other had a board with the list of prisoner names, he would undo the tail gate out would jump these three prisoners, stand to attention and answer their names, the soldiers would then get back into the truck after I had signed their list and leave these three great big Germans with this little sixteen year old lad from London.
They were great chaps, I got on with them so well, they were aware that I was away from home working on a farm, they also performed magnificently, you see all these films today about prisoners escaping and all that, yet we had these men with us on this farm they could have run off with ease at any time liked, no one gave me any instructions as to what I should do if they disappeared, one of them was a huge man, he could do or lift practically anything, he was a fatherly figure, I used to go to the prison camp some evenings and watch their German films, the guards used to know they worked with me, the big man made me a model of the tractor I used to drive, a Ford, it was carved out of solid wood, to scale, if I had that today it would be worth a lot money I think, but alas like a lot of my things with my roaming they have been lost. Mr Loach actually invited my father to come up from London to meet them and have a day with us, which father did, it was a good gesture, I remember it was a very, very cold day, I remember father shivering, Mr Loach gave him plenty of whiskey I think to warm him up, Mrs Loach’s father by the way was a local vicar, he used to visit regular.
On that farm I had a terrible experience, you see they bought their young lad a pony it used to take children to school in a float, well when the young lad got on it for the first and last time, it threw him over the top, that was it, no more pony for him, so yours truly had a pony for the use of, it was great, then the boss said we are going to make him earn his living so we went to a farm sale and he bought this float, well I rode the pony over there to collect it and a chap helped me to harness him up in the float, when we moved, well that was it we nearly lost him and the float, it turned out that the pony used to pull a rubber tired float not a steel rimmed one, well what a job I had, I had the prospect of walking a few miles with this nervous pony, when I got off the main road onto the lane , which was very narrow, I said no way I am not going to walk miles like this so I quietly got up into the float, well that was it, I lost control, he had the bit in his teeth and of we went, down hill into the bargain we narrowly missed the post van, if it had not been for the fact that when you go down hill you usually go up a hill, I managed to get out as he tired and get his bit and walk the rest of the way. Then believe it or not Mr. Loach decided that he wanted a hunter, so off to the sales we went again and he bought this huge hunter, well when we got it home up he got into the saddle so confidently but then over the top he went just like his son did with the pony, that was it, Den now had a hunter for the use of, he even encouraged me to enter tournaments with it, I used to have to get up on a fence to get in the saddle, I used to jump five bar gates with it.
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