Interview with Len Hatch – Grandchildren of the Blitz
15th November 2010
The names of the interviewers are Jake Startin for the Grandchildren of the Blitz project. The place of the interview is London Bubble. The date of the is 15th November 2010 ,
Can I ask you the place and date of your birth please?
Len: The place where I was born was 7 Step Alley. The date of my birth is the 10th of the 4th1929. I was 10 years old when war started and more or less 11 years old when the blitz started.
Can you tell us a bit about rationing during the Blitz?
Len: Rationing well … as more or less eleven year old I didn’t know a great deal about it. I know that my mother seemed to manage alright and the only bits I was interesting in really at the time was my sweet ration, which I would done very nicely because I had my dads, my mum’s and my grandfathers as well as my own. So I was alright for my sweet ration.
Did you have any treasured precessions at all?
Len: very few , very few . Not really I can say that I had any treasured possessions. No not really the only thing I could say that my house was friendly to animals. We had chickens, we had rabbits, we had cats, we had a dog so more or less that was it .
Can you tell us a bit about, if you did go to school could you tells us a bit about it
Len: Well when war broke out most of the schools all round here close because they evacuated so I run wild for solid year, no education at all. Just towards the end of 1939 it was what they called the phony war, and nothing was happening so they started to open the schools for half a day. So I went more or less 3 half and a days a week. I went half a day on Monday I think it was… I went to Southwark park road , then I went to Keetons road for half a day , then I went to what they call Riverside school I believe they call it now but it was called Farcombe street school when we where there. So they were the three after days I went to different schools. Regarding teaching I’m afraid it was more or less like playing because there was few teachers in fact I lost completely everything of an education during the war because I didn’t go to evacuation and there was a lot of them children like me we just nearly lost out on everything and that was basically it , then the blitz came and then they closed the schools down again and then Keetons road school was bombed on the second night of the blitz. That was a tragedy because they moved people from round town where it was always dock areas that was being bombed they moved them to there. I’m afraid a lot of them got killed in Keetons Road. So the schools closed again and they more or less after the Blitz and in to 1940/41 then I was , we was the only boys class in to a girls school which was St Marys. I felt sorry for my poor teacher because he was teaching boys from 7 years old to 14 all in one class and there was about 40 of us so you can see there was no girls. the only thing he could give us was a good grounding in Shakespeare so we learnt quite a lot about Shakespeare and plays, different play which we and acted them .
Would you of liked to go to school during those years , are you a bit upset the you missed out ?
Well , yes I think I did lose out but I was one of many and there was a lot of children that didn’t get evacuated and that did lose out a lot on their education.
Was the animals and pets that you had kept in the shelters with you ?
Len: No .. no
So they got bombed ?
Len: No they never got bombed . My house never got bombed. I never went into the shelter. I only went to the shelter the first Saturday night of the blitz. On the Saturday night of the blitz the top of the alley where I lived got bombed and the house next door. We was in a place called Fosters Wharf and all the bricks fall against the door, we couldn’t get out police men would arrest you , you had to dig away . Lucky enough the door opened inwards so we had to climb over . Then we had to walk right away to the riverside which was Rotherhithe street to a place called fishers wharf where we spent the night until they went in the afternoon. We was told then that the alley where I lived was bombed hen when we got home in the morning it wasn’t, it was only just the top houses that were bombed so my house where I live number 5 step alley was quite alright. The chickens was ok the rabbits was ok the dog was ok well the dog was alright because he was with my father. He worked for a carriage call Hamilton carriage and he was there managing the pumps to feed the fire engine ambulances. That was one of the pumps in the area, because just down the road was the fire service in the school where more or less time and talent is and then they went and it became the ambulance was station there so that was there when filling the tanks ups.
We are going to move on from that subject now, to celebrations can you tell us a bit about celebrations during the blitz ?
Len: Celebrations. ..they tried to give us a little Christmas party I suppose you would call it now in the shelters, but as I say after that experience of the Saturday afternoon and the Saturday night and the following day in the wolf’s my mother said no we are not going to go to the shelters any more so we remained in the houses. The only thing that I use to do, I use to take my grandfather because he was very nervous during the blitz. I had to take him to the shelter which was Platform Wharf a big shelter and I’d take him there and come back and we’d sleep. If the bombing got too heavy my mum would wake me up and then we would go down into the kitchen and sit there till it cleared a bit then I’d go back to bed basically that was it and I as I was saying celebrations yes we celebrated Christmas as far as we could. We usually saved our coupons for Christmas some had a little bit extra so that you could have a little family gathering, which we basically did . That wasn’t very much . My brother was in the navy – my other brother lived round town which we referred to as round town. And he was a warden – It wasn’t much of a celebration not until after the blitz. When it sort of – when there was a lull and they used to have sneak raids and come over here in the daylight – couple of the German Planes would fly low and stir up a little bit of trouble and that’s when – it never personally happened to me, but some friends of mine came out of school – and they went over to the library and the warning went – they didn’t hear it and when they came out of the library, the plane went down to lower road – machine gunning, and then dropped the bombs onw aht theyc all the red lion and several people were killed there and that was that. 12:50
So would they raid without warnings?
Len: Sometimes I mean sometimes – that one he sneaked under the radar – that one they caught him going back over the channel but of course the damage was done. I started work when I was 14, I was an apprentice shoe maker – I wasn’t really an apprentice shoe maker – I made army boots and I worked my way up.
The few times you did go into the shelter did you play any games at all?
Yes, there was a few of my mates that got away from evacuation there was my cousin who lived next door to me. He didn’t go to evacuation. There was our friends, who lived in part buildings some of them didn’t go evacuation so there was quite a little crowd that I knew from Platform Wharf. The sad part of it was when I stayed at platform wharf – I wound up catching scabies, because there was a man in there that had scabies and he infected about a dozen of us and we had to go to the cleansing station at Bermondsey Town Hall, we had to be stripped off – we had to go there every morning – we were stripped off and covered in grease. Then we put our clean underclothes on again. Then my mother said – no more shelter. That was a bad experience. But I still went in there during the day and during the night until 6 about the mornings when the warnings was – but as I say there was a lull then. 16:12
Can you tell us a bit about your family ?
Len: My family .. my mum was a very nice mum, I had a sister, I had a brother who was in the navy , I had a older brother who was a warden – I am the younger of the family – and there was eleven years difference between me and my next brother who was in the navy. My family originally had eight, Four Boys and four girls and sad to say three girls died and a brother was drowned in the Thames that was young john but they were before I was born. It was an interesting family , I could say I had a very good up bringing , I was what they called a street urchin because I didn’t like being indoors , I liked to run in the streets and play in the streets because then but not like now , the streets was our play ground . We played cricket in them, football and there was a stretch of( 17:40……..) street that was smooth and that use to be the estate. The kids use to bring their roller skates and just skate round and round because it was smooth . Yes as I was saying I had a good up bringing I enjoyed every good minute .
You mentioned that you had brothers and sisters , I got brothers and sister and sometimes we don’t get along , how was it with your brothers and sisters ?
Len: Most of my brothers and sisters where a lot older than me. I had nephews as old as myself and cousins as old as myself because they were all in the same. My young cousin Tom his family were all in the war because they were a bit younger than my family. All his family had , .. they was only in the army . Charlie was in the navy , Bill was in the army, Jim was in the navy and harry was in the navy . So he was as I say all his brothers and he had I one sister . my sister had two boys and they were as I say just a bit younger than me so they became my friends they became my family more or less.
What did the war change the way you look or see things ?
Len: I don’t suppose, it made me aware that there were dangers. I also got very self sufficient. I more or less had to be because there wasn’t anything you could do about it. The only thing that helped was Time and talent – they opened a club along Rotherhithe St. and that’s called the Queens club – we used to go in there from- if you wasn’t at school we’d go in there during the day and that took the relief of everything – we used to do models, we used to do cooking, we used to do puzzles and everything like that, everything to keep you amused, everything more or less occupied to stop you thinking about the war.
Did you have any religious beliefs?
Did I have any religious beliefs? Yes, still have. My mother was Chapel or London City Mission. She was a strong believer. I became a choir boy at St. Mary’s Church. I had a strong belief. I still do. I believe there is a God. He can’t make all things all right. Lot of people blame him for wars- my belief is that lot of wars are caused by Man not God. Man’s Greed. Man’s – what can you say-failure in himself and though he gets ambitions he doesn’t always control that ambition, he lets it run away. He does things that he probably wouldn’t normally do. Of course, there were persons went beyond-if you look at Hitler, Germany, the Holocaust and what they done to the Jews, yes they were evil people and we didn’t know about that till more or less after the war and they invaded – 2nd Front, we knew about the Russians because it was shown on the newsreel cos the cinemas were still open, very few of them closed actually.
Could you tell us more about the bombing?
Bombing, yes bombing. The first Saturday afternoon of the Blitz. I was sitting at the top of the alley where I live or rather the bottom part, there was a stone block, they used to keep because at the bottom was Reynolds garage and they used to have a horse and cart ant this stone was to stop them bumping into the house that was there. Me and my grandfather were sitting there when we see all the planes coming over and we were looking us and all of a sudden weeeee – we heard the bombs and that was when they hit the lower road by the tunnel there and several places. And we dived for shelter that was between by the top of Fulforth Street where I lived opposite us in between 2 blocks of flats – that’s where they we ran for and that’s where I spent the first Saturday night of the blitz, And that made a bog impression on me – I shall never forget that night – not because of the bombing because basically I see how frightened people were- there were some families there sitting there with rosaries which was – how can I say – it was- wound me up, tense, made me tense, cos I’d never seen grown up people doing that my mum never did it – she was chapel – so she never had a rosary – so when I see all these people I said ‘What they doing, what they doing?’…….quiet me down. When we got out in the morning, on the Sunday morning I said what was that they doing. My mum always told me the truth and said that they was rosaries – they were saying prayers. That as I say was a big impression on me in that respect.
Following Sunday we went into Forster? Wharf where top of alley got bombed and Yardleys got bombed but they couldn’t take us to ?? wharf because Yardleys Wharf was blocking, was one end of Rotherhithe so we had to march right along to a place called ???? wharf and then we went back, they said the alley was bombed but it wasn’t, only the top part.
Would it be fair to say that the memory of the fist night of the blitz stayed with you till today?
Yes, it was really something I had never experienced. It made a great impression on me, it still does to this day because sad to say lot of them people saying the rosaries weren’t true Christians, they done some bad things but that ‘s another story.
What did you like doing when you were a child?
That’s a funny one. Liked playing cowboys and Indians because during that particular time cowboys and Indians and soldiers were all the thing and there was plenty of ruins where we could go in and out- had great fun because nobody told us you couldn’t do that because they were derelict and we used to go round after raids collecting shrapnel – things like that. While Yardleys was being burnt, because it burned for one month, they just played hoses on it, we used to play boats? With the water running down the hill into the drain, we used to build dams and the fireman had to come along and kick them up. Yes, all things like that. As I get older, different things- went to the club, football, hand ball – things , different things like that, taught us how to cook, boys as well as girls – used to make model aircraft, different models, puzzles, billiards, snooker – all provided by Time and Talents.
(unclear) Some things like that are still played today – kind of carried on?
No, they don’t play half the games that we used to play. Some reason. I don’t know. School – when we started going back to school we used to play a game called Weak Horses. Now I’ve only seen that mentioned once. We used to call it Jimmy Jimmy Knacker (?) You had a boy standing against the wall, we split into 2 teams, boy stood against the wall, the others put their heads and shoulders made like a horse, the other crew run leap and jump on to you, spam? you , right? Then you all had to hold them and say ‘Jimmy Jimmy Knacker 123’ but if you collapsed before that we used to call out ‘weak horses, weak horses’ and you had to do it again. That was that.
They used to play Tin Can Copper. You had a tin can in the middle, 2 sticks, once again 2 sides split up. One side had to bounce the ball to hit the tin can, rush the team would go away and hide and hide, not particularly hide, and then the team who was opposing would have the ball and chase you and throw the ball at you so that was when they caught you, start again, quite painful sometimes – the ball a bit hard.
And there was skipping – we used to play skipping with the girls. Farmer wants a wife- have you heard of that? That was what the girls used to play and we played a similar one by ourselves . Form a circle and do the self same thing, blindfold, twist round, point like that, you go in the circle and be farmer’s wife.
Played 2 balls up the wall, various games, good games, nothing violent. Only other thing, sometimes, when you was playing Tin Can Copper things run away with you and we’d go through the tunnel, go all round they’d still be chasing you, we was a band of street ____???
What was the main things you had to stop doing when the war started?
Rarely anything you had to stop doing. As I was saying, my education but other than that, the world was your oyster to put it crudely. Mum kept me near at hand, don’t run away, where are you going but my mum never laid the heavy hand on me, never forced me as long as I told – but my mother was a very peculiar woman because the simple reason that used to baffle me and baffled me until the day she died, how she knew where I was without me telling her. Because when I was older and I go out with the boys, she used to turn round and say to me, ‘Did you a nice time at New Cross Palais? And she used to go like that so I say she still baffled me till the day she died. Then the other thing she used to say to me when I was older. ‘Be careful’.
Do you mind me asking, did you lose anyone close to you?
Yes I had 2 cousins they were killed in the blitz. My aunt Kate, dad’s sister, she lived at Charlton, house where she lived got a direct hit – in Anderson Shelter, she was badly injured and her daughter was injured and she had a little boy and girl and they were killed. Didn’t know much about this till after the war. They were round about 11, more or less the same age as I was. Joanie who got badly injured, her mum she told me who I met again after the war was, cos , we didn’t, Charlton and that you never, you knew of them, you were never in touch with families, not how you are today, we had no phones, no mobile phones, it was a letter and I remember my mum receiving a letter to say my Aunt Kate had been injured and she lost, I forget their names, and lost 2 children, and Joanie was injured, 2 sons and daughter in forces.
Has your area changed since the war?
Tremendously. Absolutely tremendously and its still changing. Cos the area I live now , the grass hill, where I got married its completely knocked down. We were move into… I live in____? Way 35 years. Yes, its changed, the area where I live now has changed dramatically because where I worked is all houses. I worked in the docks. I was a dock worker for 34 years, completely built over, the other docks in London, the Royal Albert, King George V dock, now City of London Airport. I say to people, if you moved away for a month and come back you wouldn’t know where you were – every where is changing – Jamaica Road is no longer the road I knew when I was little now it’s a double arterial road –Dockhead -Tooley St.- one way system – where I used to go to cinema – Bricklayers Arms is a massive great roundabout, no cinema, no nothing, just a big roundabout leading to th Old Kent Road. Most Old Kent Road was shops, now take-aways. Yes its changed drastically. The change would have been gradual had the war not come along. Cos we definitely knew things were going t change cos the idea of extending the park down to the river was on the old LCC plans before the war. Yes, we knew that was going to happen. The rate of change didn’t happen till more or less coming up to the 50s and 60s – massive great change of everything being pulled down because then I became interested in politics . There was no thought of consultation, of asking people, just bulldozed, lot of trouble but that’s another different story. I’m going away…
Change… would you prefer how it was in London before the war or now?
Hard question. Standard of living – yes, I would rather have now but if you were to ask me the way people were – the way people used to be – Yes I like it then – more community, more sense which I‘m afraid you children don’t have today. We could walk about when we was kids because everyone knew you if you was in trouble someone would say ‘Oi what you doing to that child or what you doing?’ Cos they knew you and you could go- people had a caring attitude more then. All right, people, I received a clip round the ear’ole fro a stranger cos I was doing something wrong- darsent tell my mum that Mr. so and so had smacked me round the ear because if I did she’d say bonk that’s another one because you must have been doing something wrong for the gentleman to smack you.
Now you have community wardens , we had community police. Our local policeman round here was Mr. Bulmer. Everyone knew Mr Bulmer, if you was doing something wrong Mr Bulmer would say ‘Do you want me to tell your mum, do you want me to smack you now, do you want me to run you down the nick?’ so we used to say to him ‘ All right Mr Bulmer’ and he’d bash you on the bum with his cape and we knew full well that he was going to tell your dad. When you went indoors dad would give you a telling off. I seen Mr Bulmer and he said you were riding on the back of cars/carts? Pinching oranges. That was that before the war started. That was how it was- community. If you were to say to me now would I prefer that community to what it is now I would say Yes. But I have a better standard of living than my parents ever did. Greater than my parents ever did. My parents came in the age before the war. Got no assistance, no national health and welfare. The system was the R.O a form of assistance. The man would come round from the RO and say ‘Those pictures got to be pawned, pawn them, You got bread on the table you don’t need much if you got bread on the table. I didn’t notice much cos I was young but that was the system before the war. So yes community wise, as it is now for better standard of living. You can’t have both- lose community have better standard of living, sad to say.
Blitz – not frightened- the V2s cos you never knew when they were coming. The flying bombs. Yes I had seen a couple –quite a couple of airy experiences wit flying bombs. One particular day we never heard the warning me and my nephew – he was the same age as me, we were just coming out of the ally – lo and behold there was a flying bomb , lo and behold cruising down Fulforth St, so we dived back in the passage but if Yardleys Wharf had still been there we’d have heard the bang but it went between Yardley’s Wharf which had been bombed and into the river, went across the river. The other thing was when I started work, I was coming home from work, lo and behold every body was running I was on my bike pedalling – there was a flying bomb coming along, I was pedalling as it was coming along. As I turned off we heard the engine cut and it went somewhere over the water, exploded – they said over the Thames. So I had quite a few peculiar experiences that way. ( chuckling)
Wasn’t near misses. The other thing was funny experience. Me and my cousin, my nephew rather, we were getting pies and mash in a basin to bring round for our dinner, turned into Fulforth St. and there was my sister running towards us , just as she got towards us we heard the bombs coming down, pie mash and potatoes spilt. The bombs come down we heard this explode in the park we still managed to save the pie and mash (laughter). That was that funny experience like that. Yes the war was, say for a 10 yr.old, .some was fun, some was serious. Depends what way you took it.
Cos a lot of people – I had a very good friend who was very nervous, terrible really eventually the did take him away to evacuation because he was really bad. Sad because he was a nice kid = I think basically it show your parents accept the war. My dad was in the first world war and he used to be there manning the pumps during the raids he was there. My mum never showed me fear she probably was frightened but she never showed it to me , never showed fear. She might have said if the bombs dropped close when we were indoors ‘Oh my Gawd!’ might have said that, that was the only thing I heard her say. I said that particular evening in the shelter, she was quite calm actually and when I was saying about the rosaries – as I say her attitude , she laughed. My mum would never let me go to evacuation – when I asked her why she said if we were going to die, well we all die together. You know that was her attitude and that’s how she was, loved her for it.
The saddest part really war as a whole lost children. Up to 1920/30 things got gradually better more work about, men were getting more money, getting better from the depression then the war come. So young children- some lost families, created a lot o havoc. We gained something from it –wanted, expected more than our parents so you worked for it.
I started work at 14, I got 10 shillings a week which I gave my mum whole 10 shillings and she gave me back half a crown. I didn’t smoke at 14 – a lot of people did so you worked. My father died in 1948. My grand father in 1942. Lost 2 great friends especially my grandfather cos he was, he was everything. He taught me a lot of things, he taught me woodwork, he taught me how to make a lot of things because he was of that era. He made me games during the war to play when I was little. He made my scooter with ball bearing wheels. He made my cart- he used to find pram wheels, he made those things. I lost great friend. He didn’t only make them for me, couple of my friends he made scooters for. He was that way. He was in 1889 dock strike he was a ships mast maker, carpenter- all with a pen knife never got any tools, penknife.
Thank you very much, very valuable experiences of the blitz
The sad part, as I say- gained friendships and lost friendships. The circle of friends I made at Queen’s club I still have up to now – but I am losing a lot of these now. But there you are – that’s life.
Transcribed 8 and 9/1/11
Tom Winter Interview for Grand Children of the Blitz
Friday 11th February 2011, Bletchley Park
Interviewer’s: Simon Startin and Marigold Hughes
Interviewee: Tom Winter
Ok, well let’s start Tom with what you started telling us a moment ago and that was what was your memories of the first day of the Blitz, ‘Black Saturday’ as it’s called?
Year, the ‘Black Saturday’, 7th of September 1940.
Ummmm. Can I, just before that, ummmm, time, Simon, I would like to explain that a year before, after what they call, ummm, ‘The Phoney War’ in 1939, ummmm. Us kids didn’t really understand what war was all about at-all, except, of course, we were sent away from home, and we were sent, ummmm, evacuation to, of all places, of all places our government sent us, London children was on the south coast, We was at B-B Brighton
You went to Brighton
For ten months, but I know many of my friends, ummm, and neighbours went to Hastings, went to even Dover believe it or not! But, after the fall of France, when our forces were trapped at Dunkirk, ummm, immediately after that, mum and dad in their wisdom, decided to come down to Brighton and take us back. And at Brighton, myself, my late brother Joe, my late sister Ivy and Barbra who’s still alive, she lives on Bexley on Sea now. Mum brought us home, I think about one week before the Blitz. So it would be…. the late August, the last week in August we was brought back from Brighton to London and then I remember that week was quite hectic because we had been at Brighton we hadn’t been fitted, us children, hadn’t been fitted with the customary, umm gas mask that all children were being subjected to. And if anything was frightening enough, I think at that time ,for me anyway, it was that moment. Going to the school and being fitted with a gas mask. It was an apparatuses. I just couldn’t comprehend.
Yeah, never actually used either
Never actually used, no. Ummm. So one week later I could remember we did have an air raid on September 6th on the Friday night. Umm, and the sirens went and there was an interval of 2,3,4 hours and then the all clear went but I can’t remember any air craft or any guns or any noise what so ever taking place on the Friday night. On Saturday, umm, being a shopping day for our dear mum, umm, about three o’clock, she always use to tell one or another of us children “I’m going shopping, if there’s an air raid sounded, I want you to go into the shelter, but, before you do, lock the dog in the bedroom and shut the door and in case of smoke or if there is a fire. But remember she’s in there and go to the shelter”. Then mum did her shopping expedition, umm, and went round to Surry Docks station which I think was about a mile away, a mile and a half away. And it was while she was shopping, about half-past four, quarter to five I can remember the whale of siren’s going and of course we complied to mum’s instructions and we headed for the shelter within the flat’s in the corner of ummm Holy oak house. And I think we was in that shelter for something like an hour and we could hear quite a lot of activity going on outside our immediate shelter. And I was very noisy as a little boy. I wanted to see aeroplanes, I wanted to see the Spitfires flying above, but, ummm I’d go to the small , umm, window, the small window in the shelter that one could look out and ummm against the wishes of some of the men in there “COME AWAY FROM THAT WINDOW, something, I’LL HIT YOU!”. And I said there’s a lot of smoke going on outside, there’s , fires and the raid intensified and I think it was about 20 minutes, half an hour later, there was so much smoke and outside was lit up in an orange glow. Very , very unusual and quite frightnigh then and they decided that it was time that we left the air raid shelter and had to make an escape because where Holy oak house was situated, it was ummm, there was only one exit, one entry and one exit. There was no other way out because the Dock wall ummm was a perimeter of three quarters of Holy oak house and there was only one exit and one escape road down Brian road. Brian road was a road about fifty yards, seventy yards long. And on the right hand side was the church wall of the Holy Trinity church and on the left was fencing which was a perimeter fence of the convent. There was a convent there were nuns and young girls use to be in there and working there. And I can remember we was at the top of the street in Holy oak, ummm, in the square of Holy Oak house and the firemen were actually in the road spraying water onto the church and water onto the convent. So there was fire on our left, and there was fire on our right. And it look almost impossible, how the hell are we going to get through there?, because it was getting very hot now. And the firemen, seeing our predicament actually, lowered their hoses against the wall on our right. And whatever they did with the hoses, as the sprite of the water hit the wall, it ricer-shade back out forming an arch way of water. And we, something like one hundred people, hundred and fifty people went through that when we actually hit Rotherhithe street, about 70 yards further on. They intended then to take us across the river on a Pontoon, on a boat, by the Pontoon bridge and as we were all gathering up on this Pontoon bridge, ummm, something happened and I think another bomb had come and that got destroyed. So that escape route from Rotherhithe had gone and we were back onto Rotherhithe street and then made our way west wards along Rotherhithe street towards Rotherhithe tunnel. And as we were travelling along Rotherhithe street the volume of people was increasing, almost every fifty yards. More people joined, you had this exotic of people as they were leaving their houses. We went past Ordinates Wolf which is near Acorn walk and ummm a lot of people were joining our column of people and that’s when we met dad. And dad insured us that we would all be ok and he would find out where mum was and we all going to a school. I don’t think dad ever mentioned the name of the school. He said you’re going to a school in Bermondsey for the night , he says, in till such times and we could find you and you would be ok. So you carry along with the people. Then he said to George, my eldest brother, “your brothers and sisters are here, where’s the dog?”. And George went “AHHHHH!! I’ve left her in the flat dad, I’ll go back for her”. And immediately, George ran back and then we didn’t see George anymore that night.
I’ll just explain Georges story at this moment. George, he left us, got to the bottom of Brian road and by this time our flats were really an inferno. And the fireman asked George what he was doing coming back and he said our dog is trapped in one of our bedrooms and he said “don’t you worry about that. You carry on to where your brothers and sisters are and we will get the dog. And we will locate you on a later date. We will save your dog.” Sadly it will turn out that they were not able to do that and our dear fluff was a casualty of the Winter family. He died. Ummm, George in mean time had met two of his friends, Stanley Williams and Lenny Ton and they said “George, were making our way to the school, to our family. You going to come along with us?” and he said no I’m going to try and go the other way round Redcliff Road to Surry Docks where mum is, I’m looking for her. They said OK, we will see you later. Sadly it will turn out that even Len Ton and Stanley Williams sustained bad injuries to keep them from school were the Rotherhithe people had sadly gone. And I think a week later , they both died. Ummm, I think it was the following morning on the Sunday about eight o’clock, that mum, we joined her family, us, ummm when we were sheltering with Miss Elliot, ummm , with her sister in Southwark park somewhere and we were all reunited. Ummmm, do you want me to continue….yep?
Ummm, I think George, ummm ,was fortunate in finding mum at Surry Docks, of course he enlightened her, she was terribly worried because, though there wasn’t, in them days Simon there was no mobile phones, there wasn’t many telephones, let alone mobile phones, but the great Vine as it was in them days by word of mouth , you know from shelter to shelter, from street to street, ummm within an hour, all those at Surry Docks, all those in Bermondsey I suppose, had learnt about the disaster at Keaton Road school were something like three, four hundred people had been evacuated to because they had lost their homes that night and sadly I think the figure was something like sixty eight people perished. And of course mum was fearing for our lives, her own children but was enlightened by George of course had told mum that we had gone to Miss Elliot, our neighbour were we was reunited.
I think the Sunday morning we was taken to our aunt Mary’s who lived up by Great Dover Street, near the brick house homes, umm we stayed there just for one night ,umm mostly in the shelter. In their shelter because the Germans was pardon it on again every night on September 9th and it was I think the Monday that we all made our way with mum and us five children, to our grandmothers house at Catford. She lived in Perry hill, Catford and were Gran, a few days before was living, she was a widow at the time of course. She was living predominantly on her own with her cat, and then suddenly she’s got mum, my mother and father and us children and my aunt Lil who was also bombed out in Southwark that Saturday night, with her two children. So there was Gran with quite a house hold now. I believe we were at Gran’s for about three weeks. It must have been now October 18th I think when umm, in the course of that night umm, we had a bomb, thousand pound bomb we were told, drop in our garden, almost on our own shelter, and we were all fortunate to survive that because our shelter actually was on the edge of the bomb crater.
You didn’t want me to go into detail about that as I explained earlier
We will come back to that maybe in a minute
OK, umm, and then of course umm, at the same time all this was happening, my dad back in Rotherhithe was popping back daily to our old bombed out house umm, to see if any mail, if there was any news, if there was any news and what post used to do in those days Simon, though the house was derelict and empty because of the bombing, they would throw the mail in the passage way. I think ummm, I think this was an excepted thing in them days that umm the owners of the houses would return every so often to see, to try and retrieve something that they use to have , you know, might be useable because things were hard to come by in them days, furniture and everything. So they would go back to try and retrieve things and also they would look for their, see if they had any post cards and ummm, dad of course went back several times to umm number 7 Holy Oak house to see if there was any news from Harry. And I always remember dad saying when he got there, this is whilst we were at Gran’s , he got to Holy Oak house and saw two orange envelope telegrams. And they were quite ominous to see an orange envelope that was bad news. And I always remember my late dad, I was almost crying… with the thought that probably something terrible had happened and he pick the two telegrams up and he opened the first one and he read
‘Dear Mrs and Mr Winter,
We are glad to inform you that harry is now safe and will be home will be home with you fourth with
War office’ whatever. And of course dad broke down then but he was pleased rather than..
And he opened the second telegram and it read,
‘Dear Mrs and Mr Winter,
We are sorry to inform you that your son has been reported missing at sea. If we hear any news we will contact you at a later date’
So inadvertently, dad had picked, opened the better telegram first, he had read the better message first, and the worst one second which was a good thing. So when he comes to mum, of course she just says Harry’s OK, he’s going to be home shortly umm, but he has been torpedoed. But I’m sending you now to Leister, you’ve got an evacuation, mum and the five children. Your all going to Leister and when Harry comes home, I’ll send him up to see you.
The following day I can remember there was once again a journey across to St Pancras station and up to Leister. We was going to pillar to post, we’d been bombed out twice in a month. And we arrived in leister and I can remember Mr and Mrs Addis I think there name were no it wasn’t, it was Keating I’m sorry. It was Mr and Mrs Keating. And of course they were concerned, they were quite lovely people and on the first night they said to mum, “You won’t have to worry about shelter here. We’ve had the sirens go but we’ve had no actually air raids, no trouble what so ever” and mum said, “In respective of that, we would like to sleep downstairs tonight, we’re not going up stairs”. So she said “We can you sleep downstairs?” ,and she said ,“We’ll sleep under the stairs, that’s where we’ll sleep”. And she said, “You can’t all get in there”, and she said “We’ve got this entire situation, we’ll go under the stairs”. So my and us five children went under the stairs, that was our bed and shelter for the night. And , the sirens did sound at ten o’clock and by quarter past ten there was an almighty noise going on outside and the Germans had decided they now wanted to attack Leister. And that was the terrible night that Leister Coventry really cocked it that night. And When the bombs started falling in Leister, looking back now I suppose it sounds a bit funny but Mr and Mrs Keating when down and they wanted to join us under the stairs. They did realise that mum was a good judge and they understood why she was so terrified, you know, of sleeping upstairs. And I think it was the following day, that my dear brother Harry had made his way up from London under dads instructions, to see his mum and his brothers and sisters and let them know that he was home and he had survived. And, Harry stayed that first night. We had another terrible air raid in Leister and the following day, harry said, “Mum, I’m going to go back to London. I’m going to live in the air raid wardens post with dad, he said I could stay there for the night”, and mum says, “And when you go back to London tomorrow Harry, I’m coming back to London with your brothers and sisters”. And Harry said “Mum, dad will be quite displeased with this”. She said, “I don’t care what dad feels!” And there was a saying in them days that sounds strange, silly really. Mum said, “If I’m going to die with my family, I’m going to die in my own place. I want to die in Bermondsey.” As it makes any difference where you die but it made a difference to mum. And the following day, umm, there’s dad expecting Harry to come along to put up in the air raid wardens post, his colleges had agreed yeah you can squeeze Harry in and you know, he can sleep here. And then suddenly, as well as Harry there was mum and five other children. So they had to rethink things but we did stay in that air raid wardens post up in till Christmas 1940. And I know it was Christmas time because the pub next door, at Ordinates Wolf, they were still singing and dancing even though we were in the height of war and they were still enjoying themselves.
And then of course we were eventually re-housed in the march I think 1941, into Redraft estate where we lived for the rest of the war.
Yep, and how did you, I mean you, from a child’s perspective, there’s a child perspective and then there’s you parents perspective, how do you think your mum and dad coped during that period?
Very ,very difficult. Dad naturally was terribly worried as any loving parent would be. Dad with his family, you know not knowing from one day to the next if, whilst he was at work or on duty, if his family would get hurt in air raids and likewise, whilst dad was out in the air raids, you know as the air raid warden did, I mean there was no sort of going to bed ,they were on active duty throughout the night as well as their day job. I don’t know, they must of got a, you know a some rest by just having a doze every hour or so you know. But yeah, mum and us kids, we use to worry about dad being out in the air raids, but we were thankful that, as a family of a mum and a dad and six children, we all came through it with no visible scars except, of course the memory of the frightnigh experience we did endure throughout the second world war.
Indecently, my old mum, she was always proud, mum died in 1998 in Rotherhithe. Umm, mum was always proud that in her household, she had four sons, a husband and two girls. And each one of her male relatives, dad, Harry, George and Joe and myself, we were all in the arm forces between the years of 1940 to 1947. We all served…
Yeah, she was proud of that.
Yeah, but of course, I was that much younger so I went into the army, just after the war ended in 1947. But both Harry and George bought an active service in the royal navy. And Dad of course went into the army. And Joe, my late brother just two years older than me, he served in the royal navy just before the war ended. So I was always quite proud the Winters family did their share…
Yeah, their bit, yeah, that’s good. How did you keep your spirits up during the war and how did you entertain yourself?
While, music, music was and always has been quite a major part of the Winter family, I always believed that. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember way back when Harry went overseas, after he was torpedoed in 1940, Harry joined the royal navy in 1942, he put his age up, he shouldn’t of done. He put his age up, I think he was coming up to, he wasn’t eighteen quite, but he didn’t have to serve in till he was called up, but he joined the Royal Navy, and whilst he was away, Harry gave, put in my care his treasured Ben Crossney records and I can remember I use to go down the air raid shelters with my friends, not during an air raid, this was during the afternoon and we use to take over that, we use to have a little concerts down there, musical concerts in the shelter at Redraft estate and play music to ourselves. And I can remember, do you know, I’m always proud of, always had a love for Americans, I think, because I use to meet so many American sea men in the docks and I’ve told so many stories and witnessed so many stories about my association with young men from the United States during the war. And, I can always remember, because I love the Americans so much and I love singing so much, that I had Ben Crossney singing The Star-Spangle Banner, the American national anthem and I know that word for word correct and the tune and God Bless America and the third tune I always loved was America, I Love You. Probably Simon that’s why I was so incensed when John F. Kennedy was assonated way back in 1963 because, and indecently, as you know right where your farm is in Rotherhithe, just behind you’ve got St Mary’s Church haven’t you.
The famous little St Mary’s Church. Basically the home of the May Flower, you knew that, of course you knew that history and I knew that as a kid and when I use to talk to American seamen way, 1941 1942, through the second worlds war, I’d been talking to them where they come from in the United States, I was pleased to listen to where they came from and then I would say, “Did you know that your origins were here in Rotherhithe?”. “In Rotherhithe?”. And I said yes, the May Flower, the famous May Flower in 1620 sailed from less than four hundred yards from the spot where I was born at St Olives hospital, that’s where I was born. And “Cam you show us?”. And very often I was, I think I was the youngest tour agent in Rotherhithe about 14-15 I use to take a group of six, seven, eight younger Americans and said this is where, and I believe I said from that Christopher Jones, the captain, he’s buried in this church yard, you knew that Simon I believe.
I didn’t but yeah
Yes, he’s buried in the church yard and I believe also is John Clark who was the first mate of the May Flower and he was also a Rotherhithe man I believe.
Yeah, that’s really interesting, yeah, very interesting.
Especially as we kind of concentrate on Mayfair street
Yeah, I was named after. And I was about to say as many Americans do not know, that come to London probably visit you know the city the West End and don’t know within 2 miles away is where their origins were.
Did you charge them money?
Did you make any money out of the Americans?
While, what they use to do the Americans, while this is another thing Simon, and I’m going to show you shortly in there. In 1944 the Americans came into the war as you know in 1941 to Pearl Harbour and then they started flocking their merchants ships would come to Surry Docks quite regularly and I’d come home from school and I don’t know if people have told you that live in Rotherhithe now probably they don’t know, we use to call it The Three Bridges, do they still use that term?
Not heard it
From Surry Docks….
I’ve heard it from other people we have interviewed but not before then.
From Surry Docks, where Surry Docks station is, I don’t know where lower road is and Redraft Road starts there use to be a cover, all under cover, a big shed built into the Dock wall where all the Dockers use to sigh on there every morning, you know, sort of seven o’clock they would sign on to get distributed all round the Docks, they use to get pulled out by different members, you know so many gangs would go in that Docks, gangs go in that dock. And to get back to where we lived , we lived right into the heart of Rotherhithe, there was the Three Bridges we use to call it a term used quite regularly to local people was “I’m sorry I’m late, I got a Bridger.”
And a Bridger was when one ship had come in from the River Thames and it was negotiating it’s birthing point within the Greenland or the Boating yard and they had to go across, if you understand, they had to cross the actual road way. So a bridge would swing and that ship would go through and you could be help up for something like ten minutes to a quarter of an hour while merchant ship went slowly through. And I remember they did go through slowly as brought by tug or wind and yeah, we would get a Bridger two, three, four times a day sometimes. If I was late for school , which was quite often, I would always tell them sorry sir, I know Winter, you got a Bridger. Well it’s true Sir, I got a Bridger. And of course, coming home, I would get Bridges. Umm, and I just wandered Simon if people in Rotherhithe still remember that terminology ‘to get a Bridger’?
Yeah, I mean I think people who were your age during the second world war probably, would but I don’t think it would be a term that any of the young people would recognise or know.
No, I can remember my Dad, my Dad would say in them days umm, wireless sets, they didn’t operate from a plug in the wall, it wasn’t powered by electricity, they were powered by an accumulated system were there was a glass jar of some description that had acids and that use to power radios and they called it an accumulator. And when Surry Docks was the accumulator shop. Everyone took their accumulator and if kids carried them, parents always said or Dad use to say “Be careful, don’t spill that acid on your fingers!” because it would burn or damage. And I would get that job invertible, Dad would come home and say “Thomas, I’m going to have a lay down because I’ve been on duty all night, I want you to pop round to the accumulator shop round Surry Docks and get the accumulator.” Because they use up their power and then they have to be recharged. And you couldn’t get onto a bus. Did people tell you about the famous 82 bus that use to run round town? Yes, there was only one bus route in Rotherhithe in them days. It was a double Decker bus and it was 82. And that use to go from Amos Estate east wards all the way round the island till it got to Surry Docks then it would turn right and head towards Rotherhithe tunnel. And then it would go through Rotherhithe tunnel to Stepney Branch Road on the opposite side. As you come out of Rotherhithe tunnel on the Stepney side, the north side that was where it’s route ended. And it was a regular, probably only a distance of about, top of my head, 3 miles. Total distance, but it was a regular service, the old 82 bus. And once again, people would get on the 82 bus and I would still catch a Bridger, many, many times you know, umm, people going to work, going to school get the Bridger. Yeah, that was a common occurrence. Two buses I remember in London, 3 buses. The 82, the number 1 and I think the 202. The 202 bus was a bus from Surry Docks to New Cross Gate. I don’t know if any of them still exist.
They probably been put inside another route and given another number, there still there in some form.
So when you ask a question earlier, Simon , with the regard to the memories on Rotherhithe. Yeah, there vivid memories.
Tell us a bit more about the Docks, what you remember about the Docks?
Umm, most of the men population that lived in Rotherhithe predominately I would say 90% of men, able bodied men, that lived in Rotherhithe, what we call down town, where Dockers. My Dad was never a Dockers, my Dad was a caretaker actually at Redraft Estate. Is Redriff Estate still in Rotherhithe?
I think it is, there’s defiantly the school there. Yeah, I think it is, I’ll check.
Yeah, my dad was a caretaker at that school and, but the Dock wall. I’ve told other stories and I’ll give you copies of these stories incidentally, umm, were in 1943 no, 1944 during a flying bomb incident, we had no bread at all in Rotherhithe. Our bakery at spare road had been bomb, well it had been damaged and there was no bread available in our shops and we were talking to some American sea men, we had quite a rough night last night, they were telling us. Yeah, we remember that and we said we have no bread today and they said, whys that and we said our bakery got bombed . “You guys have had nothing to eat!”. I said, well we have no bread. Ok, they looked at their watches and it was about 1 o’clock and he says, we’re going back to our ship which was just inside the dock Wolf where Redraft Estate was. We’re going back to the ship, come on guys we’re going to do an emergency bake. Be by this dock wall in 2 and a half hours, right about half past four. And I will always remember about half past four this particular afternoon, we were all on the top floor the balcony at Redraft Estate, looking of the dock wall we could see the ship about 2, 3 hundred yards away. And we saw a dozen Americans coming along with big baskets of loafs of bread that they baked specifically for us hungry children. And this call went out, I don’t know if you know that during the war, Americans were known as ‘dough boys’.
D-O-U-G-H as in money, they had plenty of dough. But to us, they were ‘Dough Boys’. But the flour type. And we said “KIDS, THE DOUGH BOYS ARE COMING!” and they reached the dock wall and from where they were, they were handing the loafs out down to us kids and we were distributing them amongst all the people in the flats. Wasn’t that a lovely story?
That was lovely
That’s a true, true story. Another story I can tell that also during the flying bomb campaign, Hitler was really trying to get the Winter family, he tried very hard but he didn’t succeed, I’m pleased to say. But my dear late sister Ivy, my dada first of all, my dad had a bike. It was my dad’s pride and joy, like people have their cars today, my dad’s bike was his pride and joy, not many people had cars and hardly any people had cars and a few people had bikes. But dad’s bike, and you keep off of it Thomas. I was always riding the bike when he was asleep during the day time after night work and he use to give me specific instructions to my mum, “make sure he keeps off that bike!”. And I was at the street door once again, I defined his command, I was on his bike. An Ivy was talking to me, my late sister and she says, “Tom, the doodle bugs, they were coming over one every half an hour, every three quarter of an hour, you would get a doodle bug coming over. “Tom, in which direction do they flying bombs come from, I mean from the pier head?”. And to Redford Estate was a pier head, been bombed during the war so it was an open area. And I said, you know you got the pier head and you look towards Greenwich, on the South part of the bend of the river. I said, “tell you what, what I’m telling you, it would be essayer to show you. Jump on dad’s cross bar.” So my dear sister Ivy , she jumped on the cross bar and I cycled up to the top of the pier head which is elevated a bit higher than Redraft Estate. And I said, “can you see Greenwich church?” And she said yes. Then I said, “Can you see where the meridian, you know on the top of the hill on Greenwich, yeah that tower, can you see that? LOOK, there’s one coming now! And at that moment, Simon, I could see though it was coming towards us, you could still see the reflection of the flame from its jet engine. “Can you see that flame, can you see it?” and see went “yes I can see it. Yes. Is that a doodle bug?”. “Yes that’s a doodled bug, no don’t worry it will take about a minute to get here”. And she said, “please take me home, please take me home!” And I use to be a bit of a torment as a boy…
Yeah, brother and sisters, yeah.
“Ok Ivy, wait till it gets a bit closer.” I wanted to race the bomb.
That’s taking torment to a different level isn’t it!
When the bomb was coming, it flew comparatively low Simon. It was probably an altitude of about 1000 feet. That’s quite low you know when you see an object coming along and it’s a bomb. And as it was coming in the direction of Rotherhithe, I said to Ivy when it was about half a mile away, “Ok, I’ll take you home”. And because it was all downhill into Redraft Estate I cruised down at top speed and I flew into the flats and mum was at the street door, I always remember my mum calling beckoning us, quick, quick, quick a bombs coming! And mums knew how close bombs were as we knew and instead of going straight to the street door, I went to the side, I had to do a left street and a right sweep to glide in nicely you know and as I’m doing it, the engine cut out. Sorry, and I franticly peddled a bit quicker but what I didn’t expect was the close line that was going from left to right. In them days, people use to stick, I don’t know where they got it from, nylon cord from parachute cord people use to get but it was almost transparent and it went, as I said, from one line to the other. And it was sagging, it was just a lovely height, just were my neck was. So as I done this glide round, this right hand bend, I suddenly was arrested and I went sideways and I can see the blood now going up as I almost strangled myself. And I lowered the bike to the concert floor, Ivy enlightened and because I knew I’d done wrong I knew instantly I’d done wrong and I was, I was paying, you know, for what I’d done. My mum scream and then there was an almighty bang as the bomb dropped just, quite close, just inside the docks. And because I knew I ‘d done wrong, I was trying to make an excuse and say mum, I’d been wounded, I’ve been wounded, know. She took me to St Olives hospital where they stitched my neck and the scar is still there. On my neck.
Oh yeah, I can see it.
And of course, dads bike, the front wheel had buckled a little bit. It was oval shape now. And…
Oh, bet you were in trouble.
And I was out playing when dad woke up and this was a story my mum use to tell me time and time again. We use to have a laugh afterwards. She said, dad woke up and he walked out to the street door and people didn’t bring bikes in them days. They use to always stand them up outside the street door. And dad said, “whose been on my bike!? The wheels all buckled!” And she said, ah please, please Harry, don’t jaw Tom. Jaw meaning don’t tell him off. Did you, don’t know if you know that expression.
Don’t jaw Tom she said. She said, he was only. And dad said, I’ll tell you something, and she said, all his necks cut I had to take him up the hospital this afternoon, his necks cut. And dad said, he’s necks cut, I’ll tell you what, if Hitler don’t kill him, I’ll end up bloody killing him. That was dad’s words at that time.
Always remember that, if he don’t have I’ll have him. Yep, and that’s another memorable story I’ve written about.
That’s very good.
Tom, were you living in Bermondsey when the docks closed and do you remember the effect that that had on the area when that happened?
Yes I do because for most of my life, though I went to art school, from 1943 to about 1945 and I left art school probably prenatally, I shouldn’t of left when I left but I wanted to go to work. And they put me to a job in Oxford Street in a design firm so I was hopefully going to take a career in art but unfortunately that’s another story. I only lasted there about three months and after 3 months I was working in the docks with my brother Joe.
So why did that happen then?
You want that story do you?
Year, tell us that story because that’s interesting.
The art school. I started working for someone called Richard Lonsdale Hands. Three names I think that constituted the name of the company. And it was in Oxford Street and as a student I suppose an apprentice artist, I was only 15-16, something like that. My first job I can recall was a big block of plasticine was put in front of me and I was told, give me your conception, give me your idea of an electric iron. Now in them days the old preverbal iron, you know, for ironing clothes, was a metal plate with two vertical posts and a handle. And because I loved aircraft at the time, I was fascinated especially by the Spitfire with it’s lovely cowling, you know from the nose cone up to the cock pit. I designed my iron, my model for two or three days I was working on this and it looked just like the nose of a Spitfire. In fact it looked just like a modern iron today. Follow these instructions, I carried my model to the door and believe it or not, I was congest of about 8 to 10 people behind me all looking at this situation. They anticipated something was going to happen. And I tapped on the door and I heard, “Come In”. And I went in and I stood inside his door and he said, “shut the door.” And I shut the door with my foot and he says without looking up, “and what have we got here?” And I did think as a south east London boy, well if you open your eyes you’ll see what I’ve got here. “It’s an electric iron, Sir.” “Bring it across here laddy.” And I hate being called lady but he’s the boss. So I slowly walked up to his desk, and he still hadn’t looked at me yet, and he was looking at his paperwork in front of him and he says, “And what have you got there?”. I said, “It’s my conception of an electric iron sir.” And he says without looking up, “and how long have you been working on that, laddy?” And as I was fuming I said, “three days ,Sir” and he says, “And where is it?”. And I couldn’t understand what he meant. “It’s here, Sir”. He leaned forward lowly without looking and he put his hand on it and he squashed it with his hand. My work of art was now just a pile of wet clay. And he said, “Try again, laddy.” And I stormed out of the office. And when I got out-side, they were all laughing. They all knew, it was this I think what happened to me happened every time. It was just his way of making you think. And I think for three more days, four more days I worked on this iron and I came up basically the same design as I had done previously. And I said to my boss outside, my charge hand, what do I do with this now? He says, “What you did the other day. He might be a little bit better this time. He might be in a better mood.” And I went into his office after knocking on the door and getting the command to come in, laddy. And I walked over to his desk this time and he said, “And what have we got here.?” Almost a repeat of what happened three days before and this time, as his hand went out to find out where it was, I got the iron and throw it down onto the floor. And I said, “If you can do that, then so can I!”
And of course, I was without a job.
I was sacked immediately. And of course family was to that side, but they felt sad but I did rebel against that. So I went home to mum, I was rather, I was disappointed and I was afraid that mum wouldn’t think kindly of what I’d done but I understood. And my brother Joe who worded at the docks, you know, the labouring type lad, he got me the job in the docks and I was packing machinery to go overseas in Surry Docks. I actually worked in the docks, not as a Docker but as a machine operator and packer. Then of course, I went into the army in 1947 were I learnt to drive. I was in the royal artillery and I learnt to drive up in north Wales and, then I went on a drivers mechanic course at Luton, close to where I live now at Vauxhall works and I had my training there. And then in January1948,sorry in March 1948 after Tom was born, I was sent out to Libber in north Africa were I did 18 months army service. And when I was sort of, de-mobbed as you call it in 1949, September 1949, I had no trade , I had to start work as, in any particular trade, and because I was a driver. Oh I did become a coalman, I was a coalman for 4 weeks whilst we lived at Watford, Betty my, late wife, she, whilst I was in Libber, I’d moved from London to Watford, a new housing development in Watford. So when I came out the army of course I naturally went to Watford and the only work I could fine was as a Coalman. That was a bit of a disaster because, I don’t know if you know Simon, when your carrying coals on you back, you kind of get dirty. And after a day’s work you would come home and money was still quite tight, people didn’t have plenty of money and I was living with the in-laws anyway, Betty’s mum and dad. And naturally the first thing you do when your black from top to bottom is to go and take a bath. Wasn’t many showers in them days as I recall. And the bath would be full of precious hot water and within second of me submerging my coal stained body inside the water, the water was black so I had to empty it and fill the bath up and it wasn’t economically viable to continue this job. And then I took up lorry driving and I virtually did lorry driving, heavy things form 1950 right up in till…well, the seventies, late seventies. 1978 I think, I packed up lorry driving and you asked a question about going in the docks or you know, doing dock work.
I use to do frequent work in the docks quite regularly when I was lorry driving. Loading up in the docks and taking up goods previsions all over the country. I was, yeah, I did that quite regularly for many years and even when we moved from London, umm, Betty and I, my first wife, to Peter- borough, and then came across here were she died in Milton Keens. And I met Joan, my second wife, we’ve been married 25 years. I did career work which is a much lighter work and I did that for something like ten years incidentally I worked for arrows racing, a formula 1 racing in Milton Keens.
Year, I worked for them for 10 years. Going round, picking up engines and gear boxes and that sort of thing. So year, I’ve basically been driving, and I still continue to drive, you know, privately.
Tom, can I take you back to the closure of the Docks and how you felt about that and how you thought it effected the Bermondsey area?
Felt sad. I felt, as you though, you know, strange thing when the Germans through-out the second world war stopped the docks working and then suddenly our own government for what economic reasons or whatever reasons, closed the docks and it was part of our character, it was part of the character of people in Bermondsey. I missed seeing the number of men sighing on in the morning, you know I was round there at Surry Docks. I miss that, I miss the element of shipping coming into the Docks. Later on I’ll show you the painting I’m doing of Surry Docks. It’s quite a big painting.
Yeah, I was saddened as many, many people were saddened and of course after the Docks closed, there was much unemployment in Rotherhithe. I don’t know what, while I know some of my friends, I worked for British road services, ummm, Bermondsey group which, I don’t know if you knew of British road service. It was a national company. It was Government owned. They took over many companies and they were re-named British road services. They were usually red lorries with white letters you know and different towns. London had many depose, Burnham, Manchester, Liverpool. There was depose all over the country. And, we use to go from one to another unloading to New castle, you would go across the to pick up another depose you know, and bring it back to London. Yeah it was quite, and many, as I said, many Dockers, I know for a fact, took up lorry driving as a living.
That’s a popular way of going.
Yeah. And of course it wasn’t just the docks closing in Bermondsey, you had all the food companies that had been there for years. Pig, Crossem Black wool, then you had the flour mills Southwark park road nearly the owl wood school. Don’t know if the Owl wood school is still there.
I don’t know if it is either. Doesn’t ring a bell.
Yeah, Bermondsey has altered considerately in modern times. I probably won’t recognise Rotherhithe street at all. But, I remember it because I’ve drawn it many, many times it’s there. They might of altered it physically but it hasn’t altered up here.
Why do you draw it?
Nostalgia. You want to remember.
Yeah, I live in the past. I do live in the past I think. Joan will tell you that, I’m always talking about the past and. Yeah, Rotherhithe. I was born and bred. I don’t know if you know but St Olive’s Hospital was a main confinement hospital for most people living in Rotherhithe. Guys hospital and St Olive’s predominately for Rotherhithe people were people were born. Though they had four, four main wards in St olive’s. But the end one, the one closes to the river, was the maternity department and am I proud to say that Michaela Kane was born in the same ward where I was born.
That’s claim to fame.
But like I told him when I met him in Milton Keens years ago. They had to be talking, making a film up here and I was driving by and I thought there had been an accident so I’d had to come out and see if I could help and Michael Kane was there. And I just said, “Hi Mich.” And he said, “Hi, who are you?” And I said, “who am I. I’m Tom Winter. Who are you?”
And I said, a lot of people don’t know that. And I said, I knew you were born in Rotherhithe and he went, yes I was born in St Olive’s hospital and so was I. And he went ohhhhhhhhh. He was born there in 1938 and I was born there in 1929, what about that. So source your older’s.
(laughter) I like it. And that was Michael Caine. I think Tommy Steele might have been born there.
I don’t know
I don’t know if you know, Matt Monroe, another famous singer. Born in Bermondsey or somewhere. Elephant and Castle, something like that.
Can you tell us about your experience of sheltering.
What, air raid sheltering?
Yeah, or the sheltering that you did. You were bombed out twice and then after that what happened?
Mum, after Grans episode at Cat ford and of course when we went to Leister under the stairs. In redraft estate there was a public shelter under the playing ground within the flats but my mum would never use an air raid shelter anymore. Our front room was our air raid shelter. I’ll tell you why. My late brother Joey, he was a wonderful D.I.Y boy, he was always, and in them days you know, when a wharf got bombed or timber yards got bombed, there was always plenty of surplice timber knocking around just for use kids to go and borrow, you know, we would borrow a plank or two, no one use to take too much though. But dad says to mum, mum was putting sticky paper on the windows to stoop the windows shattering when, most windows during the war years you would see tape across the windows, criss-cross and this stopped the window from you know, shattering and causing accidents. So mum and dad popped away for a weekend. They had something to do. And Joey decided that he was going to make our front room bomb proof. And he went into the docks with my assistants and we carried some four by two. Four by two timber, four inches by 2 inches and something like 12 foot long length of timber and they were nailed outside our front room window. I mean physically nailed six-inch nails into the wood work and cut the long story short, I think they went up in 1941 and they were taking down on V-day. Victory in Europe. On victory in Europe, they were torn down and they help make the bomb fire. And we, we had the electric light on in our front room almost constantly during daylight hours because we didn’t know it was day light outside until we walked out the street door. Our room was in perpetual darkness you know, if the light wasn’t on through these bomb proof windows. So the answer to the shelter. Our front room was our shelter. There was one sad happening with regard to our time in Redraft Estate.
And I call this story ‘faith, hope and charity’ because that was the name of my dear friends grandmother. Faith, hope and charity. What a lovely name. And I use to play in Kens house who lived on the top floor in Redraft Estate on the other side of the estate. and I use to frequently go to his house quite regularly. And it was 7 o’clock one night in March 1941 and just before the air raid siren sounded Kenny’s young mum, Mrs. Humfrses said, “Tom, pack the things up, we are going down to my mothers.” And she use to always go to his mothers, faith hope and charity that lived on the ground floor in Redraft. That was her air raid shelter for the night were she would take Kenny and his sister to stay with her mother. Indecently her husbanded was in the army so he was away in the forces. This particular night we came down the stairs before the air raid sounded and we walked past grannies house and as they went into their grandmothers house. I will always recall Kenny saying, “See you tomorrow Thomas.” And I said, “OK”. And old Mrs Humfres, old, she was 56 and she waved out and says, “See you Thomas.” And I went indoors to my house, just about 50m years further on in the flats and the normal air raid started about 10 o’clock and I think it was just close on midnight. Dad was out working in the flats as air raid warden and a bomber was over head and there were bombs getting closer and closer and closer to where we lived in Rotherhithe. There was dropping in Deptford and Suddenly a bomber was overhead, right above Redraft Estate and I will always remember them five or six whistles as a sticker bomb came down and as we ducked there was an almighty band and five of those bombs crashed into Redraft Estate. And, noisy little Tommy, I had to go to the street door and mum said be careful, be careful you won’t get hurt. And as I opened the street door, I naturally looked to my left because that’s the direction that the explosion seemed to come from and all I could see was dense smoke, and I could see a bit of flame of somewhere in the flat somewhere. And mum said, can you see dada at all out there and I said no but he will probably be here in a moment. And then some air raid wardens went past my street door and says go in son, go in son you will get hurt. There is a lot of activity going on here, and then I shut the street door. And it was about 10 minutes, quarter of an hour later that dad popped in, he was black from top to bottom and mum says what’s up Harry. And he says a bomb has dropped in Elgar street, a bombs dropped near the Fish pub, a bombs hit the flats. He says, but so far I don’t think there’s been anyone killed but, there’s a problem in the Humfres. And when he said that, I looked up and said, what Kenny Humfres house dad? And he says, yeah but don’t worry, there ok he said, they have got Mrs. Humfres out and Kenny and his sister, his younger sister but they have gone in to get the old girl out because she’s a bit in firm and in the corner of the room. And what actually happened Simon, after they go the young Mrs Humfres out and the two children, she says mums in there but she can’t move in the corner of her room. And as the four rescue workers when up the passage way to go to the front room, all the floor was up and down. The mat or the carpet in the middle was seemed to go down a little bit. And they knew the floor was unsafe. And the elderly Mrs. Humfres was in the corner sitting on the chair an these four rescue workers were all going to take the perimeter of the room against the wall because that was the only sound to the path way. Stay where you are and we will come and get you. And as the four men entered the front room and were half way round, this is what onlookers actually saw and heard. They suddenly heard a terrible noise of a avalanche of earth departing. A big cavern opened up underneath them and sadly the four people went down and Mrs Humfres. That was in Redraft Estate and dad says but someone is going in to rescue them but when dad came in the second time about 20 minutes later, he told us what had happened. And I will always remember the Sunday morning in March 1941, it was a lovely sunny day, about 7-8 o’clock in the morning and they were still digging to try reach the five people. The hole must have been quite deep. And there was a call, they have found one and there was crowds and crowds of people all in the square of course all clear had gone by this time and eventually about half an hour later, they bought up the five bodies and there were still sounds of people but they had all been suffocated, they all died. And that was one of the biggest trauma in Rotherhithe, you know, in Redraft estate that I recall. And I have written about that because. Do you know, in life today when I read or hear sometimes on television of the honours list, and we coming back to Michael Kane or Tommy Steel, Michael Kane in particular. He gets an knighthood for his services to the public with his music and good luck to him, bet he has made a hell of a lot of money out of it and he gets a Knighthood, he gets respect and yet them four men that gave their lives in the second world war, they were knights to me. My brother was a knight of the realm, but they don’t get even thought of. So this thing on Knighthood and they don’t even get a MBE you know and that does dishearten me as a older person from London., from this country. That I think sometimes…
Putting glory in all the wrong places.
And bravery, they don’t do intentionally, I mean when you want to be a music star, you do it intensely, it’s your career. When people spontaneously instantly go into rescue someone, and not thinking of their career, they don’t think of themselves, they think of someone else. They don’t even get a mention. But I pay tribute because I’ve written story about that and I would love you in some way, even if you recognised, not for my story but for the people that died. And I have written that, and I have named them. That’s where I will get Joan to tell you that I’m very, very sad sometimes when I’m doing work, I’m quite an emotional person when I think of that, that many people don’t get recognised for their deeds.
If you, what do you think you would like to pass on. What do you think you have learnt from your war time experiences that you would like to pass on to perhaps a boy or a girl who is 11 or 12 now.
Now, well I do put the end of my story, it’s only a pity that children of today, and people of today, my children, my grandchildren generation of today, can never know and will never know the comradeship that existed amongst ordinary people of Bermondsey, in particular because as I was a Bermondsey boy, during the second world war. There was a Conrad ship that I don’t think will ever be seen again. We were much more friendly to each other and helpful to each other. Now days, it’s a world of plenty and people are quite selfish. The more they get, the more they want. That is true isn’t it?
Totally. Me and Simon were talking about it on the way here a little bit and I was saying that I have recently been to India and people just help each other so much and that you know, and family and community still so much part of the culture. I think for some families it is, but it’s really not the norm anymore.
In the second world war, even when people were some were down on finances someone will always say don’t worry about it, I will help you out. Or food, they shared what they had. Not only with food but with their property. Someone got bombed, come in come in, you know. The door was always open. It could happen, it might happen even today’s generation I f they were subjected to it, we don’t know. I think they possibly would. But the children of today, they can never know, you have got to live through it to understand it. And that’s why a lot of my stories, I do end up with emotional words, you know it helps explain that, explain my feelings.
Would you like another cup of tea?
INTERVIEW WITH ROSIE WHEATLAND
GRANDCHILDREN OF THE BLITZ
Interviewers: Jasmine Atkinson and Tanya Simmons
Supported by: Marigold Hughes
Interviewee: Rosie Wheatland
Date of Interview: 8th November 2010
Place: London Bubble
Rosie, can I ask you for the place and date of your birth?
I was born in a little street just off the Old Kent Road and I was born 6th June 1935 but I moved from there to Blackfriars when I was about two and a half. That’s Blackfriars, by Blackfriars Bridge.
How old were you in the Blitz?
I was four and a half when the war started because I was born in June 35 and I must have been four and a half, five, very small.
Did your home get bombed?
Where did you live?
I lived in Nicholson Street, Blackfriars Road, right by the river, so there was quite a lot of bombings around.
Did you know anyone who died?
I knew vaguely some people that died, yes, but as I was very young it really didn’t register. You know you heard grownups saying, Oh, she got killed, she’s dead, but it really didn’t register. But my dad was in the First Aid, and the Air Raid Warden and he used to go out and help dig people out and that sort of thing so I heard grownups talking about it more than knowing them.
What games did you play?
We really didn’t play many games because we just could not go out to play but we’d play hopscotch and skipping, but mainly it was indoor games like Ludo and Snap and things like that.
Did you have any toys?
Did I have any toys? I had quite a few actually because I had been the first grandchild so everybody bought me presents before the war so I had dolls, a dolls’ pram, a rocking horse, lots of things like that. I was very lucky. Of course, as my brothers and sisters came along then I had to share them.
Did you bring any of your toys to the shelters with you?
I really don’t think so because I had a little brother and sister and everything had to make sure that they were ok before things like me dragging dolls and things into the shelter. I had to help my mum look after the little ones. That was always the older sister’s job.
How did you feel?
Well, I didn’t really understand it, being so small, I didn’t know what war was. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand why these people in these aeroplanes were coming and bombing us, why? I wasn’t even frightened, because I didn’t understand it.
What was it like in the shelters?
Dark. You had an oil lamp which just lit up, it was smelly. It was always cold and damp. There was always earwigs and spiders and things but you just got used to it.
Was it exciting at all?
It was rather you know. You would sit in the shelter, in the dark and you would hear the Air Raid warden and then you would be listening, listening for the planes coming over. Then when the planes came over, for the first BANG, which always made you jump. After that you got used to it and you didn’t jump anymore. But, the only time I was really frightened, well not really frightened, I was amazed, was when one night it was particularly bad. There had been bombings for hours and hours and one of my uncles came. He was an Air Raid Warden, and he came and said, ‘We are going to move you over to the bigger shelter because it is far too dangerous here for you’ and that was the first time….I had heard all the bombing and I had heard the planes, but that was the first time that I had seen the whole sky in flames, it was blood red and there was paper, falling down burning and I couldn’t believe it, I was more amazed than frightened and then there were these big white, they were called search lights, they were big lights in the sky which would pick up the planes as they came over and they were circling all over the sky. That and the blood red and the burning paper. You see we lived at Blackfriars and there was lots of printing presses and things round there and so they all had big rolls of paper and things and of course, when they got bombed all the paper was burning. To somebody of my age it was, probably like you feel on Bonfire Night really. Only it wasn’t quite like Bonfire Night, you would wake up in the morning and see all the places that had been bombed. All the homes that had been wrecked and you sort of, you couldn’t quite believe it, there would be all bits of furniture and things, all just laying in the road. You still couldn’t understand why this horrible man wanted to do this to you. In those days, mums and dads wouldn’t, if you asked them why, they wouldn’t say, they would just say, ‘Be quiet, don’t ask me that’. So, you just didn’t know and I still can’t understand war, to be honest with you.
Did you know anyone who was evacuated?
Well, I was evacuated with my mum because my baby brother was very tiny so they sent us away from London at the beginning of the war. The bit they called the quiet time and they sent us down to Wells in Somerset. We were there for about four months, I believe. Then because it was quiet and the people in Wells in Somerset didn’t particularly like South London kids, we came home, just in time for the Blitz.
Were any of your friends’ houses bombed?
Yes. It was older people really. I was very small so I didn’t really have that many friends because I had a brother and sister. We weren’t allowed out anyway, you couldn’t play in the street or in the park because of the bombs and things but a couple of them, their mum had died or their dad had died.
What was the most memorable part?
The most memorable part actually wasn’t the Blitz probably because I was very small, it was towards the end of the war, we had what we called Doodle Bugs and rockets and with them … with the Blitz, with the aeroplanes, you could hear the bombs you could hear everything going on but with the rockets and the Doodle Bugs, the Doodle Bugs just had this sort of humming noise and then you would be walking along or running along and you would think, ‘Please don’t stop, please don’t stop. Go, go, go’ and you would watch it going and the fact that it fell down over there and probably killed somebody else didn’t seem to matter to you because you were ok. But the rockets, you didn’t see them, you didn’t hear them, you just heard the explosion and I know lots of people that got killed through them. They were very frightening so I was very glad when the war was over. But then when the war was over, life was much harder than while we had the war, strangely enough.
Can you talk a little about the shelters again, Rosie, because that was very interesting?
Sure, as I said, the shelter that we had in the back yard, it was a just a little round tin, it was galvanised metal actually with sort of bunks in it and it went down into the ground, so it was always cold and damp and wet. The other shelters, the ones they took us into when it was really bad, they were like big concrete blocks that were a little bit in the ground, you went down steps to them but they were big long affairs and they had bunks on either side. Bunks on the bottom, I think they were three tiers and us kids liked to go up on the top one so we could see all that was going on, but even they smelt damp and musty. They had a bucket in the corner for when you wanted to go to the toilet. It had a little curtain round it. It just was not very nice at all but it was something that you had to do. That was life then.
How long did you spend in the shelters?
As long as the air raids were on. You would get the air raid warning when the air raid started so you would all run like mad into the shelter and you stayed there until you heard what was called the all clear. Just a long noise to tell you it was all over and you could go home and go to bed, which was quite a relief to be able to go home and go to bed in the warm.
When you were on the top bunk in the shelter and you talked about being able to look down and see things, what were the main pictures that you can remember like what do you remember seeing?
Well, there were a lot of young girls and they used to bring their boyfriends in the shelter, soldiers and sailors, and your eyes would be out of your head, and your mum would say, ‘Get to sleep you! Behave yourself.’ Well you wanted to see what was going on, because I didn’t know what they did. I do now, I didn’t then!
And the big shelter you were talking about, whereabouts was that?
There was a block of flats on the opposite side of the road and it had like an area in the middle. There were two blocks of flats and there was this area in the middle and they built the shelter in the middle there so all the people in the flats could use it. There were two of them, they were big shelters.
Interesting! Girls would you like to ask Rose anything about her experiences at school during that time?
Yes, what kind of school did you go to?
Ah well you see, I started school when I was four and a half, just before the war. It was nursery school, but as soon as the war started there was no school. When we were evacuated, we used to have school in the mornings and the people who lived in the village where we were had school in the afternoon but when we got back to London in the Blitz, there was no school. The schools were all closed, because most of the children were evacuated anyway and most of the teachers were either in the army or doing war work, so, you had no school. I started school again when I was about six, six and a half. We had school sometimes a couple of hours a day, and most of the teachers were all elderly, teachers but they were nice teachers. I liked them and it is because of them that I enjoy doing the things that I do today so.
So were there any years that you were completely without school then or education?
Oh, yes, from the start of the Blitz. Well it must have been about a year or so. The schools were just shut down because of the Blitz and they couldn’t let the children go to school anyway. I mean, I can remember towards the end of the Blitz we went to school for a few hours a day and on one particular day the air raid warning went and we lived by the river and by the railway lines so the school was right between the river and the railway and I can remember, one day, the teacher screaming out, ‘All get under your desks’ and me being me, I looked up and there were these planes coming towards the school window and I thought, They are going to shoot us, and I heard gunfire but they were firing at the railway lines which were, what, a hundred yards away but one did break the school window and I got told off because I didn’t get under my desk.
And how did that feel to see them so closely?
I don’t remember even being frightened. This is the weird thing, I suppose because it was something that you lived with. I didn’t really know fear until the end of the war when the other things came along. Strange I know but I suppose if it is something that you have learned to live with. One of those things I suppose.
What do you remember about meal times and food about that time?
At the beginning of the war, I don’t remember there being any shortages. I suppose because everybody had stocked up. I mean there was rationing. The only thing I can remember not seeing was things like oranges and bananas. I didn’t know what they were. And sweets were in very short supply. In fact, my mum used to buy a Mars bar and she would cut it into slices and give you two slices each and that would be your share of sweets for the day.
What did you have for entertainment?
We really didn’t have any entertainment. There was no cinemas or theatres, they were all closed down. I think we had a very old squeaky radio but that was mainly used for listening to the news, so as you knew what was happening because it had what they called an accumulator and it was full of acid and it fixed into the radio. I am not quite sure how but it .. and once that was on for a long time it wore down so it had to go back to the shop to be charged. So that was used very sparingly. We had a very old wind up gramophone with very old songs on it. That was about it. Entertainment wasn’t something that was about those days. I think I saw my first pantomime when I was about nine. I think my gran took me to see one and I was totally amazed. I had never seen anything like that before.
Any questions girls?
You’ve got to realise. You say entertainment. There was nothing there. All the streets were all dark, there was no street lights or anything like that. Everything was dark, all the cinemas, theatres, the pubs, anything like that, all had to be dark at night. Even your homes, all the curtains and blinds had to be drawn so that no light shone out into the street. In fact there used to be a man come round and if he saw a light he’d shout out, ‘Put that light out’. Entertainment wasn’t something that I knew about.
Was that called the black out?
Yes. It was when the war finished that I saw street lights and things like that. It was quite amazing. Something you see every day, I had never seen. If you went out in the dark, you had to have a torch with a bit covered over it so it didn’t show too much, it just showed you to the floor. Everything was pitch black.
When you look back at that time, Rosie, do you ever think about your life. Did it change your life or do you have any thoughts about that or what your life might have been like if the war hadn’t happened?
I don’t know, because you don’t think like that, because it happened and it was part of …. you know, you don’t think. Well if war hadn’t happened, perhaps I might have been a great actress, perhaps I might have been a great painter. Who knows?
Did you have any like museums at the time?
No there was absolutely nothing. There was absolutely nothing, nothing at all.
Were you the oldest in your family?
Yes, I was the oldest in my family. I was the oldest of eight children. During the war there was, at the beginning of the war, there was my younger sister and my baby brother, then another brother came along and another sister came along, not as many during the war, but there was always a baby there, so big sister had to do her bit. It wasn’t much fun being a big sister.
In the shelters, I guess you had to sort of keep an eye on them as well?
Did that make you feel less scared, because you had other people to think about?
Probably yes. Probably because I had the responsibility of looking after them I didn’t have time to worry about myself. Yes that probably is true.
And what did you feel like when peace was declared and when the war stopped. How do you remember feeling?
I think I was happy, but it was more for the grownups than it was for children. They were all in the pub getting drunk. I mean, I remember we had a street party. Everybody put their chairs and tables out in the street and all the children came to the street party, but we were chucked in bed by eight o’clock and the grownups had the piano out there. I suppose it was really for grownups, it must have been such a relief for them to realize that there would be no more killing. They just sort of went mad. ‘Get to bed’, that’s all I can remember of it. I can remember standing in the street and my dad was playing the piano, ‘Come on Rosie, sing for us’. And I can remember singing the White Cliffs of Dover and to this day I can’t stand that song.
Amazing! Will you give us a rendition?
I couldn’t now, I really couldn’t.
Is there anything else you would like to say, Rosie, about those times or anything to finish off?
Well, what I would like to say is that you children of today are so very lucky, so very, very lucky. We didn’t have anything, had our old toys and things, and our sliced up Mars bars but we were happy. We didn’t want all the expensive toys and things, well because we had never seen them anyway so the thing is it makes you, as you get older, you appreciate the best things in life. You appreciate the fact you can go in the shop and buy anything you want, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve got the money to do it of course. That’s about it. It was a hard life, it was a hard child’s life but a happy one. I had a mum and dad that loved me and lots of brothers and sisters. That was life.
Thank you Rosie, thank you so much for your time.
Interview with Eileen Dougan
Inter viewee is Merlin Hayward on 29/09/10
The interview is taking place at Frank Whymark House
Merlin : My name is Merlin Hayward M E R L I N H A Y W A R D and I am the interviewer and the name of the interviewee is,
Eileen: Eileen Dougan
Merlin : Would you be able to spell that out please?
Eileen: Eileen E I L E E N
Merlin – And the place of the interview is at Eileen’s flat and the name of the project is the Grandchildren of the Blitz, and erm where were you born?
Eileen – In Bermondsey London.
Merlin – And erm the date?
Eileen – 19, wait a minute, 1922.
Merlin – OK, erm so how old were you when erm war began?
Eileen – Well I think I was about 14 or 15
Merlin – And erm who did you live with?
Eileen –My mum and Dad me brothers and sisters there was 13 of us.
Merlin – And you lived in Bermondsey?
Eileen – Yeah, in the house in Bermondsey.
Merlin – Erm when war started, erm could you tell me a bit about how life altered?
Eileen – Err, well it really did because we had to go to work at half past 7:00 in the morning and sometimes we’d be in the duck out all night in the garden and erm I don’t know you just took it didn’t take that much notice.
Merlin – And did you have any experience of the Blitz?
Eileen – Err oh the bombing, it was terrifying it was really, it was really terrifying especially when they bombed the docks it was all alight and erm then we had err a what they call it a incendiary bomb come in my mum’s bedroom but we was all out in the garden in the shelter but that when out so that was it.
Merlin – And erm so it directly affects you, so how did it make you feel?
Eileen – Well err I don’t know, everyone was the same you know, it didn’t stop you from going out we still went out and when the warning went you would knock on anyone’s door and they would let you in there garden to go in their shelter like if you went out dancing, you still went out. And erm, I don’t know you just took it in your stride.
Merlin – So did you feel, people allowing you to come into your erm, their erm, their bomb shelters was it like err –
Eileen – Yeah, you was more closer to one another in the war, you’d do anything for anyone yeah. Can’t think of anything else.
Merlin – Erm, so there was a real community, was there?
Eileen – Mmm, yeah
Merlin – Erm, what did the members of your family do during the war?
Eileen – Me brothers, one of me brothers was in the army, one was in the navy, one was in the air force, there was three young ones with us.
Merlin – So was that, did that make you feel that you were constantly worried about –
Eileen – Well yeah, of course, ah yeah, yeah, then me brother got killed, me eldest brother, in the war, mmm
Merlin – Erm, I understand you joined the Land Army
Eileen – Oh yes I reckon I was about 18 then and we, me and my friend, joined the Land Army and we got issued with this erm big Stetson hat and with me being little you couldn’t see me. Big Stetson hat and a big duffle coat and erm what they call it erm, what them trousers? And yeah we went in and we went in lodgings and the first day it was boiling hot and we went out and we had to go into this field threshing and we didn’t know what to put on so we put on this little coat on and these trousers and a great big woolly and when we got there all the other girls had been their ages and was in all little thin frocks and little thin trousers and we had this big hat on, yeah it was nice though.
Merlin – Was it hard work?
Eileen – No, no not really no. No but after 2 years my brother got killed and my Mum got me out of there.
Merlin – What kind of things did you do?
Eileen – What in the Land Army? We was threshing and um, we brussel picking, but mostly threshing like the corn and we would put the wire through the lorry and put it in like a round then it would drop off and then you’d have to stand them up yeah it was quite nice.
Merlin – Wow, erm so why did you choose to join the Land Army?
Eileen – Well, they was calling a lot of women up and I didn’t wanna go in munitions, I sooner gone in the Land Army, that’s why I joint it.
Merlin – And was it the first time you had ever been to –
Eileen – We went to Buckinghamshire and I thought we was going to Australia, we hadn’t been that far before and it was quite nice there though, yeah.
Merlin – Erm, so was it safer, did you feel safer?
Eileen – Oh yeah, you didn’t hear nothing no it was quieter in London at the time but when I cam home it all started again, yeah, yeah.
Merlin – And erm, so there was a real community within the Land Army?
Eileen – Oh, yeah, yeah
Merlin – And erm had you ever worked before you joined?
Eileen – Oh, I used to work at Peak Freans in the biscuit factory, yeah.
Merlin –And was that during the war, did you work there –
Eileen – During the war? Yeah
Merlin – And what were your experiences like? Can you tell me about them?
Eileen – Worked about half past 7 til’ 6 at night that job yeah. Like packing biscuits or packing the soldiers packs you know, yeah. Can’t think of nothing else, what else can I say err.
Merlin – Erm, what was it like when you left the Women’s Land Army?
Eileen – When I left the Land Army? Err, well it started again the bombing, because we were all down the shelter again.
Merlin – How old were you when you left then?
Eileen – Err, about 18 or 19 I think a long way to go back.
Merlin –Erm, so you said you could still have a social life?
Eileen – Yeah you still went out you know now and a not very often when it was bad but when it was a bit quiet we went out dancing and there was a Southwark park club, I don’t know it you know it, but all, all the soldiers used to get in there because they were billeted in the park and we used to go over there and you know enjoy yourselves and err quiet nice, not all the time but when it was a bit quieter you know it was quite nice.
Merlin – Nice, erm, were there erm any experience of erm like bombing while you were out or –
Eileen – Well my mother-in-law she got hit with a bomb and err when I found out I rushed to Guy’s in the night time and that was when they was all in there, you know, who get hit with the bomb and they was all moaning and crying. Oh then and yeah they got her out of there and they sent her to another hospital she got over it fine though she was alright and she was about 90 odd when she died. So it was tough in them days.
Merlin – Erm did you feel erm, the Blitz changed London a lot, erm the people, the area did things like –
Eileen – No not really they was still, I think you was close, closer you are to what you are today you was more close I suppose it was living in a street really you know but living in flats is different isn’t it? More homelier and friendlier, yeah it was nice.
Merlin – Erm, what was it like being a young woman during the war? Was that, did that add a different experience to the whole –
Eileen – Well, I don’t’ really, erm, I couldn’t tell you much really, I forget it’s a long to go back innit. Erm you took things as they come in them days, you know. I don’t know why but erm it was a terrible time in the bombing, I remember when, I remember when I got married I got to about 20 and it was still on and my Mum evacuated to Manchester with my sister and the young baby. Well, I didn’t go because my husband went back and it was a terrible night so I had to run next door and I was like let me in, let me in, because I went down her dugout, I was all on me own and err anyhow it was alright.
Merlin – So you didn’t evacuate with your Mum?
Eileen – No, no, no, no.
Merlin – And you wanted to stay, why did you want to stay?
Eileen – I didn’t want to go away, I liked it where I was, yeah it was nice.
Merlin – And your Mum left, why did she evacuate?
Eileen – Manchester, when was with my sister because she had two young children, she went there mmm.
Merlin – And they found it much safer? Did they find it safer?
Eileen – Yeah was nothing up there don’t think at the time, because that was alright up there, yeah.
Merlin – Erm after the war did you see or feel a big change in the role of women or not?
Eileen – Erm, it was a bit miserable like you know, there wasn’t much money about and err, it was, it was miserable it was yeah.
Merlin – And um, so as a woman and being in the Women’s Land Army did that give you extra, did it make you feel stronger?
Eileen – Oh I think it did because your going out on your own, you know you not been away before I’ve not and going all that way. I was going miles when you think of it now like but erm yeah I think it makes you stronger to go out on your own yeah, yeah, it do yeah.
Merlin – And after the war what did you do?
Eileen – Err, what did I do? Erm cam back err I think I went to the Caledonian Wharf that’s err near the Angel they had Wharfs there and that was working on war work like custard powder and milk powder and I went there.
Merlin – Erm and after the war, was there a real, did you feel a change in the people?
Eileen –Erm, not really no, no, erm I don’t think so no because you always been close them days you were no I don’t think so, no.
Merlin – So there was still a strong –
Eileen – Still strong yeah, yeah, yeah, mmm.
Merlin – Erm.
Eileen – I’m not very good at this, I’m not.
Merlin – Erm so was there a big difference between, oh actually, erm do you think you changed as a result of wartime experiences?
Eileen – No I don’t think, no I don’t think so I don’t think none of our family did, I don’t think any families did no, I think you just took it in your stride funnily enough, yeah.
Merlin – Were there times when you thought I just can’t go on and –
Eileen – No, no, no I never, I don’t think any of us did we just got on with it.
Merlin – That’s great yeah
Eileen – Yeah!
Merlin – Erm, how do you feel about your wartime experiences now?
Eileen – Forgot all bout it, its gone, forgot all about it, but it’s the Soldiers innit all well they all got killed I lost a lovely brother and then my brother got torpedoed in the Navy, mind you they’re all dead by me out of 13 and they all went through it they did, yeah.
Merlin – So do you think they saw a more, a worse side of the war.
Eileen – Oh yeah I do yeah, yeah, yeah definitely, mmm.
Marigold– Eileen, can I ask you, when the docks were bombed were you there when the fires happened can you remember?
Eileen – It was all alight wasn’t it? All flaming.
Marigold – And you saw it?
Eileen – We was quite away from it then we was in Layard Road, yeah.
Marigold– So was that the house, the street you grew up in Layard Road
Eileen – Yeah, Layard Road always lived there.
Marigold – So you saw the docks alight from where you were?
Eileen –Yeah, yeah.
Marigold– And what did it look like? How did it make you feel?
Eileen – Terrible frightening, that was frightening yeah that was frightening yeah.
Marigold – Yeah, and in Layard Road here you were, did your flats ever get a direct hit?
Eileen – Only this incendiary bomb this incendiary bomb come through the wardrobe and then it didn’t go off and then my Mum said my Mum could move out but she didn’t move out she wouldn’t move and it stopped there.
Marigold– And erm, on your street were there any other direct were there any direct hit?
Eileen – No, no, no not at all no.
Marigold – Ok.
Eileen – No quite alright they was
Marigold– Ok, and did any of the streets nearby or did any of your erm friends nearby –
Eileen – No there was only Keatons Road and that was further up you know, yeah that got a direct hit.
Marigold – And what do you remember hearing about Keatons Road or did you know anyone that was involved or what was the feeling like around the area?
Eileen –My husbands friends, he was badly injured in there, he was because they, they took them from somewhere and took them to there and then got killed didn’t they most of them.
Marigold– Horrible there was about 28 people wasn’t there?
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, more, more yeah.
Marigold – So that was the first case, that was the first night of bombing as well wasn’t it?
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
Marigold – Did that serve to kind of send kind of shock ripples, ripples throughout the community?
Eileen – No, no not no not really, no I think you expect it. I remember we was going when was it erm, I must have been about 15, I was working at Peaks and had a weeks holiday and my Mum always went hop picking and so I had a week down there and the farmer come round and said whenever an air raid warning goes off, he said you’d have to wee on a bit of rag and put over, over your face I said, we said we’re not doing that we’re not doing that. My Mum said, you gotta do it so we all wee’d on a bit of rag it never went off, the warning didn’t go off.
Marigold – So why was that meant to help?
Eileen – I don’t know, don’t ask me, I don’t but I always remember that weeing on a piece of rag and thought awh!
Marigold– Funny, I never heard of that.
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t know what its for.
Marigold – Yeah, and when you were working at erm, Peak Freans was it everyday were there people that had been hurt or killed in the –
Eileen – No not when I was there, no, no, no because I left them and went in the Land Army didn’t I? So I don’t know.
Marigold– And what were some of your responsibilities or jobs when you were in the Land Army?
Eileen – Threshing.
Marigold – Threshing and what’s threshing?
Eileen – Err, that was err a driver he was sought of went along and cut the corn that went on the lorry and we had to put the wire through and the other girl was at the other end and that went into a bail and then they fell off and when that was finished we had to go and stack them up in threes it was quite nice I liked it I like the country.
Marigold– Can you remember that process quite clearly?
Eileen – Yeah, I can, yeah, yeah I suppose always going hop picking in the country in Kent that’s why I like the country.
Marigold – So they sent you out to Kent did they to do it?
Eileen – No, this is when I used to go to Kent hop picking but this was at erm, what did I say? Buckinghamshire.
Marigold– Buckinghamshire! So did you come back, travel back to Bermondsey everyday or did they –
Eileen – Oh no! We was in lodgings there, yeah.
Marigold –And what year did you start –
Eileen – I don’t know what year, I don’t know, I don’t its too far back.
Marigold – Erm, so how long were you working in Peak Freans, before you –
Eileen – Oh when I left school at 14 went straight into work the next day err, 14 must have been about 17, 17 when I went in the Land Army.
Marigold – So you were working in Peak Freans for about 3 years.
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, in the chocolate factory.
Marigold – And your sort of managers and the other people at work, was there a sense of, did the atmosphere change when the war started were people, how did the daily feeling of being at work and everything around you be completely different and altered?
Eileen – I really can’t remember, I can’t remember really honestly I can’t remember, no.
Marigold – That’s ok, that’s fine. Erm, if you think about how, do you think your life would have been different if the war hadn’t –
Eileen – Yeah, I think, I think so, I think so yeah I do.
Marigold– And when you think about it what things do you think might be different?
Eileen – Well I think you would have gone out more and you be more relaxed when you went out which you wasn’t relaxed when you went out, you was frightened of the air raid warning going but if it wasn’t going, you would have been out all day and night wouldn’t care. So you did loose, you did loose your youth you lost all that you didn’t have no young life to but then again we’re all here ain’t we?
Marigold – Absolutely yeah, so what do you think the main things the war took away from you then?
Eileen – My, my young life, yeah, me growing up years.
Marigold – It’s really sad isn’t it?
Eileen – Yeah well I don’t think of it being sad I never, you know, I never had no young life, you know like you do now, you know.
Marigold – Course, and when you think about that erm, does it have an affect on your life now?
Eileen – No not at all no, not at all no I don’t think about it no not at all.
Marigold – Do memories ever come into your mind about it about what happened and the things that you saw at that time?
Eileen – No I don’t no I don’t not really no, no.
Marigold – How about straight afterwards was there a feeling of, straight afterwards in London did people, was there a feeling of people being affected by it?
Eileen – Well they was, you would see them crying and all that, you know and really upset and yeah, yeah they was, yeah.
Marigold – And its interesting because we have been talking to people who were much younger than you when they went through the Blitz, maybe sort of 8 or 9, and they didn’t really sense a sense of, they didn’t really have the sense of –
Eileen – What they evacuated?
Marigold – Well no a lot of them stayed.
Eileen – Stayed? Did they!
Marigold – Either because their parents didn’t want them to go or maybe they were evacuated for a little bit and then came back.
Eileen – Came back again, yeah.
Marigold – But they talk about not really feeling that scared because they didn’t really know what was happening.
Eileen – Well you didn’t really, I mean even though I was 15 or what when it first started but you really didn’t know what was gonna happen you know and when they started building these shelters out in the garden you thought it was fine, you know, but when you had to go down there, my two brothers smoked, but you had this little door you shut up and my Mum used to say put your cigarette out because she was afraid they would see the cigarette in the sky but when you think about it I suppose she was frightened and all my Mum.
Marigold– Course, and did your relationship with your family change? Do you think during the war, I think Merlin asked you this already, but did you think your relationship within your family like how did you think your Mum react during the war years?
Eileen – Oh she was strong, she was, she didn’t take no notice, you know, she was strong. Well they all was in the armies it was only me and my sister, err me young brothers were evacuated to Reading it was only me and my sister, me Mum and Dad.
Marigold – And you’re the only one out of the 13?
Eileen – Out of the 13, yeah, yeah terrible really when you got none of your own but still.
Marigold– You fight on don’t you.
Eileen – Yeah.
Marigold – And around Bermondsey, how much did the streets change after the Blitz because there were some whole streets that kind of disappeared?
Eileen – Oh yeah, there was a lot of streets emptied, boarded up and all that you know, but I don’t, you didn’t take no notice you still went to work and I think work was on your mind really it was work, work, work, that’s what it was.
Marigold– Do you think the Blitz affected, and I think again Merlin touched on this earlier, do you think it affected the sense of community spirit, do you think that erm before the blitz and afterwards do you think that the community were together in the same sought of way?
Eileen – Oh yeah, yeah, yeah I do, I do really yeah, yeah, I mean you look at them in the underground and they was altogether wasn’t that, couldn’t of gone in there I couldn’t have gone in the underground.
Marigold – And do you think the areas changed since then around here?
Eileen – What now do you mean?– Yeah.
Eileen – Oh Yeah, Yeah.
Marigold – In what ways do you think it’s changed?
Eileen – I don’t know there doesn’t seem to be the community closeness no do there? I don’t think so, not like we had it you, you were so close in the streets or the next street they all knew one another you know, but you haven’t got that now.
Marigold– Why do you think that changed?
Eileen – I don’t really know, I don’t, I don’t really know, I don’t. I think it’s the flats yeah, I do you not got that closeness like a street have you, you know.
Marigold – I know what you mean, and, what was I going to say? When do you think that started to change?
Eileen – I don’t know really, I don’t really know, I think everyone started getting greedier and greedier, yeah. I don’t really know.
Marigold– That’s ok, and do you have like friends or anyone in your family that’s moved away from this area that used to live here?
Eileen – No, no one ever moved, no, no.
Marigold – So the people that you knew they’re still around here are they?
Eileen –Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I used to live in the New Place Square before I came here, yeah and I know a lot of them in there you know.
Marigold – That’s nice.
Eileen – Yeah.
Marigold – And when you think back to the Blitz what are your main memories like if you watch something on telly or read about it what are the main sort of pictures that come into your head?
Eileen – Rushing down to the air raid shelter.
Marigold – Oh, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Eileen – Well, you might be sitting there having your tea and all of a sudden the warning would go oh! And we’re all rushing to get little things together to rush down the shelter oh and err, I don’t know. When I think of my Mum, you know she put up with something, you know. You’re fetching it all back to me now. Yeah she must have put up with something Yeah, because you didn’t see much of my Dad, he was away working and we couldn’t all get down the shelter, I don’t, I think he used to go under the arches my Dad. I don’t really know.
Marigold – In London was there a sense that, you know being in Bermondsey did you think about like different areas of London what they were going through or were you very much –
Eileen – No, much in yeah that’s right so close yeah, yeah, didn’t think of anyone else, no.
Marigold – No did you have a thought what was happening in different parts of London.
Eileen – No, I didn’t, no, no.
Marigold – Why do you think that was because I think that Londoners now have a wider sense of what’s happening in different parts?
Eileen – Yeah, I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you really. I am not helpful am I?
Marigold – You’re very helpful. Because I do think, you get that feeling down here sometimes that its –
Eileen – It is the closeness isn’t it, yeah, it is yeah, yeah and they were nicer streets they were really, really lovely. I think they spoilt it putting all that, I mean you getting our nice flat, where’s the poor children gonna play today? I think its terrible I really do I feel sorry for the kiddies, I do.
Marigold – And do you think when obviously, when the Blitz happened and when the bombing happened it completely wiped out certain streets around here, the way it was rebuilt afterwards, does it um, do you, do you still feel kind of connected to it or does it feel like this isn’t really your place anymore?
Eileen – No, no, not really, no, no when you see all these no, no. Its not that community I don’t think, no you, they don’t they don’t or perhaps they do I don’t hear of it, help one another do they? I don’t know like we used to, I don’t know if they do but I feel sorry for the kiddies in the flats I do.
Marigold – Do you feel you had a lot more space to play when you were younger?
Eileen – Oh, we used to play out in the road didn’t you, wasn’t no traffic was there? But now, we used to run behind the lorries and climb on then because the lorries were going so slow you’d sit on the lorry and a ride, yeah.
Marigold –What kind of street games did you play when you were growing up?
Eileen – Err, hopscotch, skipping rope, ‘he’, you know ‘he touchee’ erm ‘dressing up’, dressing up you know all sorts of things really.
Marigold – And did you when war was announced did you feel, what was your feeling?
Eileen – No, I don’t know, I can’t remember really I don’t know when your young you took it, you didn’t think it was gonna be all that bad, you know being young you felt oh war you know. We didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was.
Marigold – Sure.
Merlin – Erm, you know when err you had, when the air raid warning sounded and you had to run into the erm air raid shelter, what was it like just waiting in the air raid shelter? What kind of things would you do?
Eileen – Oh we used to sit there especially when you had like the planes oh and it was it was kind of, and you had these other planes I forget what they’re called and yeah this plane would stop and you could hear it stop and you knew it was going to drop its bombs and you’d sit there and go oh and then it’d pass over you and drop somewhere else poor thing yeah, I think that was the doodlebug, no I forget what that was. No that was terrifying in the shelter yeah then it’d go quiet and then we would go to sleep.
Merlin– What in the shelter?
Eileen –Oh yeah sleep there all night yeah.
Merlin – Was it difficult to fall asleep knowing –
Eileen – No not really because it was to, we was too young my sister, myself and me Mum and it was sort of nice you know, you know loving like you know. It was really nice. You didn’t take no notice of the hardship.
Merlin – So what kind of things did you have inside the air raid shelter?
Eileen – Nothing, no.
Merlin – Nothing? Would you sleep on the floor or –
Eileen – I think, I think we had bunks, bunks, yeah, bunks we did have bunks yeah, yeah.
Merlin–And was it at the bottom of your, did you have it in your garden?
Eileen – In the middle of the garden, you know, yeah.
Merlin – Would anyone else come and use your air raid shelter?
Eileen – You what?
Merlin – Did anyone else use it, your air raid shelter?
Eileen – We all had one in the garden yeah but there was a lot of them evacuated there was a lot of houses empty there was only us and the woman next door and I don’t think there was anyone else, they all went away but there was only us family and a couple of others round the corner but a lot of them evacuated.
Merlin – So was it lonely around your area or –
Eileen – I suppose it was but I suppose you being out to work all day you didn’t take much notice, you know.
Merlin– Erm and erm when the war ended, when they announced the war had finished, what did you feel?
Eileen – Ah, thank goodness! Yeah that was lovely. We all had parties didn’t we! Oh it was lovely, relaxed, all come out of the army didn’t they! All come out the navy, oh it was lovely.
Merlin – So you got to see your friends again and family?
Eileen – Yeah it was lovely because they all came back from evacuation all to their homes it was the whole street again yeah it was lovely, mmm.
Merlin – I’ve seen pictures of people like the whole street having a party together and decorating the street.
Eileen – Oh yeah we had a party, yeah!
Merlin – Really?
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, mmm, yeah, yeah, we had a party, and we used to have that every year afterwards yeah!
Merlin – What to mark the day?
Eileen – To mark the day yeah, yeah, it was lovely, yeah.
Merlin– That really was a sense of community then?
Eileen – Oh it was lovely the street yeah. I thought all the streets were you know.
Merlin – So did you have music playing and –
Eileen – Oh yeah, yeah, have someone on the piano. Someone would fetch the piano from their front room in the street oh it was lovely, yeah.
Merlin – Everyone, would they cook food and –
Eileen – Oh yeah all food yeah. Someone do the cooking or biscuits or cakes, you know. Oh lovely yeah, yeah it was nice.
Merlin – Ok thankyou erm.
Marigold – It must have been lovely to see your street come back together again.
Eileen – Oh come back to life innit really.
Marigold– Was there some people who weren’t as fortunate as –
Eileen – No not in our street no, there wasn’t no, no I can’t think. I think Reeny’s friend got hit in the arch yeah, she got hurt in the arch, yeah. No, no one I know who got hit by a bomb no but never forget going up Guys when me Mother-in-law got hit and oh, the people in there what been hit and the moans and the groans. Oh it was packed in the corridors all laying there, I’ll never forget that, I won’t, I won’t.
Marigold – Those sort of memories must be very painful.
Eileen – That stands out to me plain as anything because I can hear them all moaning and groaning, you know, when they had been dying I suppose. But it was all full up mmm, mmm.
Marigold – I was just thinking the erm Land Army again when you went into it, did you feel like you were, you know a woman doing there bit for the war effort? How was that –
Eileen – No, I really didn’t I thought, I thought I was on holiday. Breeches, I think breeches those trousers which stuck out, you know, we had them in a green and a brown shirt a green pullover, a great big hat I thought this hat was lovely.
Marigold – And did you erm, form good friendships with the other girls that were doing it?
Eileen – Oh yeah! Oh we had a lovely time yeah and I’d never been on a bicycle and one morning we had to go to this garage sort of thing and the farmer said there’s two bikes, me and my mate, she got one and she said I can’t ride and I said nor can I Mary and we only started off on the top of the hill and she went that way and I went that way, I will never forget that.
Marigold – And was that the first time you rode a bike?
Eileen – Yeah, yeah, yeah and afterwards, oh it was easy yeah.
Marigold – Did you carry on riding a bike?
Eileen – Yeah because you had to places you had to go to, yeah.
Marigold– Ok, and once you were back in London did you still ride?
Eileen – No, no, no, no, no never went on a bike since.
Marigold – Erm what was I going to say? How long did it take after the war to get all the systems going again? Like the things that had maybe got damaged or transport, how long did it take to get everything back together and working?
Eileen – Quite a while I think it did, quite a while, yeah and Peak Freans didn’t get hit that was a quite strong still, yeah.
Marigold – Because the buildings still there now isn’t it?
Eileen – Yeah, but it’s all different offices now isn’t it? That was a big building, you know, yeah.
Marigold – Do you ever go down there? And sort of look at it or –
Eileen – No we went round there the other day Reeny and I to put in err to Southwark news, Southwark news is in there the office. And we went round there and I said oh, Reeny I didn’t realise Peak Freans was as big as this it was so big, yeah.
Marigold – Brilliant thanks so much Eileen for your time.
Merlin – Yeah, thankyou.
Reeny Summer interview – 27/09/10
Sapphire Collins and Amelia Spooner
The names of the interviewers are Sapphire Collins and Amelia Spooner. The name of the interviewee is Renee Summer. The interview is taking place at Frank Wymark House. The date is the 27th September 2010. The interview is for The grandchildren of the Blitz project. Renee can I ask you for your place and date of birth?
I was born in Bermondsey, in a little old run-down house off a little turning called Arnold’s Place at Dockhead and I’m 83 now.
What was the date of your birth?
The 3rd June 1927
How old were you when you were in the Blitz?
Well actually, I was 12 when war was declared and I was evacuated 2 days before war was declared and I was 12 years of age then. And I was taken to Brighton on a train with all the evacuees. And we was billeted out on different people.
And did you like Brighton?
I did because I’d never been to the seaside before – first time I’d been to the seaside. So for me it was quite a treat.
Did you like the people who you were staying with?
Yes, I did. It was an elderly couple then and I was with my cousin and we had the front room – we were one of the lucky couples you know. They were very nice. But my cousin’s Mum came down after five weeks we’d been there and nothing had happened in London then and she came to see us on the Sunday and she went back to my Mum and said ‘I think we ought to get’em home’ because we’d got lousy in our hair. We didn’t know at 12 years of age what it was and she’d noticed us keep scratching our head so my Mum said ‘ Oh, go and bring ‘em back’. So we was only there for 5 weeks – but I must say the 5 weeks I was there, it was an adventure for us. I remember on Sunday when war was declared we was in a lovely big park in Brighton and all the sirens went and we went down in a shelter and all the elderly people were saying ‘War’s declared, war’s declared’ and everything. But nothing came, it wasn’t a raid them on Brighton and as I say, it was quite an adventure for me because I’d never seen the sea or anything like that before.
Could you tell me about your home? Where you lived?
Well we’d moved out of the little house as I said then, where I was born and I went into a flat in Tower Bridge Road – in Bermondsey – and there was quite a few of us because actually my Mamma had 14 children and I was the 14th – I was the baby. But they weren’t all alive when I came along. And just before war was declared one of my brothers had lost his wife and baby so – they died – so he came back home so we were getting a full house again, you know. And they were all older than me. My brother was still at school I believe – he was a little bit older than me – but the others all thought I should be evacuated.
Was you happy when all your brothers and sisters came back?
Well, yeah, the family seemed to be getting smaller to me – we all had to sit round the – when I was in the flat, I can always remember when I was very small in the old house you used to have to sit on the stairs because there wasn’t enough room round the table at the time. And it seemed that when one of the girls or one of the brothers got married – when you was 14 you went to work then – and one of us on the stairs would become 14 and they all worked their way on to the table. You know it was sort of like a roundabout really. [5 mins] But no, life was lovely, to me – because as I say, I was the baby so I suppose in a way I was really spoilt. But times was hard. My Dad was a docker and they worked down the river and they only got paid for what they did then, they didn’t have to do like – the dockers built the job up but it was quite hard going. And when my Dad didn’t get called – they say called on to do up on a ship – I used to come home and he’d have all a cup of tea made for me and I used to think ‘Oh, my Dad ain’t at work today. But when I think about today, my Mum must have been praying he’d get a job because of all the children, you know. But no, life was easier then – for me.
Did you have memories about evacuation like what kind of stuff did you get up to during the day?
Well we was evacuated, like I say, to Brighton and we was put out into a big school to share the school with the Brighton children and that was quite nice. It was always something different for us and it was an adventure and no, it was really enjoyable. But then, as I say, I came home and then I was home I think for about a year and then in 1940 they said that the Blitz – they had an idea that it was going to start – you know there was the practising with the gas mask and all that – but my Mum had me evacuated again and I went to Cornwall.
And I went to a little village. I was still lucky again because they were putting all the children out and they were trying to keep sisters and brothers together if they could – a lot of the boys went on a farm. And I was in this little village, it was really lovely – I loved it, I loved it. It was so different again for me, it was the country – and I was very fortunate because then, you only had the one little shop in a village like that, you know, and I was evacuated with this young couple. When I think now I suppose they hadn’t been married very long and they had me put on to ‘em – and I had a lovely little bedroom. One time I was in with 5 sisters in the bed but then when that came along I had my own bedroom. It was really lovely, you know. And I was there till I – I think I must have been 13 then and I was there till I was 14 and I started to go potato picking on the farm for the War and I was allowed to stay on because I’d reached the age of 14. I’ve still got my certificate from the school when I left.
And my eldest brother had to come down and get me because my Dad was dying and my Mum brought me home then. So I wasn’t actually in the Blitz but I came home and the doodle bugs and all that started then and I had to start work because I was 14. And I started work during the War – my first job was in a little factory, sewing on buttons for the little babies’ dresses – and we made hot water bottle covers for the army . I mean I didn’t realise the soldiers got hot water bottles then but we made a load of hot water bottles – and it felt as if you were doing a bit of war work. I was only 14. And then 15 I give it up and I went to work along the wall, along Bermondsey Wall here? Along the river? A big old wharf – and we were doing all war work and different jobs in there. And it was called the Caledonian Wharf but we used to call it the Cally and if you was a Cally girl you was one of the girls, you know.
And I went all through the Blitz and then my Mum used to – the boys had gone in the forces – and me and my Mum used to go and sleep in the bottom flat – we was on the top like you can see up there. And then this old chap, my Mum always used to give him a Sunday dinner, so he let us sleep on his floor and that was our sort of shelter. Two of my sisters worked in a tin factory and they used to go down there but me and my Mum- . And about 6 o’clock one morning all the doors came in on us and the little houses that was along the side of it all got blown up and they had to come and get us out of the ground floor flat, you know. [10 mins] I can remember my uncle running round, calling out for my Mum. He got us out – all the doors – I don’t know but probably the old chap who let us sleep there didn’t ever have his chimney swept and when we come out, we didn’t know but my uncle and that was putting their handkerchiefs in our mouths – getting the soot out of my mouth and my Mum’s mouth and that, you know.
And we had to go down to the shelter where my sisters was – in what we used to call – they used to make big tins, drum tins –tin shops, we used to call it. We had to go down there and they let us wash our face and that. But as we were along people queuing up for a bus to go to work was all staring at us – we must have looked a real sight, you know, we just have looked like black and white minstrels. Awful. All the soot all over us! But they cleared all our mouths out and that.
But that was the doodlebugs. Because as we got older, I was getting on for 17 – towards the end of the war – and then it was the V2s, the rockets, you didn’t know when they were come. Because the doodlebugs used to come and we stood on our top landing, me and my Mum, and watched them come along and say ‘Oh look, the engines stopped and its going to dive down’. When you know it’d stopped, you’d get into some kind of shelter because it would just come down, you know.
But as a young girl you didn’t seem to take a lot more notice – I mean you’d go out dancing and all that in the blackout, you know, you still carried on with life, but it was very – hard work when we worked along the wall, what we called the Bermondsey Wall, the riverside you know – bitter cold winters and they never had no heating in the factories then because it was all great big square floors and you know – you’d freeze really.
We packed what was called the 24 hour invasion pack. It was in a waterproof square box and that was for the – our soldiers who was going to invade France, you know they went over to France – after Dunkirk they went again to France. And everything was worked out, it was marvellous really – it was two sort of hard biscuits and a little tin of tea and so many sweets. Everything was all worked out and you went along on a conveyor belt and you all put what you had to put in that box and that was called the – into a waterproof cardboard box – and that was called the invasion pack, that was called, the 24 hour invasion pack. And also we did one – I don’t know if you know the little sardine tins – and it’s got a key on the back. Well we had a big one that size [indicates with hands] and deep – a big key on it – and that was called the jungle pack. We packed them for the soldiers – on the same sort of scheme, all packed out that it fitted perfectly. And I remember when we had a little pile of square toilet paper squares and you had to count four and put it in and wrap summit in and work it all in. So it didn’t move about and everything. It was quite interesting, you know, that was, that with the jungle packs and everything for the War.
When you went to Brighton and then you went to Cornwall – which place did you like more?
Well, I liked both of them really. Because Brighton was the seaside and then we went to Cornwall, we was right in the middle of a little village in the country. You know you see all the animals on the farm, in the fields. Something else what was new to us you know. You never really see all that. I know some people say, like they went hop picking and they would go on a farm. I only ever went once with my elder sister, I didn’t like hop picking then. I went there when I was courting my husband – cos they used to go every year. But it all seemed more to me a bit of adventure. I think at that age you don’t see the danger of things like you would today, you know. Funnily enough we just went along Drummond Road today, me and my sister we was going to put an advert in the Southwark News and we were saying ‘Oh how about when people went under the arches and that’. I could never go in under arches or the underground – I think people was more braver going in them places. As I say, me and my Mum just used to shelter in the ground floor flat- when you’d hear ‘em come over, you know. But I do still remember that when the little row of houses in Riley Street, it was called, got bombed. [15 mins] Because their back yards came into our square – like you had a square in front of your flats and as I say it blew everything in on us and that and afterwards when we come out, we used to have to have to have a soldier parading up and down the square with the rifle on ‘im watching in case anyone come looting and that in the bombed out flats. And then workmen came and they blocked all our windows up and that – the roof being on the top floor, we had to leave the bedrooms and sleep down in the living room till they were able to come and patch ‘em all up and that. But life still went on – you know – you had to carry on.
Did you go to school during the Blitz?
No – when I came home, when I came home from Brighton and that, there was Riley Street School right outside our block of flats and we used to get half a day in there, go for half a day you know. Because most of the teachers had taken the other children evacuation. I always feel I lost a bit of being taught well there because you lost a couple of years of your schooling. You don’t really like it when you’re a kids but then ‘I wished I’d ‘ve studied a bit more there’ you know. But no we used to go over to Riley Street School and we used to go to play centre of an evening – when there was a lull. Because in was the Blitz and then it became the doodlebugs and then it became the rockets, you know. Well then I was at work then so – you just had to see it through. I never ever felt I went short really, because when I was evacuated, as I say I lived in the village shop and we didn’t want for food, naturally, living in there so I was one of the lucky ones when I went to Cornwall. And going to Brighton for the first five weeks of the War, it wasn’t hard. I mean I had my identification card done in the Brighton code, because they come round the house – you all had identification cards – you still had ‘em after the War. You know my son was born in 1950 and I’ve still got his identity card. Yeah, when he was a baby – I’ve still got them sort of things.
But, I did enjoy the evacuation, I must say that. It was a treat to go on a train – I’d never been on a train before. And one of teachers was saying, ‘ I think we’re going to Brighton’ because apparently she came from there. And she’d come up for work and then she was going home, she was, you know. No, it was quite an adventure. To me, I know I heard about some children had terrible places but it wasn’t probably the old couple I was living with that let us get– we must have caught it from the other kids at school – it happens doesn’t it. But my aunt came down and when she saw our heads we had to come home.
Did you have any friends in Brighton?
Oh, yeah – we made friends with the local children, yeah, we made friends with them. They were very kind, when you think sometimes – I mean some of the people had lovely homes. Where I went we was the only house in the village that had – one of the only houses as far as I can remember – that had electric. The others used to have the oil lamps, you know. I mean when I left Tower Bridge Road, in the flats, in 1939, we had electric. That was one of the first flats that had electric cos we went from the little gas lights to electric, I remember. Because as I say I was about 6 or 7 when I went in the first flat and I went running round switching all the lights on, you know, and my Mum said ‘Don’t switch em on – I haven’t got another penny to put in the meter!’ You know she put pennies – anything else?
Can you tell us a bit about the air raids? [20 mins]
Yes, well as I say, I wasn’t actually in the Blitz – that’s how I became an evacuee. But I wasn’t here when it all got bombed – when all the docks and that here got bombed. But when I came home they’d stopped the bombing then – and then it became the doodlebugs you know, the planes without a pilot – marvellous things I suppose really.
You know when you went to Cornwall. Did you miss your mother?
Oh, yes. Yeah, I did. I remember writing home and saying ‘Can I come home, I want to come home’ and that. But they thought I should be evacuated to have my chance in life – that’s how – some families felt you should all keep together if you got bombed you know – others thought – my brothers, I had married brothers and married sisters and they thought I should have my chance in life. So they all sat round the table and agreed I should be evacuated. We went with our gas masks and I can always remember when we went to Cornwall we had to get on a bus to take us to the main station – I can’t remember what station it was – probably Waterloo then or one of the big stations that went all the way to Cornwall – terrific long train ride that was, you still find it is really. And I remember we was all singing all the kids on the bus ‘ We’ll meet again’ and all our Mums was all crying you know – it was sad but to me it was all adventure, yeah, a big adventure for me out of life. And I still kept in touch with them –with the people – writing to them and that – ‘I’m growing up, I’ve got married’ . I went and visited them in Cornwall after and I took my son there, and they met my son – then gradually you sort of break up. I’ve gone back and looked at the place where I lived – my daughter’s taken me down there because we go more that way for holidays now. And she took me once but it was a bit sad for me to stand out – I didn’t like going. They weren’t living in that house, they’d passed away, they had, but I didn’t want to go and knock on the door. It probably might have been someone’s daughter I played with, you know, but I couldn’t do it. I just sat in the car looking at the door. And one thing I did notice is that they’d had electric light put outside their door then and that’s how it had improved there you know. But I loved it – working on the farm, picking potatoes, yeah.
Did you hear, when you were in Cornwall. Did you hear if one of your friends back in London had got killed in the Blitz?
I didn’t hear of any getting killed in the Blitz. I got worried because I didn’t realise the distance between places so much then and I heard on the wireless – they didn’t have televisions or anything like that, just a little radio – and I heard that the Elephant and Castle had been badly bombed and that, and I was trying to explain to the people how far – I didn’t realise how far the Elephant and Castle was, that it didn’t affect this part of Bermondsey, you know. When I did come home and see it, I couldn’t believe it. Cos they said a landmine had dropped in Abbey Street where we lived off of and it was all devastated and outside the two blocks of flats where I lived was great big piles of bricks you know, they were ever so high – where they were saving the bricks from where the houses had fallen down and they’d rummage round and get the best of them and they’d rebuild again with them. Two big heaps – ooh they were like mountains to me when I come home, the bricks.
As I say you never got – I used to go to work and then you’d meet the girls you’d work with of an evening and we’d go in the Bermondsey bars in Grange Road or we’d come down Rotherhithe go dancing and that, you know. As I say, I don’t feel as if I lost anything by it – as regards my youth – from say 14 to 18. And I was 18 in the June and I was thinking a while that I’d be called up as peace was declared in May. So it was just a month I thought, ‘I’m going to get called up in June. I’ve got to go in one of the forces.’ I’d have gone on the land army back on the farm. Yeah. [25 mins]
When I went to Cornwall, you know you start copying people how they speak. They couldn’t understand – and when the man came to pick me up from school, he had a car which was wonderful you know, for the man to have this car. And he came to pick me up and when he started speaking to me and he asked me my name I couldn’t understand a word he said. He had such a – to me – he had such a brogue. And I thought ‘oh, I don’t know where I am. I’m in a foreign country.’ I didn’t realise, you know, 12, where I was, I was in a foreign country. I couldn’t understand him and all he was trying to say was ‘What is your name?’ . Everyone called me Reeny but from when I went to Cornwall was the first place I was ever called Irene.
When you heard that your Dad died . . .
I came home yeah. My brother came down there and got me and brought me home , coming along home in the train, it took us over 12 hours to get home. I remember the train had to stop because they were bombing the lines and that and we just sat – we just had to sit where we were. And I got home in time to see my dad before he died and when that happened my brother who came to get me went in the marines, in the army. But having a big family, I suppose, when I was young, they used to all have big parties and that and when one of them was called up to go in the forces, they’d have a big party. I missed all that a lot, you know, the parties, because people used to make the most of their lives, you know, I mean, you didn’t let it get you down, we had lots of parties. I mean when I come home and I went to work, I used to be going to all parties . I enjoyed m’self, yeah.
Today, is any of your brothers and sisters still alive?
Are they still alive? No, I was the last, as I say. My Mum lost some of them before I was born but I’m the last one now. My sister died two years ago in December – she was 89 and she was in a wheelchair and she suffered a lot – but, er, I’m the last one left out of the 14. And my husband was the 13th in his family – so we both come from big families and we were both the babies of the family. (laughs)
How scared were you when the rocket bombs were coming?
The rockets? You didn’t know when they were coming, because – I remember when we were going to work one morning – me and my friend – and you would get just the big red flash and you knew that was going to be near. And we ran in some flats at Dockhead – and just got down like in the bottom ground floor staircase – because they didn’t know when they were – I don’t know, I’m only saying this – it probably was they were so much faster that they just whizzed into, you know, London. They, to me, was the most frightening thing.
Cos we still went to the pictures when I came home and I was at work. We still went to the pictures – and I remember the pictures at the Elephant and Castle, you used to queue up under the arches that run along with em and I can remember an old chap coming round singing and we used to shine our torches on him so that we could see him and he used to sing – I can remember it now – I’m Going to Lock my Heart and Throw Away the Key – that was a song that was at the time famous, and he threw the key one night and it flew out of his hand and we all had to show our torches to find his key for him under the arches (laughs). You know, it was – but if the siren sounded while you was in the pictures, it came up and it was your choice whether you still wanted to stay there and watch the film or whether you wanted to come out and get under the shelter in the arches.
And did that ever happen to you when you were in the pictures?
Yeah, sometimes I used to say and my friend, she was a bit nervous, and I remember. I always remember seeing one film, what was it called, Citizen Kane and Orson Welles and I thought ‘Oh, I’m going to stay. I don’t want to go. I’ve paid my money to come in!’ But she wanted to go and we had to come out and as we walked out so the all clear sounded (laughs) and we had to come out, we’d lost our money. Y’know.
How much did you pay for the tickets?
I think then it was one shilling and ninepence in the old money – I don’t know what that would be now. But you used to pay and they’d let so many in and you’d stand at the back and there wasn’t no seats till someone’d stand up and they’d seen up to what they wanted to see and they’d go out and then you’d get shown – cos inside the picture palace was sort of like walking about in the blackout, you know.
I remember I bought my first bike during the war. I see it at Deptford, funnily enough, at a little bicycle shop and it had chrome handles – cos you didn’t get them then, they was all black, painted black and the wheels were black. And I’d seen this bike with the chrome handles and I wanted a bike – cos some of the girls where I worked used to all go out on a Sunday on their bikes. And I wanted this one and I went home and my Mum was frightened to let me on the roads with a bike and she said ‘No, I aint going to lend you the money’. But she did eventually and I went and got this bike. When I come past – you know when you come up, is it New Church Road? And you turn round, I don’t know if you’re on the bus, and there’s a little row of houses and then there’s a minicab. That was in the little shop there, that I bought that bike. I forget how much it was now. I bought it and we used to go out cycling of a Sunday you know, yeah.
Did you go to Church on Sunday morning during the war?
While I was evacuated to Cornwall, I used to have to go cos in the country they have what they call Church and Chapel and the lady who’d come from Plymouth Saltash, she was Church, which was like High Church of England, and the man was Chapel. So I used to have to go Church in the morning, Sunday School in the afternoon and Chapel of a night so of a Sunday while I was evacuated in Cornwall I went three times a day on a Sunday, yeah.
Did you like church?
Yeah, I’ve always loved singing hymns and that, you know, I loved that.
Was there ever a siren sounding while you were in Cornwall?
No, I never heard it while I was in Cornwall, never heard the siren go in Cornwall, no. It was peaceful country and, you know, you used to play. The boys was on a big farm opposite and you see them change theirselves as they went there a bit scruffy and rough and all of a sudden you’d see them get all brown on the farm – mind you they had to work. I had to work in the shop. The man I was with had to take people’s rations and shopping out in a van and drive all to other little villages and they would register with him with their ration books. So I used to have a work of a night, we used to pack, say Mrs Jones’s rations in there and so-and-so’s rations in there. No, I did work hard while I was there but as I say, I was very fortunate that I had a good living – I was looked after. First time in my life I ever tasted mushrooms, when I was evacuated. Cos they used to just go out and someone they knew on the farm would pick’em fresh mushrooms. I didn’t know what a mushroom was before then (laughs)
D’you know Rations? Did you find it..how your mothers managed to put a nice diner on the table every day?
Did I ever go hungry and all that? No, I never did, no. You see, you’re young, you don’t care. I often wonder, you wonder when you get older and you think about it, how your mother’s managed to put a nice dinner on the table every day for you ‘cos you never, when you were at school , you never had school dinners and that then. You all had to go home and come back. You done the journey four times a day, you know. The first time when I went to Brighton, I was evacuated from Tower Bridge School, we used to call it Fair Street, … but it was Tower Bridge School, when we went to Brighton then during, when I come back, I went on to, erm, that was just before the War. As I say, I was there at Brighton when it was declared. Then I come home, and then I , I don’t know how I come to go from Riverside now, but I was evacuated to Cornwall, from where they had St Michael’s School is now. It was called Riverside, East Lang School. I went to Cornwall from that school.
When you was in Cornwall did you ever go to school?
Oh! Yea! Erm! We had to share, erm, the school with the country children. They had their own little part. I mean, I mean, it must have been hard on them, for us to all been plonked on them, you know. But erm, we had our own teachers and they had their own teachers. The teachers who took us from London and they had their own teachers, yeah.
Did you ever talk to the country people?
Yea, well, the country children? Yea. We used to play with them . We got to know them well, yea. Made friends with the girls and that, you know. No, we, we got on very well with them . In Brighton , you didn’t make… ‘cos you was with your own school all the time. In Brighton, I was there five weeks. You were with your own mates, you were billeted next door. They just took us all along the streets and billeted you, you know, so you were just with your own lot. But in Cornwall, yeah you did mingle, yeah you did, because you started talking like them, speaking like them you know, they’d say “ain’t half raining” “she, she’s pouring a rain” (laughs) I used to talk like that when I came back. What’s that all about? My brothers used to tease me….
You know when you were talking about Cornwall before, did your mum ever thought “what happened”?
Yes, and my brothers and sisters used to laugh at me “what’s she taking about” (laughs) “she’s got the old Cornish dialect”. But you soon got over it when you go to work – lose it quickly. Yea.
Could you tell me about how your area changed then? During the Blitz how it changed to what it was before the war actually happened?
Yea, I mean where we used to live, I’ve got I mean before the war, I’m going right back, they used to go out on a days out from the corner pub, and it was like right on Abbey Street – well now that’s where Lupin Point – do you know Lupin Point? Big, tall block, it’s one near St James’s Church / Caspian House and there’s Lupin Point that was where there was a little row of shops, the pub where I’ve got a photo of my dad going on charabancs not coaches, used to call them charabancs, and it would be open top and I’ve got a photo of my dad leading on the top, goin with all the men with their caps on all the dockers, you know and er, oh it’s changed vastly because Jamaica Road – what you’ve got Jamaica Road now, wasn’t Jamaica Road, it I don’t know if you know but there’s an Old Jamaica Road and there’s a little road along – that was the main road where the trams used to run ‘n down…. Yea. And you’d used to get a 70 to London Bridge on the tram: a penny, and a penny to the Elephant and Castle to go to the pictures. A 68 used to turn round at Tower Bridge and got to the Elephant, and the 70 used to go straight on and stop at London Bridge. You remember I was sayin’ I bought a bike? Well this Sunday me and my friends go to Greenwich, and I think it’s Blackhorse Bridge is it? Up near Deptford where you came from? Well there was a pub called the Black Horse, and I was going along and my friend was in front of me and my wheel went down the tram lines and it threw me right over the handlebars… yea, with the old tram lines and on this Sunday they all came out the pub and the men all straightenin’ me bike and I had to ride fast to catch me mate up, she still ridin’ along didn’t know where I was behind, and I went down the tram lines….
What was a tram?
What was a tram? Yea, it was a all like – say you imagine a bus, but narrow, but longer, and it used to go on a electric rails that was in the middle of the road. Yea. There was this one that was a bit open and I’m lookin’ at ‘er and gone right down the wide one, hmmm.
After, did you catch her up? (40.14)
Yea. And I’m sayin’ “Kit! Kit! Wait for me I’ve been down a tram line!!” (laughs) that was just near where you come from, Deptford. Is that it? Do you want some more?
Questioner changes) I had just a couple of questions…. When you were saying about the Doodlebug, did they fall every night?
Aw, they were comin’ over during the day an’ all. Yea, ‘cos they were pilot-less weren’t they, and they come out an all a sudden your ‘ear this ‘umming and then stop: and there were a lot like that and we’d be standin on the landing and we could see all the “ack ack” fire goin’ on, and we thought they’d caught ‘em, but it just stopped and then wherever it stopped it would come down and crash. Marvellous really, when you think of it, Hitler had all them things, the rockets and the pilot-less planes…
You had to go down to the ground floor shelter every night?
Oh you would do that in case anything came over, you know, oh yea you would do that, but then when you got a lull, you went back into your house, you’d say I’m gonna have a nice sleep tonight.
But sirens would be going off?
No they didn’t go off every night, they’d only if there was a raid, they would I suppose catch the planes coming and they would go, but I don’t think they could warn – I don’t recall the warnin goin’ off before a rocket, you just used to get a sort of big flash, and they were very very powerful I think, more so than the Doodlebugs. Yea.
So when you building got hit? What got hit?
It was the little block of houses facin’ that got hit. And it was, like I say, my sister’s worked in the tin factory there was one called the “metal box” in Raleigh Street, I think it still exists, or it’s made into units now – and um a lot of the people had been coming out, they’d slept there all night in the metal box shelter and come out and gone in these little houses makin tea to all go work quite a few got you know neighbours and people got killed in Raleigh Road then yeah. And because it, the blast of it our street doors was facin the back gardens and fell in and then killed the people in them houses and it just blew us all out – all our wind’ws and everything out and the doors…. And me an my mum, say it was like this and I was laying near the door, closed the door and layin on the floor, we’d take our own bedding down there and there was a couple of other neighbours who’d come in there with us, and we’d all be along that wall there, layin on the floor, and the door just come in and the windows just come in, you know. Yeah. It wasn’t a very nice experience. No. but I suppose you’re not, you’re dizzy at the time, because the next thing my uncle had come from Druid Street, and he’s come running round and I could hear him callin’ me mum’s name: “Liz, Liz, Liz where are ya?” and he got us out! They were lifting the doors off of us and er, we must’ve been smothered in it, but when you think, you don’t take no notice do ya. I can see him holding my mum against the wall and getting all the soot out of her mouth an that we must have had it all down our throats yea.
It must have been terrible, were you shocked?
Yea! And well I had to go, I went down as I say to this tin shop where my sisters worked and my sister was very medical, like she thought she knew a lot about medication, injuries and all that, and she was in with the nurse there and the nurse let us go in and wash ourselves up, tidy ourself, but you still had to go to work the next day! Wouldn’t dare lose a days work. I had to go up along the wharf where I worked in the afternoon and tell em that we’ve been bombed out and I was saying “is it alright if I go on the floor and speak to my friend, funnily enough we’ve both met up going to time and talents now, and I said only I had her shoes I’d borrowed a pair of shoes off her and I had to go upstairs with the soldier with the soldier going up and down guarding all your flats as they was all open to anybody wasn’t it. I mean they’d have a field day today wouldn’t they. I mean people wasn’t so fond of going in other people’s houses like they are today.
I was going to ask about that, was there looting? (45.41)
Oh yeah, it did go on, yes.
You know your work, what was your work?
I tell you what else we used to do, we used to do dried milk powder. And we used to have to put them come out– say like the size of that settee out the side, and the young lad used to tip big barrels of milk powder in it and you would stand there and you’d have 3 girls on it and you’d have to scoop the milk powder in a paper bag and you’d put it in a box there and another girl would she would weigh it and it sort of went down the line on that side of the table and she would weigh it another lady would put the tin on, another lady would put a bit of sellotape round it and that was how you got a lot of milk because it had been dried. Same thing happened to egg powder, the eggs were dried to preserve it and for a few months you’d go and we’d all have all lovely white eyelashes where all the powder got on them, next time you’d got and they’d all be yellow!
And we used to wear the white turbans and we made it fashionable and then we’d wear a blue one underneath and we had a bit of blue coming over the top, we’d make it a bit of fashion, we’d sort of if you had your arm in a cloth sling – they’d be our turbans and we’d buy a dark blue one and make a fashion of it and yeah, we did it all differently…. and then after the war I still worked there and they used to have what was called “bundles for Britain” that was supposed to come over earlier that was supposed to help, all from America they used to come over to us, but instead of them being “bundles for Britain” we used to have to unpack them, sort them out, repack them in big sacks and we had a big machine that you put all wire round it and tied it all up. And they went out to Germany, and they were really bundles…, that went on for quite a long while that did.
And that was after the war?
That was after the war, that we used to have to call that… United Nations, something like that the word was “UNRA” that we were diverting the “bundles for Britain” to Germany then, that we’d bombed you know, so. We’d fill down in the pockets to see, they would be all combs and toothbrushes, what you couldn’t get, just after the war you know the Americans was very good like that yeah.
48.32) One more question… was just about your dancing?
What during the war?
Used to be in the baths, more like the swimming baths, I’m tryin’ to think where we went… because the Rotherhithe Baths along here in the main road got bombed. I remember there used to be a little group of fellas who we’d grown up with in this block of flats and in the Bermondsey Baths just opposite Spa Road, we used to go dancing there but then the war was sort of beginning to ease up it was all going on more in Japan, and all that, we’d invaded Germany, we were winning the war and there used to be New Cross Palais used to go up there…. We still got out and about – the young ones did you know- which must have been I suppose a terrible worry for your mothers while you was out, they know the sirens gone, you know.
That was our enjoyment, because when we worked and we was all the young girls and it was the first time really wives and that had to work you know, when they got married before the war they didn’t work no more sort of thing and then, we was all young girls and we all enjoyed ourselves we used to work hard to earn the money so then you sort of as I say played hard a bit, you’d take a chance and go out. You’d try and buy ration tickets / coupons so you’d buy them off the young fellas who wanted a fag so sold their ration or their clothes book you know we’d buy them off of them, because you had to have clothes was rationed and everything you know.
Were any of the bombs near where you lived?
Well it wasn’t a bomb that dropped when we was down in the … in fact it was a Doodlebug, a plane and it came right down and that was I say, the nearest one when my uncle had to run round and get us out, but I say, we went to work the next day, yeah, still had to go to work (laughs) couldn’t stop at home.
Was there one day when you didn’t go to work?
Well, as I say, the next – the very next day came out from where my sisters was sheltering in this tin factory, Feavers it was called, in Tower Bridge Road we come home and I had to go to my firm and tell them that I’d got bombed at but then I had to go 8 o’clock the next morning and go to work again. Just to let them know because you sort of worked in teams and if one of you wasn’t there and you’d worked out to be a good team you would loose you place – someone else would take your place, so you wanted to get back and get your place. Because you did work hard and it was hard work but you know you accepted it – I mean there was nothing else you could do you had to accept it, isn’t it, you know… and a few of us used to volunteer to go St Olaves’ Hospital it was it was across the road here and out to clean the ward up and that. As you got older you was allowed to go and do a bit of voluntary work there, there was always something going on for you to do, if it was you’d venture out and most of your family always used to use the local pub, and would get in there and have a drink….
Interview with Sheila Bulmer – 12/10/10
Interviewees are Danny Olaloko and Becky Penny, supported by Iris Dove. The interview is taking place at London Bubble, Elephant Lane, SE16
Danny: Can I ask your date and place of birth?
Sheila: Born in Rotherhithe, 20th May 1933. This moment I am 77.
Becky: Can you tell me a little bit about how you were feeling during the bombs?
Sheila: Well, when you’re young, Becky, you think you’re mother and father are going to protect you so you’re not so frightened as I would be now – you’d be terrified – it wasn’t exciting but you think your mum and dad would protect you and nothing can happen to you, cos they’re there.
Danny: Did any of your friends die in the war?
Sheila: Not that I remember but my gran was bombed out, bombs came down, and had to be evacuat4ed. There were people opposite in a shelter and that was bombed, it was frightening when I think back now and the bombs and the aeroplanes- you always knew , am I talking too much? Always knew when they were Germans cos it was a different sound . You’d think ‘Oh Christ here they come!’
Danny: Can you tell me about the bombs and the big noises?
Sheila: Oh, they would whistle, whistling bombs and there was oil bombs and incendiary bombs that set light to everything and ones that made big craters, you know, in the ground. It was horrible when I think back.
Becky: Did your house get bombed?
Sheila: No, but the windows – it wasn’t a house bit a flat – but the windows were blown in – that were the blast it was called.
Danny: Can you tell me a little bit about the sounds of the bombs.
Sheila: whistling bombs and big explosions and guns in the park, tired to, for the aeroplanes they were, it was horrible , you know, that someone was going to die when you heard them coming down.
Danny: What did you think about the war? Did you want it to happen?
Sheila: I was too young to think about it. I was 6 when war started. We went away. My mother was expecting another baby so went to just Hemel Hemsted. I thought it was the country and came back in 41 as the heart of every thing again. It wasn’t nice, that’s all I can say. What worried me mostly was the doodle bugs. The V 1s. They used to come over and when you heard them stop you knew they were going to come down. They ch ch chugged with the plane* coming out of the back of their behind. They were robotic planes, no pilot in them. They tipped and you knew someone was going to die. The V2s were even worse – you didn’t hear them coming, it was just an explosion.Happy days! (laugh)
*I think she means bombs – Iris
Becky: Did you go in a shelter?
Sheila: Yeh. There was a sand bag shelter in the square where I lived, and a brick shelter and they made shelters under the flats. We slept down there and I had a top bunk. My head was there and there was a boy there. I used to say to my mum, “Oh, Jimmy Fisher’s feet smell!” and she turned me round. Oh Jimmy Fisher! I was about 8. I suppose but you grow up very quick I the war. And the old ladies used to go over the Albion Pub and come back and we had chemical toilets – oh the noise they used to make going a wee! Nothing was sacred! It wasn’t dirty – you just accepted everything.
Danny: What primary school did you go to?
Sheila: There was a school over there. It’s not there now. St. Mary’s, it belonged to St Mary’s church. I was there ‘til I was 15. I didn’t pass any scholarships or anything. I left on the Friday and started work on the Monday cos work was easy to come by then.
Becky: Where abouts in London did you live?
Sheila: Round here, at Rotherhithe where I live now. I could move but it is such an upheaval you don’t need it when you get to a certain age, do you?
Danny: Was the house that was in the war still here?
Sheila: Flats, yes. They were built in 36 I think, 3 years before war stated. Am I making sense?
Danny: How was it rationing food out?
Sheila: Well you ate things, you ate rabbit, pigeon, offal, brains – on toast, I know, I wouldn’t eat it now, but you did, corned beef, spam which was ham and pork wasn’t it? My mum used to make great big suet puddings, you filled up on that and there was the black market as well in the war time. If anyone knew anyone who was selling something meatwise cos the men worked in the docks, oh the meat and Jim along the landing got an oxtail which would make a dinner and he had it down his trousers God knows how he walked, I wouldn’t know.
Danny: Was your father fighting in the war?
Sheila: No he was a policeman around Paradise Street, it’s still there and its on the corner with Cathay St.
Danny: Did you have any games that you played?
Sheila: Yes, skipping and 5 stones – throw in the air- alley gobs we used to call it do you remember 5 stones? Bat and ball, cricket, rounders cos you had washing posts in the square and you could run round the washing posts, it was good we always played together and then someone turn nasty and your mum would say, In, come in.”
Danny: Did you go outside a lot when war started ?
Sheila: er outside?
Danny: Outside the house
Sheila: To play, if your mum wanted shopping in Albion St but you didn’t go far. We used to go to my Gran’s, she lived in Plaistow but she was bombed out – she was evacuated, she lived with aunt Molly – it was living you didn’t know anything else.
Danny: Did you have any siblings?
Sheila: None cos my mother was expecting a baby and she a full time boy,9lb but- all right to tell him? –she had a haemorrhage when he was
born and he died. He was a full time boy. I was nearly 8. I would have liked to have had a brother – it was just one of those things and I regret asking my mother more but you didn’t did you years ago? They used to say “Don’t be nosey” or “Pigs have ears” things like that.
Sheila: Yes used to play on bombed sites and collected shrapnel, bits of bombs innit? and we had toy tin hats and we used to go round saying, “Put out that light!”
Danny: How big were the holes that the bombs made?
Sheila: They were big, the craters were big from that wall to there , from what I remember, they were big.
Danny: Did you play games in the shelters?
Sheila: Played alley gobs – if anyone was lucky enough to have a comic we shared it. There was a fella under me I don’t know why he didn’t go to war- would say “Got any comics?”
There was people with asthma in the shelter so we left the trap door open! I know so the blast would have come through and killed us all. I used to go the trap door with me dinner, dinner on a plate.
Danny: Was it easy to sleep in the war or was it hard as any moment bombs would come?
Sheila: It was hard. When I was 11 I went to sleep and a rocket had gone off, something happened had a thing called Shingles, I’ve had shingles twice since – god its painful but when you’re young you had to pay to go to the doctors my mother got it better with calomine lotion and bits of tags and wrapped you up.
Danny: In school, was there any bombing while at school?
Sheila: Not here, I was in the Lower Road. When I was evacuated dive bombers game and a machine gun I just remember that. I used to walk to school and I wasn’t used to the country. I used to go through a field of cows. I had a red pixie hood I used to take that off because I thought they were bulls.
Becky: Where were you evacuated to?
Sheila: Hemel Hempsted, but as I say my mother was expecting another baby so went private. It was still born.
Danny: How many shelters were at the school?
Sheila: No shelter not that I remember.
Danny: Did your school ever get bombed?
Danny: How did you feel to see London half broken?
Sheila: I don’t know how old you are but you think how you would feel and you put yourself I my position. I was a bit younger than you, you don’t take a lot of notice you just accept it – that another bomb has gone off even with the V 1s my mother had a friend who worked over the Commercial Rd over the other side of the water and rumour went round there was a plane came down and there was no pilot and everybody thought strange but the government kept everything hush hush as much as possible cos they were pilot less planes – there was no body.
I remember there were air raid wardens – do you ever watch dad’s army – I like that even the repeats – there were air raid wardens.
Danny: Can we have a little more information about the air raid wardens?
Sheila: They used to come round if you even showed a chink of light they’d say “Put out that light!” cos we all had to have black out blinds so you don’t show any light cos the planes in the air would have folloed the lights and the know the people were there and so they would bomb it. But the air raid wardens, when there was bombing used to dig people out – the bodies and there was light rescue and heavy rescue that was their job. The men and they used to dig the bodies out and if you were killed by the blast you had no mark on you this is what I was told I used to earwig, listen, bones were broken but you looked all right and there was – loads of shops round here and there was Norwegian sailors and Finnish, Swedish but the Norwegian church was good and when the war was over we had a Victory Party in the grounds of the Norwegian Church. Jimmy Fisher’s mother had a baby by a Norwegian sailor – goings on! I think her husband was died – Harry or in the army, any way the girl, Sylvie her name was, they accepted her but she had it any way and her sister Mary had big ???? and when she was drunk she used to go ch ch up and down this big ???? and she had Nellie her daughter who was blind.
Danny: If the bombs came down she would have died?
Sheila: She could hear but she couldn’t see.
Danny: How was the time – compared to now, how different?
Sheila: You weren’t scared. I’ve been mugged on the tube about 15 years ago. I was going to Baker St and the morning on the met line its fairly empty and this black African boy and white girl got on –they were asking me directions I leave all me bags on the floor, showing them an she dipped me she took £80, me keys, me bus pass – I was over 60 and had to pay me fare in the morning when I got to work the people I was extra friendly with had a collection – I got nearly £130 collection and a bunch of flowers but was when I was temping I did temping for over 20 years going from job to job. I’ve had about 84 jobs I my life.
Danny: Which time do you prefer – this time or before?
Sheila: When I was about 30 I enjoyed – when you get older your bones ache and you long for when you were move well and you can get about and go shopping without thinking about it but now it takes all the time to get meself ready. I did get frightened but please God – alzheimers- there are so many people with it when they lose their marbles I would bate to do that.
Iris: At the time you were less frightened?
Sheila: Less frightened cos you think nothing can happen to you
Danny: Did you know anyone who got injured?
Sheila: Yes, people with broken bones, I didn’t cos you was always falling over – gravel, cuts. Went round the park that was in the war time, stood under a see-saw, it went down on me head, they dragged me home but then I didn’t go any where, my mother put Germolene on it , which is a paste and wrapped it up in rags. I’ve still go the scar.
Becky: What clothes did you wear?
Sheila: Anything you could get hold of. When the Americans sent clothes over my mother used to bring me home clothes from sorting out, she’d say that’ll do her but there was 2 girls who lived next door, one got married to an American, got called Red Ham and used to have black jack – they used to give me clothes but they were thin and I was fat I was like a sausage I a skin. And there was this material called satin back moricain, you should really have I dry cleaned cos when you washed it it shrank so I was always like a sausage in a skin.
Danny: Did the Americans help out the country – were the Americans helpful?
Sheila: The Americans were all right. Aunt Moll used to go out with Americans and air force men with epaulettes on their shoulders and in Piccadilly they used to gather at Rainbow corner – the Americans were all right.
Becky: What sort of shoes did you wear?
Sheila: Anything you could get hold of. My father used to mend shoes, put leather and mend them.
Becky: How did you fell when you were evacuated?
Sheila: I didn’t like it but the only thing good, I was taught to knit.
Danny: Was your family nice or horrible?
Sheila: We had 4 billets in 18 months –we were glad to get home. We used to go to the cinema, 3 times a week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday another film Thursday Friday Saturday and one on Sunday. I like the cinema, don’t go now its too expensive. Terrible expensive. I like the theatre too but that’s too expensive do ever go to the theatre?
Sheila: Oh when we was at school we used to go to Camberwell to see plays – all over –after the war.
Danny: Did you feel better after the war or during?
Sheila: We had Victory parties. I suppose it was better, I suppose
Danny: Could you tell us about rationing – people on the streets, did they get their rations?
Sheila: People on the street? I don’t think there were many people like that in those days who lived on the street. There’s more now. There was a thing in the television last night they were going through the bags to get sandwiches out did you see that? I saw a play about the Krays- Ronnie and Reggie gangsters over Whitechapel way – both dead now but they were a bad lot – demand money for protection – if you didn’t give it – slash you up.
Danny: Did you know anyone’s house who got bombed?
Sheila: I suppose I did but I was too young to worry about it. My mum used to say she’s been bombed out – they used to call it. You got money if you were bombed out and you got bits of paper stuck to your windows for blast, white sticky tape.
Becky: How much money did you get?
Sheila: I don’t know not to the equivalent of 1000s and 100s like you get now but people were more grateful cos when I first started work I only got £2 a week which is nothing is it and you had to have your fare there and fare back. If you started early enough you got a workman’s ticket. I worked in Carmelite St, off Fleet St. which is a long way from Southwark.
Danny: Did you see a bomb come down and land?
Sheila: No. You heard them and you got under the table, your bum would be out and your legs would be under. People with animals were having them put to sleep because they couldn’t cope with the worry about them.
Danny: Did you have any pets?
Sheila: A canary called Joey and in later years stray cats and the vet is so expensive. I’ve taken in 3 strays the last one was called Mackie. He’d been on the streets for 3 or 4 years and this Christmas only about 8,9 yrs ago I said come in boy I used to feed him, took him to the vets , had him neutered, had him tested for feline aids and it came back positive so he could never go out he had to stay indoors. I do miss him when he had to be put to sleep I stayed with him I was crying and crying I already had 2 cats put to sleep. I felt terrible.
Danny: What about your canary?
Sheila: Joey had a bad foot – everything was too expensive my dad har to cut his foot out with a razor blade and put a little match stick for a split. He was all right he got over it all.
Danny: Was it easy to watch your dad cut…
Sheila: I didn’t see it – he came in from night work – policeman and did it there cos it was withering his foot and it would have killed him if he hadn’t of done it.
Danny: Is your canary still alive now?
Sheila: Oh no, no We’ve 2 budgies since they’re both dead Charlie and George then I had stray cats. Jimmy Durante I used to come home from work and see this nose looking at me. Jimmy Durante is and old comedian, American with a big nose and they used to call Schnozzle, schnozzle is a nose, used to see this nose and I took him in. I thought its Barry Manilow or Jimmy Durante so he was Jimmy. I had a Sooty and then Charles Rennie Macintosh – everyone called him Blackie the stray. I thought no I’ll give him a nice name so he was Charles Rennie Macintosh you know he was a Glaswegian designer – what do they teach them at school? – different things. I can’t use a computer.
Becky: (unclear) mum…jobs
Sheila: She used to go once a week to St. Olaves School by Tower Bridge and help out with the dinners for the heavy rescue and light rescue and there was a Maltese cook called Camelotte. I used to go up on the bus and have me dinner there once a week . I think she got ten shillings a week which is a lot of money.
Danny: Did you have any money to buy sweets?
Sheila: Got a ha’penny if you were lucky and go into a shop and they give you bits of sweets from the jar- there used to be sweets in jars – had a piece of paper and make it into a cone, didn’t have it very often, if anyone gave thrupence – Oh! You’d think you were rich.
Danny: Money from then – more expensive- more money that you have now?
Sheila: No one wanted too much out of life, they didn’t want big dinners or pizzas or anything like that you just lived to your means.
Danny: You just kept what you had.
Sheila: Yes you just kept what you had.
Iris: When you were evacuated did your father go with you?
Sheila: No he was a policeman – didn’t have to go to war – reserved occupation.
Iris: Did he go to Hemel Hemsted?
Sheila: No used to come down sometimes weekends, we used to go up from Baker St. I think I remember people sleeping on platform or used to go by Green line coach service,
Iris: Were you aware how your managed the rations?
Iris: Did she make cakes?
Sheila: Yes coconut cakes if she could get the coconut. Rock cakes. Cos women used to bake more and you had meat puddings and meat pies and apple pies if someone went hop picking – you know for beer- they used to bring bopping apples, big apples – they were lovely like Bramleys.
Iris: So food was quite good?
Sheila: It was adequate, no one was starving or ill. No it was ok. Had a lot of bread and jam to eat don’t think I had breakfast. People used to share – if anyone got married they’d say can I borrow your cutlery,china or glass bowls or so you know anyone who’s got a wedding dress they used to say.
Iris: Did people share more then?
Sheila: Yes U think they did because where I live they’re not too bad I don’t batten on anybody even when I was on the floor for 4 and a half days end of Feb it was I didn’t realise someone rang me “Have you had a stroke?” I said “No” I had been on the floor for 4 and a half days. I had carpet burns and that’s why I couldn’t get around the police had to break the door I – the noise! – went to Kings College – never been in hospital my life – I went to Kings College for 11 days and I had a CT scan – might have broke a bone in my back I had carpet burns, big painful. I thought I burnt meself. Results came back didn’t break a bone. I was smoking for 60 years and my lungs were clear. I couldn’t believe it! But I gave up cos in hospital you can’t smoke. I gave up for 5 months. In August I thought , fancy a cigarette then I went back to 15 a day. Year ago I used to smoke 40 a day you just did. The other week I went to Tesco and they do an advisory and she gave me lozenges ad a false cigarette you just put cartridges in and it smells like cigarettes and over a certain age you don’t have to pay so that’s all right.
Iris: During the war was there more stealing – looting?
Sheila: Yes there was cos they were called spivs –the robbers.
Iris: What did they do?
Sheila: The spivs?
Iris: Did they go into bombed houses and…
Sheila: Yes or banks when the vaults gone up had a look round not much different as it is now really.
Iris: When the houses were bombed and stuff was lying around did people take stuff?
Sheila: I can’t remember we didn’t take anything you had to watch it cos the police were always around more than they are now, they walked there weren’t any police cars at the tunnel mouth there were always a policeman on point duty directing the traffic.
Iris: Did you listen to the radio much?
Sheila: Yes children’s hour.
Iris: Can you tell us about what you remember?
Sheila: There was a nice play called Swoosher the Curtain and I used to go to the library to get books.
Iris: Where was your nearest library?
Sheila: There was a hospital called St Olaves –opposite there, there were 2 big stone statues outside the library and we used to go in there and there were lots of trays with butterflies.
Iris: What books do you remember?
Sheila: Fairy stories – go up to grown up books. I read Rebecca – I was a little bit older I loved Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier.
Iris: You were older then?
Sheila: Older then. I was 15. I went to work when I was 15. That was in ’48.
Danny: Thank you very much
Sheila: That’s ok dear. I have I made sense. Yeh – you sure? More sense than the other women? Oh good. Not seen anyone else.
Interview with Alfie Wright; 22/10/10;Frank Whymark House
The name of the interviewer is Tommy Pullen, the name of the interviewee is Alfred. The location is Frank Whymark House, SE 16. The name of the project is Grandchildren of the Blitz. The place of Alfred’s birth is Bermondsey.
Tom: First question I like to start off by asking you is could you tell me your experiences in the various shelters?
Alfred: ermm I never had a lot of experience in shelters because I was called up during the war and I was stationed at a place called Fowlsdown and I was in the unit that was at, in the supply line I wasn’t on the front line, I was on the supply line. The kind of work we had to do was to discharge ships and ammunition and ect that’s what we were there for, so we formed out in our different divisions at Fowlsdown. And from there on we were sent to different places where we would do our job, and we were taught when we were in the sivil life.
Tom: What were your hours? Where they like 12 hour shifts?
Alfred: ohhhh yeah when we was in a place called Tripoli we were doing 12 hour shifts, yeah,
Tom: did you have a good break in between?
Alf: welllll… yeahhh.. you got a couple of hours. Ermm yeahh back at 7oclock in the morning of you was on night shift, head down you know, Probably sleep till 12, 1 o’clock or whatever, then the meals would be ready for us, and we would get our meal, we was more or less free within those couple of hours to move around not too far like you know, then we’d have to start to get there at 6oclock, to the dock, to where we were working.
Tom: And would you go for a drink after woods with the lads, after you had finished?
Alfred: Noooo, no we’d never
Tom: not even once a week, on a Friday maybe?
Alfred: noo noo very rarely we drank, we never had any money!
(chuckle from tom)
Alfred: Its true, Its true! We’d never had a lot of money, it was only….a few shillings, I think my wages was about, at the most, 7 or 8 pound, at the start. But errr, of course my only thought was that I split my wages up and sent….. it was 14 bob a week and I sent 7 pound to my mum regularly sent it. And I had the other 7 pound. So that’s what I had to keep me 7 pound all throw the week.
Tom: What would you like to do with your 7 pound? What did you do in your spare time?
Alfred: Well I didn’t smoke…and I didn’t drink you see, sooo. The money I had, 7 pound, I was a bit of a film goer… soo.. as soon as I got time off in the day time, while I was in the barracks, that was before we got to Tripoli. I’m talking about now when we were first called up, then I would go and see a film. And fortunately I found out with another chap…. who was of the same mind as me. He didn’t… he wanted to go with the films , during the timeee it was cheap enough for the films it only cost you about a shilling. Which is chicken feed. Soooo errr that was the beginning of my start of the what’s name… of course we had to go throw all the drills and patrols, everything, you know?
So that’s……we was about six months training and then that’s when they started moving us around the different divisions our company was ABC and D. And..whatever division you went with. you were sent to where ever you had to go like.
Tom: Where was your training sorry?
Alfred: yeah…Longmore, that’s erm..in Sussex yeah sussex.
Tom: Can you remember what it looked like, the environment, was it horrible?
Alfred: Noooooooooo It wasn’t toooo bad really you know!!!!!! Because we were of the families we had to rough it during our lives, so when we went to the barracks it was, it was something different obviously to take it in right away, we was…we…we..understood what we was there for and we accepted what we had to do. And there was plenty of people telling us what and whatnot to do. When we had our drill and that… we had to go and do the work that we was there for, nobody told us because we knew what to do.
Tom: Did you make any best friends while you was in training?
Alfred: awww yeahhh
Tom: Do you still keep in contact with them today?
Alfred: Well best friends.. in the army..yeahhh pick up…because I was a Stevie door all the Stevie doors were put in these divisions and dockers. we were mixed up with the .Stevie doors and the dockers because were all worked in the surrey commercial dock.
Alfred: You know where Surrey Quays is? It used to be full of ships and we use to discharge those ships or load the ships, soooo when we was….so we already had..we know what we had to do..and we was able to do it when ever we was told to do it.
Tom: How was the moral in the community kept at a high level
Alfred: Ohhh ohhh High..High..welll Sense of humour was…we all had a sense of humour!!! And like you know. And we was able to joke with each other and that we use to have a lot of arguments with each other and like you know and err we never had any enemies or fell out with each other it was something that errrr when you.. you know you’re there for a purpose sooo you would join together..I don’t mean individuals.. as a one big..
Tom: As a Band of Brothers?
Alfred: yeahh that’s right..yess, we all come from different parts of the country, they come from wales..they did the same kind of work as we did.. a mixture..a brumes they were all there you know and we all use to take the Mickey out of each other
Alfred: there was always laughter. And errr. We got on very well. We were after a while.. we was….we had to go on parade, we had to get in the lorries that took us away and we finished up in Liverpool and from Liverpool we went up to I forgot the name of the place in Scotland now!! And we went aboard a boat and we went to Norway.. because he (Hitler) was advancing throw Europe and at the moment Norway wasn’t invaded at that present time you know. But of course.. I’m talking about the Germans now a Strong force army they had everything we never had!!
They were just sweeping across when we got to Norway and errr we was only there for about 3 or 4 weeks then the war ship came in and picked us all up and back home again. The Germans were just sweeping across!!!!
Tom: How long was you in Norway?
Alfred: We was in Norway for about 2 months
Tom: 2 months?
Alfred: yeahh we was there for about 2 months
Tom: what did you think of Norway?
Alfred: awww well we didn’t see much we was only in this village, a fishing villiage we wnt to because there was this harbour. It was big enough to bring in big ships that needed to be discharge and that was our job to discharge ships so errr but we was only there for about 2 months at most, but unfortunly for our soldiers had to move away, so they were leaving their equipment behind they use to come to us and take out equipment, so give it to them so they had something to fight with you know!! (A sarcastic laugh from Alfred) because we were not fighting soldiers..soo we was working soldiers. And errr so we had to giveaway our equipment to them, so when we got back to England we had no, no equipment! So we had to make some more! All our rifles, we all had a rifle each you see, just in case of an emergency. But we never really had any emergences, the only trouble we had was him up there….We never saw…we never had to fight any Germans I was in the supply line.
Tom: But really you had your own battle to fight, because you was producing the munitions..
Alfred: You see when the army took us up port they had to have Dockers or Stevie doors behind them, because we use to discharge them to keep them supplied so we can keep them moving on.. and of course we had Montgomery. Took over,
THE GREATEST PERSON THAT EVER WAS. I think errr he never got the praise he..he..because they brought him back when they won the war and that in Africa , west Africa which took about 3 months I think got the army and recuperated us all, all exercises we had to do in the morning, Bloody nuisance that was!!! Get up and do our exercises, he wanted fit men all the time and he, I’m talking about north Africa, I was sent to north Africa and So as the army moved up, taking places, ground from the Germans so they had to have supplies and that wasn’t a very good job, because you would have machine guns on you like!! So we was all in danger!! We had, we had to mess around with him up there we had nothing to protect us Zooming along like. All we had was our rifles but no we was fortonute. We got away with it you know, there was hardly anybody in our unit who got injuried, was if you had an accident down the docks. But apart from that you knowww. Yeahh and then we got up as far as Bangarsey. And the Germans started to reform, and ermm started pushing us back again! We got all the way back to Egypt, but of course I forget the name of the places but of course between north Africa and Egypt there’s a..aaa.. an emence swanp that goes right across and there is only a certain amount of ground between shall we say ishmania or whatever the name of the place was!! I forget now! And he was able to defend that because they couldn’t come across that because if the tanks came across that they would disappear.
So they would stop there..not by us..but by the swamp that ran right across Africa. And err soo he was able to keep them at bay as it were and then we had to have all our reinforcements come up and he revived it the soldiers and the army and everything and errr once he made a move there was no stopping us, we sweped, weee took the advantage or he took the advantage and we swept away the Germans all the way throw. And we went as far as Tripoli, and err he carried on but he wanted to get into north Africa but they stopped him there and he was rather annoyed because he was pushing them all back doing a good job he wanted the glory of what he had done, of which we give him, what happened was they stopped him a few miles away from Tripoli and the Americans invaded, and they, they took the part of the glory away from him. Montgomery was rather angry.
Tom: did you ever get the chance to meet him?
Alfred: noo noo I never, No we had seen him from time to time, but no we never saw anything of the “Brass”. Because we was that low down to them. (pointing suggestion a high Iraqi) and no we never was the brass
Tom: Then why do you think he never got the recognition that he so deserved?
Alfred: I recon because of Churchill I suppose and that, I mean the orders must of come direct from Mr Churchill for him to stop there and you had the head of the America bloke..ohhh whats his name now!! And they wanted because they was sending lots of munitions to this country. If it wasn’t for the Americans we would have been Sweapead away. And so I think what they was after, they had to give the Americans a bit of glory so what they did they sent the Americans into the north Africa and they went in and finished. But Montgomery done it, Best general we had ever had and of course when they was in france, they put him in charge of a division and he got as far as Berlin.. and he wanted to go further on!!!
Tom: And they stopped him?
Alfred: The Russians came our way, and he had orders to stop, and he was very annoyed, word comes back to us and he was verrrrrry annoyed. Because he got the Germans on the run and he wanted to keep them running. But they wanted to give the Germans a bit of, more glory as we give a bit to the Americans.
Tom: But soo a power of glory….
Alfred: They had an army ten times stronger than us, the Americans and Russians we did most of the fighting not in Russia but on our side, and err they took that little bit of glory away, they were in tilted to it I suppose, you know.
Your going up and down two or three times you got him up stairs dropping these bombs and there you arreee. We accepted it and we got over it.
Tom: And carried on…
Alfred: yeahh we carried on, Tripoli the war once we got to Tripoli the war was finished and err
Tom: How did you celebrate, when you found out the war was officially over?
Alfred: Welllll, just, just we knew we was winning and we knew that the war was over you know weeks before, we was so powerful at that period of time that they was just over run, at the beginning we was fighting the Italians! And they was like fighting Children!! They were, honestly.. their army!!
Alfred: Poor Poor…Very Poor!
Tom: If I may go down a different path..and ask you quite a different question
Tom: before the war did you have any aspirations, any dreams?
Alfred: nooo oh no , of course when I was young 14..I left school at 14 on the Friday and went work on the Monday. I started work at 14 and I want to the labour exchange and got a job at a place and I was getting 7 pound, shillings then, which was quite a tidy wage for a boy of 14 I tell you! Dad only use to give us about 6pence a week each, because I had a sister so we would be 6 pence a week each so when you got 7 shillings in your hand you think to yourself aww yeahh.. I’m gonna buy this, I’m gonna buy that until mum said how much did you get boy? 7 shillings mum, so she said, well I’ll take 4 of that and you can keep 3!!!
(Both me and Alfred share a kind laugh)
Well that was the 4 to keep like you know!! But three shillings you know was enough for me because if you wanted to go to the pictures that would cost you 3 pennies, so you know.
Tom: Can you remember the films you saw, the actors that you admired at that period of time?
Alfred: ohh.. Victor Mclene was one of them, yeahh (ha) noo a lot of them seem to run away from me now! I know Victor Mclene was one of them he was a top star at the time, but after that I use to go to work and I use to keep the job for about 2 or 3 weeks then I would leave It and go to another job. And that’s how I worked up till about…How old will I be? About 18. Because at 18 I was free to go where I like, What job belongs I put my wages in doors and behaved myself, which I did. Then I was free to go where I like free to come in any time I like at night time which I never did. But.. I could of
Tom: But the Freedom was there for you.
Alfred: It was, it was. We all had freedom at that time. And errr
Tom : How would you say times have changed to the present day….
Alfred: awwww massively
Alfred: awww yeahh. It was a different life there, we was free to walk about at night time we were free, the children were free to play in the streets until it got dark every day we was out in the street playing different games..ball games..Frog games jumping over each others backs and standing still and if you moved you was out like you know. I don’t know if you play those games?
Tom: aww yeahh I have..yeahh we still play those
Alfred: Do you!!!!
Tom: yeah with my scouting lot yeahh.
Alfred: And they were good games them lot. Haha poor feller bending down you pam into them!!
Tom: Especially if there is a little feller like that !! (pointing his hand off the floor) and a massive guys comes and jumps over him.
Alfred: aww yess!!! But noo noo we was free to do those sort of things and errr right until the war started, we was still free to do .because I got called up.. once I got to work at 14 those sort of games had finished, because I became a different type of person..a working boy and I come home about half past 5
Tom: At the age of 14!?
Alfred: yeahh get home about half 5 have me tea, mum would have the tea ready, “Have a good day son?” “ooohh yess mum”. Because mum was the governor of the house, my dad was the master really but my mum she did everything, a lovely mum like. And she said yeah what you doing tonight boy, I said I think I’ll go up the pictures mum, alright behave yourself and I did and there I go. That’s how free we were! We wasn’t errr afraid of anybody in the streets grabbing us our touching us or trying to kidnap us. I have walked throw those streets from elephant and castle at 12oclock at night..
Tom: I couldn’t even do that!! Not these days!!
Alfred: Not a bit of fear we didn’t have to look round, because the freedom we had then the children haven’t got today because their mothers and fathers are fearful of what might happen in the streets
Tom: But why do you think that is, because there is a sudden change from this brilliant freedom to having this…
Alfred: Well the war started this you see, all that freedom we had when the war started it was no longer there
Tom: So after the war more people became more cautious?
Alfred: well yeahh, they had, some had 4 years of it, of the bombing. That’s what my wife had. They had 4 years of the bombing constantly not practically every night and err they switched from us after..this is what I have heard I was only there who a few days then I left, and I was back into the unit. But the stories we were told and we believed them, then they went from bombing us for a while to bombing Coventry. And they blew Coventry up to bits aww that was a terrible thing … and then I forget…they sent, when we had the battle of the Germans, they went to one of the villages and we, we bombed them cleared! And that was in reply of what they had done to Coventry. Because of Coventry. It was almost flattened, who knows how many people died. But
Tom: Would you say that the events in Coventry spurred on the people in London, the passion to go out there and really….
Alfred: well it was something you didn’t expect anybody to do, it gave you an incite of what these people are like you know.. had no feelings for anybody, terrible, terrible. And yet when they were captured the Germans that were captured in the desert they would be brought onto a trailer or a ship to be taken back to prison camps they were all sitting there milk and miled infact we use to give them cigarettes, you know, sitting there like that poor sods, nobody to speak to, so just..you know..You wanna fag? Yes please, and there you go. The soldier himself..It was the officers that..
Tom: Were doing the real damage?
Alfred: yeah that brought all that mayhem. Anyway we err..we got the better of them in west Africa..that was a nasty smell up there! But…err
Tom: I was going to say.. If you could describe the Blitz for a future generation in one word what word would that be and why?
Alfred: To be quite honest with you, I wasn’t In the Blitz!
Tom: No sorry!! I mean your war time experience.
Alfred: ohhh.. we had a wonderful time!
Tom: Wonderful time!?
Alfred: yeahhh we enjoyed ourselves because we wasn’t in the middle of the fighting we was there to discharge ships, and of course we had him to contempt with up there. There was one incident which happened to us. We was in Tripoli and a ship came in, so we had to discharge the munitions then we had the.. the what do you call them… what’s was that plane called again!! The..the…The airplanes..anyway! while we was in Tripoli we was discharging this boat they..2 or 3 of these plans came over and was dropping their bombs and each time they came over they missed us!! If they had hit the ship we was on it would of gone sky high. Yeahh sooo errr I think that’s the only real danger I was in other then that I had quite an easy life.
Marigold: Alfie is it ok If I ask a few questions. Alfie If I can ask when you were posted in Norway, in North Africa and all those places how did you find about what was happening at home?
Alfred: well they were all communicating, all my friends were they use to right home and they use to get letters back, it could take a week up to a month to get one back, they would say oh so so so, and they would tell us about the letters, what was happening their, not what they were feeling or whatever. And that’s how we got a lot of the news, were the letters from home.
Marigold: Did you have any correspondence at that period of time?
Alfred: awww nooo,no I never had a lot to say to mum, you know I was writing to mum you know, “you Right!, I’m doing fine, hope to see you later”, you know that sort of business, you wasn’t allowed to say anything about the war because err, there.. it was all censored, and anything that we said init, they would tear them up. Destroyed them, they did us while we were in Norway, we wanted to tell um where we were, when we wrote. And we told them there was a church there and it was similar to that big church down at Rotherhive! And that was a Norwegian church!!
(Laughs are heard from everybody)
You had to be careful with what you wrote. They could tell us what was happening there but we couldn’t tell them what was happening here.
Marigold: So they could tell you… so did you know about what was happening during..the..
Alfred: Well mum would tell me you that..we have had a bad night last night you know. But apart from that. I don’t think they said much because they didn’t want to make us feel all sad or anything. They had the good sheer… we are alright, don’t worry about us.
Marigold: So was your mum bombed out then?
Alfred: yeahh my mum was bombed out.
Marigold: Where were you living..what street were you living at?
Alfred: Farnconbe street. St James church, near Jamaica road, yeah lived there all my life.
Marigold: Sorry what street was that and how do you spell that?
Alfred: F,A,R,N,C,O,N,B,E street.
Marigold: so where did she go your mother?
Alfred: She went to..Blackheath. Nice house it was. Haha quite a bit house she had! Haha
Marigold: And Alfred did you worry about your family at home while you was away?
Alfred: noooo, nooooo
Marigold: Why do you think that was? Did you kind of have to put it out of your mind?
Alfred: well..yeahhh not really I couldn’t do nothing you see so the least worry you put on their shoulders, my shoulders, that’s the best thing they could do, they didn’t want us to worry about them, and we didn’t want them to worry about us. Everything was hunkydorry. You know soo, we never put anything sad in the letters you know.. “hi mum I’m doing fine” all that sort of business.
Marigold: So can I ask how did you both meet?
Alfred: I tell you when I met her, she was about 15 and she was walking down one side of Jamaica road and I was walking down the other and I spotted a group and she was on the inside and I spotted her and I thought, aww she’s not that bad, and I went. Now I never, two years later, I’m talking about after the war, I was the only person in out littler crowd I use to go with could..
Marigold: So this was after the war?
Alfred: yeahh, before the war I saw her at 15, then after the war I met up with her again. And err then the next time I saw her was two years later, then the three of us were going to woping, we was all going down for the weekend, and they said of by the way we have a couple of girls coming , and I said no I’m not taking any girls, and I said no we ant got room for any girls, yes we have they can sit on our laps, and who was one of the girls? It was her. I hadn’t seen her for two years, I recognised her straight away. That’s how I met her and when I brought them all home after the weekend I told her to say behind in the car and I started to chat her up in the car.
Marigold: So where you writing to each other over the war?
Alfred: No, No we parted, we wasn’t together at that present time. I didn’t see any future in it! Its pointless love so we packed up
Annie: One day I come home from work and a women said to me Annie an army bloke has been here in the old flats we lived in and she said an army chap has been here in said oh what about, and she said he wants to know If your safe and well so I said who is it then, I said I knew a man called Wright or something like that, she said that must be him. Well he sent to find out if you was alright, and it was him!
Alfred: You was still in my mind though.
Wife of Alfred: And you know I still have a air mail from 1945 because he wanted me to go back with him. And I still got it.
(Alfred Chuckling quietly)
Alfred: When I was living in England me and my mate and my friend at that time, we saw little England going by and he waved, one of the Indian sailors came up to us and he said “you saying bye bye”, don’t know if we are going to see it again! So he said would you like me to take your fourteen!! I said please you know where we are going, he said no let me take your fortune, so we said oh right ok, the other bloke went first he had just got married and he looked at him and said ooohh yess you haven’t been married very long have you, he said I’m sorry but you’re going to get devolsed! He said thanks very much! Then he look at my hand and he said ooohhh you got a long life line there and I’m 93, he said you’re not married but you’re going to get married when your 30 years of age, I said leave off I haven’t even got a girl! And we had the evolves going backwoods and forward. I got married when I was 29 and 3 quarters.
Marigold: So Alfie can I ask, were you shocked with what had happened?
Alfred: oh yes it was, it was devastating, especially where I was living in surrey quays docks. The burnt it to the ground because it was all timbers, they use to bring in the timbers the new would discharge the docks, or stacks to who ever wanted it. And of course when he came over he made one of his targets surrey docks. They burnt it to a cinder. Bombed it and bombed it there must have been thousands different types of timber, and of course you wouldn’t know it now. It’s all big houses that has been built upon it it’s all filled in and you can walk round and see all the lovely houses, and there is a Tesco’s now just up surrey docks it just opened and a me and a friend walked in and we went to the lady at the counter and she was standing in the exact spot where we use to be and I said to her you in the way there the is a crane there!! Move!!! So that’s where Tesco’s is now.
Marigold: So where you were Docker where the counter is the tesco?
Alfred: I can even pinpoint now where
Marigold: We would love to go down with you and have a look, that would be amazing.
Alfred: yeah, and of course all those streets down there have been named after the docks, street names, the only things that annoys us Stevie’s or Dockers was when they changed the name from surrey docks to surrey quays. And we was annoyed to think that they change it, much better wording that surrey quays, surrey docks. But that was the only thing there the surrey docks with all those houses there, that’s where the docks was all the way round so we felt, we wasn’t treated kindly, I know the quays with the water thing but..
Marigold: yeahhh but its wiping out the history out a bit isn’t it?
Alfred: it was wiped out the history, yeah yeah.
But the strange part is that we accepted it, there was change coming all the time and we accepted it as it came along, some of it was for the worst, some of it was for the best.
Of course there is a song there…”Bermondsey boys” (Alfred starts singing)
We are some of the Bermondsey boys
We are some of the boys, we know our manners, we are the tanners
We are respected where ever we go doors and windows open wide
If you see the copper come, hit him on the nose and run!
We are the Bermondsey Boys
(We all clap and cheer)
Marigold: Can I ask did you ever go back to your old street?
Alfred: It isn’t there really the school is still there.
Marigold: Just to go back a little bit after the war had finished what was it like living in London?
Alfred: we accepted it in our stride we never had any, anger, with anybody, what we saw when we got back, with a matter of fact it done good for the kids because some of these buildings they turned into playing sites, oh where you been boy? Just playing on the bomb sites, so it gave all our children somewhere to play it’s a good thing we knew where they were and how they were doing so we had no worry, we never thought oh what had been done, we was only looking forward at what could be done. It was a very very slow, uphill, to get where we are so to speak you know, but ermm we had no feeling of hatred, I don’t anybody, we use to call the Germans names, especially when him over there would come over and drop the bombs on us. I tell you what we did one time out there we was aboard a ship, the Stookers..that’s what they were called! The stookers use to come up, they would only have one bomb, they use to come over pinpoint yeah and drop the bomb. And when we was aboard this ship, we all climb up the ladder and that. If it would of hit the ship..it came over about 4 times and he missed! Rubbish bloody stupid. 4 times and he missed a massive ship!! If he had hit the ship nobody would of survived.
Marigold: And In what ways do you think the community has changed in the area since before the war?
Aflred: ohhh today..there’s no neighbours, we haven’t got any neighbours.
Marigold: What caused this to happen?
Alfred: Well because they all moved away, all our neighbours and people that we knew moved away to different places, and so errr when they started to build these houses people didn’t want anybody knocking on their doors. Flo her name was, err can you come errr and give us a hand in doors, sure she would say. They were there to help each other but there is nothing like that today, you live next door to somebody and you don’t even know their name! What people have done is cushion themselves in their own houses not wanting to be disturbed by other people.
They want to keep what they have, when we were young we had nothing! We was all poor none of us had any money because there was no..if you needed any help you could just ask next door, you would help them and they could help you.
That was life and in some instances it was life in the war really you had to do, you had to help yourself or somebody else. And it was a better way of living than it is today, better way of living but there are some good people out there now, we would help anybody decorate anything knock on the door and there I was. That was the things we use to do, help each other. There was one thing we was strict about, we must never ever get into debt so we lived on what we earned.
Tommy: Thank you Alife
Marigold: Thanks Alife
Tommy: You’re very welcome
Interview with Mary Hewett – 21/09/10; Barnards House – Rotherhithe, SE16
George: The name of the interviewers is George Brown and Karielle Sealey.
Mary: Nice to meet you.
George: Nice to meet you too, Mary.
The interview is supported by Iris Dove. The name of the interviewee is Mary Hewett, could I ask you to spell that please ?
Mary: Yes, Hewett, it’s H-E-W-E-T-T
George: The place of the interview is Barnard House, the date is the 21st October 2010, Mary, can I ask you for the place and date of your birth?
Mary: Tooley Street, I used to live in Tooley Street, and you want my age? Eighty-one.
George: How old were you when you were in the Blitz?
Mary: I was about, four, four to five years old.
George: Did you have any friends or family when you were at the Blitz?
Mary: Oh yes, my two brothers were in Dunkirk, but my other brother, he was Alfie, he used to be with us, he used to run us down the arches or down the London Bridge, when the fire alarms was going off. My sister was in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), my Lilian, and my Rosie, and my Lizzie was in munitions, so we didn’t see much of them, you know. My sister-in-law, Annie, she was there and that was it, but mostly they were all abroad, in the ATS, and my dad wasn’t to be a fireman and look after people and that.
George: Did you go to school when you were in the Blitz?
Mary: Well, I went away with All Saints School for a while, after, you know, while the Blitz was on, but my sister-in-law was there and another lady who we knew and I used to have to look after the little children and take them up the park and then dark time. But my brother came back from Dunkirk one day, and we was going up the park and it was dark and he wanted to know where we was going and Johnny Danagin, he was the other little boy, “We’re always up there at night time, aren’t we Aunt Mary”, I says, “Are you? You are going home” So I ended up going back to London, and that when we went in to 61 Arch, and that is when we were in the Blitz. We used to have to run to get in, down the London Bridge at first, my brother Alfie, used to get all the stuff up to go down there and then the Arches was done up and we had to get out of there because there was a landmine on the signal box and they were worried that it might drop, right through, like it did at Stainer Street Arches got one go right through. So we ended up along Dockhead, up Pear Street, the bombs was all dropping, and, you know, we didn’t know what we was doing but the police were there to take us down. This School in Fair Street, used to go right down the bottom to be there, away from the bombs. And we were all frightened but we got through it. But then we were at 61 Arch, we used to have fun, we used to have parties, we had a canteen and the warders would come in there we would have a laugh and a cup of tea, so we wasn’t really frightened because we were always together, we was like a family, we all used to look after one another. Although when we had to get out that was frightened, but we had bunk beds in there, and you know there bingo came from? 61 Arch, because I was there when they brought it out, I was only little, and I can always remember saying, “Azzie Azzie”, you know, I won, you used to call that instead of bingo! We used to have go laughs under the arch, we was frightened but we didn’t let it worry us. I was only a kid, but it was terrible.
George: Were you evacuated?
Mary: I was evacuated with my sister-in-law, for a little while, but my brother came back from Dunkirk, took me up to the park late at night and took us home, to All Saints School, in a catholic one.
Carrey: What was it like?
Mary: It was… it was terrible, like, at first, when the bomb were… we never had no shelter, we had like a box in the middle o the buildings, but we all used to have a sing song, the bingo would come out with the warders, but we all look after one another and we was all there for one another.
Carrey: How was the bomb and air raids, plus the shelters, how did the air raids sounds?
Mary: Being under the Arches, we didn’t hear much of it, the warders used to come in and tell us about it, but he used to hear it from the outside, because being at London Bridge, that’s what they was after and that. It was terrible, when we had to go up Pear Street, up Dockhead, and we had to hear about our friends, you know, we was so sad, so crying, everyone was crying because all our friends went, you know.
Carrey: What was the shelters like?
Mary: Well as I said, we used to have one shelter in the buildings or we used to have it indoors, but then they built these two Arches. Stainer Street Arch, they used to just have to sit on the side of the seats or on that side they used to have beds, but we used to have one called 61 Arch, which was a lovely one, after they done built it. They had bunk beds and people, soldiers, American soldiers used to come in, you know, see because we used to put it our bedding up every night but in the end, we used to just left it in the corner for night time. But, you know, you still think of it in years to comes. How lucky you are you children, aren’t they? You don’t know how lucky you are!
George: Did you used to have any favourite games?
Mary: Yeah, well as I say, that’s were bingo came out of, 61 Arch. And it was all elderly people, and the children, see, they just wanted to play, but the grown up used to just play bingo, although it was called Azzie Azzie, back then. You know, and American Soldiers, they used to come in and fetch in things like chocolate, sweets and that, stocking for the woman, so we didn’t let them get us down.
Carrey: Did you have a favourite Possession? Like, something that was very special that you got from someone, like jewellery or toys?
Mary: Yeah, my sister gave me this before she went away in the army?
George: Did you used to always wear it, before she went?
Mary: I always wear it
Carrey: How was the food like?
Mary: It wasn’t too bad, it was rationing but we got through it. Sometimes, you got a little bit of fruit in the shops, some of the shops used to, because you used to have book to get your money, but we used to get sometimes, you know. And when it was fireworks day, when you used to have fireworks, we couldn’t afford that, because we was very poor, in Tooley Street, they used to be called workhouses back then, they used to take me up London bridge, because I was the only little girl, little, sit me there, “You got a penny, for the guy!” You know? That what I used to have to do. But, you know, I had a brother in Dunkirk, two brother, my father was a warden and my other sisters was in the ATS, and my Alfie, he used to be in the home guard. We had a bomb hanging on the curtains, one of the little ones they used to drop and, my sister, she tried to get it down, in the flat. So, you are lucky to have your mums and grandmas to look after you all and you should be very proud of them.
Carrey: Did you see your father a lot?
Mary: Not really, because he was always out picking up things, I won’t say what, what we were supposed to do when people got hurt. I mean, he would come in the archway to have a cup of tea and that, and say hello. There was a month, you know, when I was away, until my brother brought me home. British people, we were very strong, we didn’t give in, we didn’t in to, what’s his name? Hitler. But our boys had a bad time when they went to Dunkirk, they was waiting for the, wasn’t they? Because they were in the territorial army, my two, my Billy and my Jimmy and they had to go out first, my boys.
George: What was it like in School?
Mary: We used to go to school, but I was only little so I didn’t go to school until I was evacuated, but that was only for a month. I think that’s why I am not a scholar. I was only little then.
George: Did you used to like school and did you feel protected with the soldiers there looking after you?
Mary: We didn’t have soldier looking after us, just the teachers and that. We was children but we had to grow up quick, you know, we didn’t really know what was going on outside but we could hear it. Sometimes we even had to go down onto the train lines, down London Bridge Station. Take our blankets down there and sleep and everything. You see, being young we didn’t think about it as much as the older one. It was bad though, because you used to think of everyone outside, your brothers and sisters and that, and a lot of people got killed but I am still here.
George: What did you think of the teachers?
Mary: Well, they looked after us, like when we had to go down Dockhead they was all around us, holding our hands. It was one of the worst nights of bombing. A lot of them from our school got killed, we never forgot it. It still goes on in my mind, I still say my prays for them, wherever they are up there, I may be silly but I always say them. I always buy poppies and support the soldiers, you know, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. What they went through, you never, you don’t know. I know that by that because of my brother, because they went out first, that Dunkirk and my eldest brother came back shaking. My dad was a warden, he used to have to stand outside and anyone got caught he would have to bring them in!
George: Do you remember Winston Churchill at the time?
Mary: Oh yeah. He is the one that made it, for the soldiers and that, he was the one that had it. But, yes, everyone should to proud that they got through it.
Carrey: Did you used to have any toys that you used to like?
Mary: I used to have a doll, about this big, that my dad bought for me when I was little and I would never let that go, and I gave it to my baby when she was born, but what she has done with it, I don’t know. Years ago it was a lot of money, so I wouldn’t let it go.
George: Did you used to have a radio, that you used to listen about the war on?
Mary: In the Arch, we had a wireless, we all used to a singsong to Lara and the Satellites, you know, and the wardens would come in for a cup of tea and have a meeting where we were all together, it was in the air base that we were married.
Carrey: You see for food, did you have a lot of soup?
Mary: Yes, most of the time, we had soup, I mean, we couldn’t get any sweets. Sometimes we go a treat, but the rest of the time, soups and breads and that, because the bakeries kept getting shut down, but we lived. Hitler, who he was, wouldn’t get us down.
George: Did you used to play a lot, you know, the ruins of the bombs?
Mary: In the Arches yeah, to take the noise away, we used to sing, it was terrible but we got through it.
Carrey: Do you remember any kinds of sweets?
Mary: We didn’t have many sweets, little toffee ones, maybe? Unless someone got them for us, we didn’t really have any. It wasn’t like you have now though, we all used to look after one another, brought us all together. If you could help someone we used to do, the kids, if you had spare bread, you would take it to the Archway and that, and we would all get by together. We was lucky, that’s all there is to say. If you know anyone, that went through that, you should be proud of them, because it was hard.
George: Was it scary?
Mary: Yeah it really was. We had nothing, but we were happy though.
Carrey: What did you do when you weren’t down the Arch, when you were at home?
Mary: When we weren’t at the Arches, during the air raids? We were down under my mum’s bed, we would all get under there, you know, before the arches was built. If the sirens went off, and that’s why they built the arches. We was lucky, we had bunk beds.
Carrey: You see, when there was a blackout, did that happen every time?
Mary: Oh yeah, we used to have these curtains, big black curtains, that you could pull down. Course, you couldn’t have a light, or the man, the wardens man, they would come down and they would tell you, “turn your light off”, and we used to have to have black curtains up. So when my sister-in-law came to take down the curtain, that’s when we found the bomb, hanging on that.
George: Tell us about the bomb your sister-in-law found?
Mary: The bombs. Oh yeah. I was only a baby, I could have gone off at any time. So one of the man from downstairs, she opened the window, he climbed up and just took something out, I think, and it was alright, so in black outs, it was just hanging on the net curtain. So we was every lucky.
George: In the blackout, was it really dark, in your house?
Mary: Yeah, it was dark, yeah it was, because we had these really dark curtains up and we just had candles, so it was dark, very dark. But down in the Arches, we was alight, it was dark above, I mean, London Bridge was on top of us, the station. It was very bad down there. That’s where we used to have to sleep.
Carrey: Did you have any favourite books?
Mary: While no, no-one used to read. I can’t read now. I just didn’t have the time to learn. I can work, but I just can’t do a story or things like that. I don’t know why, if it was the bombs, I have worked and that.
Carrey: When there was bombing and ‘cause you weren’t at school, what did you do in the daytime?
Mary: While, she used to sit and play, in the estate, like ball-up or skipping and that was all we used to do, that’s all we had time for. We couldn’t do nothing else, we couldn’t go very far, you know, because of the air raids, you know, but we still went to All Saints School and that.
Carrey: What sort of lessons did you have?
Mary: In school? Mostly church, being a catholic school, have a play, play in the playground, the boys used to the footballing and all that. Never used to much, when the war was on because my sisters brought me home when the war was on, and I didn’t go to school after that.
Carrey: Do you remember school dinners?
Mary: Oh, yeah! (laughs)Never liked school dinners, not like my mum used to cook, that’s in Dockhead that was, did you used to go there? No?
Carrey: What kind of school dinners did you used to have?
Mary: I used to have soup mostly, you know, meat and all that, you couldn’t have all that, once in a blue moon you would get meat and we just used to have potatoes and peas and greens and all that. You know, and Yorkshire pudding.
Carrey: Did you get that at school?
Mary: Yeah you get that at school, it used to a penny or tenpence, something like that it used to cost us. Never used to cost us much, our mothers never used to have all that much money. We used to have to go to church a lot and all.
George: How was your mum’s cooking?
Mary: Don’t ask! We used to cook our own, after the war. During the war, though? I was evacuated wasn’t I? But I come home, my Aunt Annie, she used to do the cooking, my Billy’s wife, because she come home because he brought her home with the kids and she had to do the cooking.
Iris: What was Aunt Annie’s cooking like?
Mary: Alright, but you didn’t have a lot, you couldn’t have a lot. It was very sweet and that, we used to have potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and that, things that you could easily get in the shops. When the war was over you were alright, because you can get anything we want now, can’t we? But, I mean, we could eat my mum wasn’t ever rich, we were very poor people. But we were happy, we were kids, we just played balls, we had no toys, we just had to play balls, cause our mothers had no money, she used to, you know, drink. We used to have to go and get her. My mum had eleven children and I was the youngest. There is only me and my Lilian left, me and my sister, out of the lot of us. I was the baby, used to be my dad’s favourite.
George: Did you used to have a painting you used to like, and while the Blitz was on, did you used to stare at it?
Mary: Yeah, we used to sit and move the brush and bits and pieces we used to do. We used to like that. We used to go to church and that a lot though.
Iris : So you were the earliest at home during the war, and who else was at home?
Mary: Yeah, there was only me and my brother, my brother Alfie.
Iris: And how old was he?
Mary: He weren’t in the… he used to do stuff for the war, but he wasn’t old enough for the Territorial Army, see. He used to run me under the Arch every night.
Iris: So Alfie, used to look after you?
Mary: Yeah, he used to look after me. He was about 15, the youngest brother and I was the youngest girl.
George: Well, Thank you.
Mary: Your welcome lovely, anytime. Let’s hope you never have to go through what I went through because you can have nice things and do what you want, do things that you want to do. I have lovely grandchildren just like you.
Karielle: Thank you.
Interview with Daisy Edwards
Laird Square, SE16
Interviewers : Geillo Kobba and Wendy Ndjoli
Supported by: Sharon Rappaport
Could I ask for the place and date of your birth?
Bermondsey. Born in Bermondsey. Did you want to know the road? Well it was Millpond Bridge, moved over to Southwark Park Road just before the war. And you want to know the date of my birth?
The 24th July 1926
Could you tell me a bit about your personal life, details?
My personal life?
Well I was married to John and he….
Before the war
Oh before the war, well starting in my early years. I lost my mum at the age of twenty seven. She left three children, a sister and a brother, and my dad brought us up until I was nine and then he remarried and I had a stepbrother. That was just before the war. During the war, I had a little sister and that was our family. Dad, stepmum, my sister, myself, my brother, and my half brother and sister. That was five children.
So how did you feel growing up without your mum?
Well in those days you had relatives all around you so they helped dad out and my sister and I used to go to the pie and mash shop every day for four years. That was our dinner! You know? Do you know the pie and mash shops? You don’t, no. My brother he was so young he was only a year old, he went to stay with my aunt just across the road. As I say all the family surrounded you in those days, they all looked after you. I went to live with my Aunt Laura for two years but she wanted to adopt me and my dad wouldn’t have it so I came home again. There is that alright?
So what about your school then, did that affect you?
I went to St Mary’s School. I went to Christchurch School and then to St Mary’s School until I was thirteen and that’s when the war started and we evacuated to Brighton. The school evacuated. I went with my brother because my sister was older so she stayed at home.
So did the evacuation affect you and your family?
Yes we got homesick and we came home. Went to Brighton and we got homesick so we came home.
So they let you come back?
Oh yes, yes
So how long did you have to stay in Brighton for?
I was there, September 1st we went and I was there til the January came back so we wasn’t there long.
How old were you at the time?
Tell us a bit about when you had the bombings, How did you feel?
Well, The first day of the bombing we didn’t know what was happening because it had been so quiet from 1939 to 1940. You had Dunkirk and all that but we didn’t have the bombing. You had the Battle of Britain but that didn’t really affect us. That was more over the south east of England, but the day of the bombing like, my stepmum and I were standing at the door and we saw all these little tiny like flies in the sky and we didn’t know what they were until they started bombing the docks and then later on the people who lived what we called downtown where the docks were all came through to go to Keatons Road School which is now Scot…….. and they were all killed. Most of them were killed of the night in the night bombing. That was the start of the bombing and from then on we had about 78 days of continual bombing.
So during the bombing did any of you get injured or hurt?
No luckily we didn’t. Plenty of friends did but we were lucky.
So does that mean that….
Just an uncle. He got killed in the park but that wasn’t from an actual bomb. It was .. they used to have guns in the park and when the guns went off you had the shrapnel come down and that was more dangerous than the bombs. It was so sharp, it was razor sharp and it nearly cut him in half. He was going through the park to go to his ARP. He worked like, you know the ARP and it killed him.
So as a kid like how did you feel about it because you were only thirteen?
Well I was going on for fourteen, I was fourteen when the bombing started. Thirteen when the war started, fourteen when the bombing started. Well in them days it sort of went over your head, you know you sort of.. . You were frightened but you accepted it for some reason. Perhaps it was because I was young. I think the grownups were more frightened for their children than anything, you know. It was a, it was a very bad experience.
So did you think that you were going to die or were going to lose your family?
Well you lived for the day. You lived one day at a time. We did have some bad experiences. I tell you for one instance. It was the night of the 28th and 29th of December 1941. 1940 going into 1941 and I was a one that had to be….I had not long started work and I had to be just right for the next day, because we had to go down the shelter of a night time under Kirby Estate and I would insist, we didn’t have a bathroom in them days, it might surprise you but we didn’t ,you had to wash the best way you could. I would insist on all clean clothes ready for the next morning. The bombing had started, the wardens were knocking on the door, “You got to get out, you got to get out!” When we came out the door, the whole place was alight, all the docks everywhere, it was just red sky everywhere was alight. Well I never went back into that house until the next day, eh next week because there was an unexploded bomb outside out house in Southwark Park Road. So we had to live in the overhead shelters for a week, no clean clothes nothing. Just go to work, and mum fed us as she could, you know, it was good that she was able and we didn’t go back for a week. But there was quite a few bad experiences and as I got a little bit older, I used to creep out when my dad went to work. By now my sister was going into the forces, she was old enough to go into the WAAFs. My brother was evacuated to Norfolk, mum had gone away again because she had my sister, Rose, in February 1941, and then ( interviewee stops talking, in tears) but we didn’t seem to see the fear, I um, I used to go out and unbeknownst to my dad, because he used to be, you know, with the Rescue Squad, and we were coming through Culling Road. We used to go to the Hippodrome and that was on the corner of Culling Road where Elbins is now and we were coming through there and the bombs came down. Anyway I managed to get back into the shelter; so it was all bad experiences, you know? But there you are that’s how it was!
Would you like to continue with the questions?
Yes I’m all right dear.
So what did you do in the shelters?
Well when the bombing first started we didn’t have a shelter in our house so we had to go across to the flats and go underneath and you sat up all night because there was no convenience or nothing. But later on they did put bunks in. Know what a bunk is, you know bunks? And that’s where we used to go, but mum, my mum, by now she was back home again after having the baby, she used to go up to the top of the flats. She felt safer with her mum, my nan, at the top of the flats than she did under the shelter, under the flats. And that’s where she used to go.
What about your little brother then how was he?
Well, as I say mum took him away after she had Rose but she come back again. You couldn’t stay away you got too homesick, but he was alright. Yes. He was five at the time.
So he didn’t understand what was going on?
Not really. He knew it was something bad, you know, but …..
So, like, where did your mum like provide the food for you, like how did you live?
Well, I just don’t know how she fed us. When you see the amount of rationings that we had. What we called rationing. You had a ration book and you got so much every week. They tore the coupons out the ration book. Well it was such a little amount that I wonder now how she fed us, but she did. Bread wasn’t rationed so there was plenty of bread and, um, you didn’t see any fruit or anything like that. Like, vegetables wasn’t rationed but meat, you had just a tiny little bit for, to make it last all the week, each.
As you say like meat, was it cooked?
Oh no, no, from the butchers. But she had such a tiny amount I don’t know how she managed. Rabbit, if you could get hold of a rabbit, that wasn’t rationed or any offal, that wasn’t rationed. But she managed somehow.
So what about after the bombing then, how did …
The bombing stopped, we had one big raid in the May and that was the last big raid we had, that was in the May and it went very quiet until 1943 then you had the, what we called the Doodlebugs, right, the Buzz bombs or the Doodlebugs. They were a plane that came over and when it stopped you knew it was coming down on you and that lasted quite a time and then not only that they got a new invention up didn’t they , that was the V2. This arch was the first to get it, there’s an arch out here. The V2 and they were like you see the rockets now that’s what they were like. And you didn’t know they were coming, the rockets.
So how old were you at the time when things started to improve?
Oh, I was sixteen when I met my husband. He was a maritime marine. He was on leave. And they did improve a little bit then until as I say the buzz bombs started.
Did they still traumatize you after when you were coming out your house?
Well I don’t know I can’t remember it, you know. I just felt like it was something that was happening and I can’t put it into words really.
So like being in Bermondsey now, don’t you just think about the bombing?
No. It is such a different place now and people are so different now. We were whole communities then, you know.
So when the bombings happened did you ever think you would come back to Bermondsey?
Well I was in Bermondsey most of the time. I lived in Bermondsey all the time except for the few months I was evacuated. That was before the bombing started.
So how did it look before. Does it look different from now?
Oh yes, Different all together. If our parents come back they wouldn’t recognise the place.
So you feel much safer now than how it was before?
I won’t go out of a night time if you mean that. I won’t go out in the dark.
So looking at Bermondsey now, is anything the same or has it completely changed?
Oh, it has completely changed. Yes, it has completely changed, darling.
Do you wish it was how it was before or do you prefer it now?
Well, as I say, you had all your relations round you, now I feel as if I am completely on my own since I lost my husband and my son’s moved out. I lost one, my oldest son and my other son’s moved right out so I don’t see a lot of him now. I will go and stay with him for weekends every now and again, but otherwise there’s no one.
So what happened to your husband then?
My husband, he died the same time as Betts husband. We lost our eldest son and from then on he couldn’t handle it, I just watched him go down and eventually he died. He stopped eating. He did have a heart attack, a slight heart attack but he couldn’t take the loss of his son, they were such friends, you know.
So where are your brothers and sisters right now?
All dead, darling. All gone.
Oh except for one. I forgot Donny. He lives in Broadstairs but I don’t see him. If I needed him he would come. When my husband died he was there straight away, you know, but I don’t see him otherwise.
What about, don’t you have any cousins round here that was with you?
Well they’re all gone, they’re nearly all gone.
Do you have any grandchildren?
Yes but they live in Ibitha.
Do they ask you about how…
Well they’re only little … I’ve only got the one grandson and he’s got two boys but course they’re not old enough yet to ask any questions.
Daisy I want to just go on and ask you a couple of more questions. When you were evacuated, where were you. You said you were in Brighton. But were you evacuated to a family, where were you evacuated exactly?
Oh well this is the reason I came home really. The first lady I was with there was four of us in her house and I didn’t know where my brother was and I was worried about Billy. I didn’t find him for about a week. They wouldn’t tell me where he was but I did eventually find him. And then the lady’s husband was a naval man who looked after us and he came home and two of us had to move out. So I went to a very old lady and it was a bit of a laugh really. Myself and Eileen, that’s my friend, Eileen Ward, they used to give us…. Well this particular Sunday they gave us carrots for our dinner and prunes for our afters and I used to have a coat with a hat to match, you did in those days, and I put it all in my hat, because we didn’t have food like that, and I was taking it out and putting it down the drain when my mum and dad came along and that was it. They had us home. They wouldn’t put up with that. They came down to visit. (Laughs) No the people, I don’t think they really wanted you, they wanted the five shillings that they got for you but they didn’t want you. (laughs again)
And in Brighton, did you work?
Oh no I was too young. I was only thirteen, we could only do a half days school because there weren’t enough school places for us. That was at Whitehawk, we had to go to school and there wasn’t enough places for the Brighton children and us, you see. So we only did half a day. I didn’t go back to school again after I came home. That was it.
Was Brighton the only place you could evacuate to?
Oh no, there was other places children went to. All over the country where they thought they would be safe.
So no matter where you went you would always feel homesick?
Oh yes, yes. We were such a close family you see.
So what about your older sister did she stay with your mum?
No she went into the WAAFs, the airforce. My brother evacuated, as I told you, when we came home from Brighton, he went away again. He went to Norfolk. That’s where mum had the baby, she went with them but she came home but left him there and he stayed there for the rest of the war. My brother, Billy, but the little one, Donny, he was with mum, with us. Actually, Billy, he used to sing in the Sandringham, for the Queen, you know at Sandringham and in the church at Kings Lynn. Yes. No he liked it there. He liked Norfolk. I married the…. 1945 the war ended and I got married in ….it ended in the May, the Europe war, and I married in the December.
And you were 16 right?
No I was nineteen when I got married.
That was 1945
May I ask how old are you now?
I am eighty four now.
So were you still living in Bermondsey when you got married?
Yes, I’ve always lived in Bermondsey.
So you feel like you couldn’t move elsewhere?
I wouldn’t want to darling. I wouldn’t want to. I’m on a nice estate, very nice estate. I’m quite happy there and though I am on my own, I’ve got nice neighbours and I’ve got this friend here.
I have two more questions. You said that after you came back from Brighton, you didn’t go back to school.
No. Not once I came home.
What did you do?
When I came home, I just didn’t do anything, because St Mary’s School wasn’t open what I went to before the war because everyone was evacuated out of it. When I came home, I didn’t do anything until I was fourteen and then I started work at Peak Freans. Every firm had to do some sort of munitions and I used to work for the munitions part. I used to have to get the…. the ladies made the gas mask faces, and I used to have to feed them with the material and it cut my hands to bits. You didn’t have gloves or anything. That was only for three weeks and my dad took me out of there, and I worked at Conway Stewarts when the bombing all started. I was working at Conway Stewarts. But those people, the sad part about that was, that first day of the bombing, we watched the people come up from downtown to go into the school behind us and they were nearly all killed, so those solderers, where there was a whole floor of solderers, there were about ten ladies left. They had all been killed downtown. Do you remember that, Bett? Do you remember that Rose?
How long have you three known each other for? Was it since the bombing?
Oh no. I’ve known Bett, I’ve known her since the children were quite small. It must be fifty years. Our husbands worked together. She knew my mother in law. She fell in love with my brother in law when she was that high.
Another thing that was interesting, talking about communities?
I want to know what you mean by community and what were the relationships in the shelter from the first day?
Fine absolutely fine. As I say, I had a lot of relations around me then. Aunts and Uncles, all round me, which we all did in those days. The children didn’t move out in those days. Not like they do now. So, no it was quite, well, what I can remember, it was quite, you know, people were friendly, you had your ups and downs I suppose but as a child I couldn’t remember that. I suppose they did, but as far as I know they were all fine.
Did you have any songs or games? You were already a teenager so you didn’t play games but what…?
When we were small, there was all types. Tap dancing, up the wall, go up the wall (laughter). My dad, you know, you had your little piece of wood on the pavement, Knock down tippy, all that! You had no money. They had paid their rent, they put what food they could on the table, and they dressed you nice, well as good as they could. Mum was a dressmaker so she used to make our dresses, my stepmum and that was all they worried about in those days. You didn’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ and all that business. You didn’t have tellies. You only had what we called the wireless in them days. You didn’t have any of that but your life was alright. Wasn’t it, you know? (The Jones didn’t have anything) No but they did after though.
So how did your stepmum treat you?
She was a lovely lady, a lovely lady. She treated us fine. Well, I was the last name on her lips when she died, but it was, um, no she was a lovely lady. I didn’t know my own mum anyway, you know, you thought about her, what was she like, but I didn’t know her.
So do you think about it all every now and then?
Only when people talk about it, like we are now. You go back to it, you know, but you don’t think about it otherwise. Well I don’t, I don’t know if Rose does? You don’t? You wipe it out of your mind, you know. You cant realise what it was like really. (the best six years of your life). That’s right. It was all our youth really. As I say my husband was a maritime marine, he was a gunner on the merchant ships and twice his mum was notified that he was missing, he’d been torpedoed, and twice he got through it. Thank God for that because he was a lovely man, a beautiful man.
So is this something you would never ever forget?
Oh you will never forget it but you don’t keep thinking about it.
Would you like to ask me anything else? I suppose there’s lots of other little bits but you cant think of them at the moment. It was terrifying at the time, I know that, but we had to get through it we couldn’t do anything about it.
Was there anything that your mum kept saying to you, like its going to be ok?
No, we just sort of lived through it, you know. Just lived through it. I wouldn’t say we were all brave, all that brave, but you just had to get on with it. You couldn’t do anything about it, you couldn’t see the fear. When you’re young (I used to go out a night, in the blackout), yes I did (you’re more afraid now than you was then). If I had had children that’s when I would have been afraid. If I had been old enough to have had children then if I would have been I think I would have been frightened for them, feared for them. That’s what it was all about.
Was there anything that your father and mother would tell you to do when there was a bombing? Was there something they told you about how to react?
Well I hardly saw my dad. He was out all the time, he was out all the time. You know, I did hear from one of his men that Stanners Street Arches that I showed you, he was recommended for a medal for that. He never spoke about it, never, but one of his men told me, Mr Perry, but dad wouldn’t accept it because his men did as much as he did, so that was his principle. That was the only thing I heard about him for what he did, you know.
So do you know what the cause of the whole bombing was? What was the cause of it?
Well, it was Hitler wasn’t it. He was trying to break our morale. That’s what it was all about. But he suddenly stopped, because he started on Russia and that’s when our bombing…. we had won the Battle of Britain in the June right, and then he started on London to break the morale and to bomb the docks so we wouldn’t have any food coming in, you know, any materials coming into the docks and, er, that’s what it was all about. He was trying to break people’s morale.
So did it only affect Bermondsey?
(conversation between Daisy and friend) About when I used to go dancing. Oh, dancing in the park. To try and cheer us up they used to fetch a band into Southwark Park. The bandstand, there is a bandstand in Southwark Park, just across the road here and we used to go dancing. You know, that was just to cheer us up, wasn’t it just to cheer us up, to cheer people up.
So did it only affect Bermondsey?
What the dancing? Oh the bombing? Oh no, it was all over London. Coventry, all those places got it.
So did you used to listen to the radio or read newspapers to tell you what was going on?
We used to listen to the radio but not for the news, we used to listen to the music (laughter).
What was the music of the time?
Well it was all dance, dance band music. But my sister, she liked classical music and that’s the last fight we had before she went in the forces because I was turning it on to dance music and she was turning it back to her classical music but we loved one another really.
Do you remember the name of a singer of the time?
Oh well you had Vera Lynn and, what was that other one? Shelton, Anne Shelton, never die out. Oh no there was a lot of singers but I can’t remember all of them. I liked dance music.
Do you sometimes listen to them, like today?
Yes. I’ve got the tapes called Memories. Yes I like all those songs, the old songs. I don’t know the words to the new songs anyway.
So when the bombing had finished, like to get back on track, did you work or do any job?
When the bombing finished, yes I worked in… no it wasn’t before it finished it was after I left Conway Stewarts, I worked in the baker’s and that’s where I met my husband. He came home on leave and I was sixteen, he was twenty and that’s where we met in the shop. He came in for something and I dropped a tray of cream buns. I loved him right from the start and that’s how it continued for fifty nine years. I’m not saying we didn’t have our ups and downs but we did. But no, I worked in the shop and course I fell for my first child straight away and that was it, I didn’t work then until, I think he was about a year old. My mum used to look after him and I worked at Peek Freans for seventeen years and then I fell for my second son after all that time and I didn’t work anymore until he was about nine years old.
Looking back, what was the most difficult part, do you think of the bombings, for you?
All the time.
All the time. I think it was just…… there was one time during what we called the Doodlebugs, or the Buzz bombs, that I did get a little bit frightened. Mum was away and I was in the house on my own, my sister was in the air force, my brother was away. Mum was away with the two youngest children, because she kept going away and coming back, you see. When the Buzz bombs started, Dad sent her away again, because she had a young baby, a little baby. Anyway I was kneeling down, you know we used to wash our passage. We only had oil cloth then, didn’t we? I was kneeling down doing that and it was sunny and this big shadow came across the road. It was a Buzz bomb. When it cut out, that’s when it…..it glided and it dropped in business at the back of me. I wasn’t hurt, but it did frighten me. I was frightened of that. That was one of my frights, you know.
So do you have any souvenirs of the time that you have kept with you up to now?
Yes, I’ve got love letters. (Lots of laughter). I’ve got love letters and mind you it’s brown now, the paper’s brown and all different little things that John used to send me. He travelled the world on the merchant ships you see.
So when you got evacuated did you take one thing in particular with you to Brighton?
Well, just they knew the war was going to start so at school we made… you know a canvas rucksack. We wasn’t allowed to take a case but we all made, you know the older girls, I was thirteen, we made rucksacks out of sacking and you had your gas mask and you had the rucksack on your back. But when we got there we was like cattle. We all went in this hall and they picked you out, who they wanted. I pitied the last one that was picked out. I was picked out, yes, I wasn’t the last one. That’s why I wasn’t with my brother, see, he was picked, he went with someone else. That’s how they picked you out, just like cattle. And yet, do you know what, I had to ask my brother, “How did we get there?” I couldn’t remember and yet I was thirteen. I remembered leaving mum, she was standing there crying , all of us walking along. But I couldn’t remember. He told me we went by train, but I couldn’t remember it. It completely went out of my mind
Alright, thank you darling!
Interview with Gladys Saunders
15/10/2010 – London Bubble, Elephant Lane SE16
Danielle: The name of the interviewers is Billy Hines and Danielle Monahan
Supported by Sharon Rapaport, The name of the interviewee is Gladys Saunders, could I ask you to spell it please
Gladys: Yes, it’s S-AUNDERS
-Thank you. The interviews are for The Grandchildren of the Blitz project. The place of the interview is London Bubble. The date is the 15th of October; the name of the project is Grandchildren of the Blitz. Gladys, can I ask you for the place and the date of your birth?.
Gladys: yes, I was born the 12th of September 1924, that’s a long time ago, isn’t it?. And I was born in the Southwark area; I think I was actually born, in… The hospital at Denmark hill.., I can’t remember. Anyway, I have been living in the Southwark area for all that time
-Could you tell me a little bit about the war?
Glady: The war, well I had more or less just started work when the war had began. I was sent away, my mum and dad sent me away, and I was only away the one day, and the next day the war started. So they came down and asked the man and the lady of where I was if they would take me in, and then they went back home and I was there. So because I had just only started work, it was right out in the country, and the old man I worked , I was living with, said we don’t have to go to work. So, they were farmers , and I went in this big field, and there were these long rows of potatoes growing, and I had, they went to move the earth, and I had to walk through with a sack between my legs, walking along, bending over, picking them potatoes, and putting them in the a big sack. I came home for dinner, but I had to go back, and I had….you know this big penny I gave you, I had 3 of those, what they called ¾ of a penny an hour , and that’s all I got. And then few weeks later I had to go and pick runner beans, and that was in the field as well, I never, never, been there in the country side like that before, like you go away now. And then I had to go , to cycle to a big town called Witney were they made blankets. And I worked in a big factory making soldiers, and sailors and air-men’s hats. We had to put the eyelid holes in the side, where they put their badges, and sometimes we made big hats we had to make for the Russians which were fur, and a little bow on top which they used to pull down and tie under their chin, but at that time I used to have to cycle.., now I only just, I never had ridden a bike because London where I lived were trams, so I had to cycle, it was seven miles to work every day, stop there all day and come home. And in the evening, because it was dark, you had a piece of cardboard over your front part of your bicycle with split cuts, so you couldn’t really see where you were going anyway. But you had to do that in case German aeroplanes came over, and they saw the lights. So we were cycling seven miles in the morning, and seven miles in the evenings, and you had to work on a Saturday in the lunch time. And the work I was doing, it was called peace work, so you got so much for your work then, and I used to have to get through a hundred hats for six pence, and I used to do ten hundred a day. And then I came home in 1940, my mum and dad said that it was fine, I came home by February or March, but by August, it was Saturday, and my dad had come from work, and there was this awful noise, and the sky was bright red and they started bombing the docks. My sister lived at Surrey Docks where they stored wood, and of course it was going like a big bomb fire, and I wanted to go and see if she was all right, but my father said no, I will go, I better go. So he went to see if she was safe, which she was. And on Sunday, my friend and I came to Southwark Bridge. There was a little church we used to go to, which was fairly big, its name was All house, and we went to church, and as we were coming home it was fairly dark, and the siren went, and by the time we got home, at the back of my home there was a big railway arch, and we went in there, and everybody along the road, how many of us that could get in, and there were forms to sit on. But in the end my friend and I just laid on them, and went fast to sleep. And while we were asleep some people picked us up and carried us further away that adult people had more room. So that went on for lots of nights, and then my dad said you better don’t go back were you were. Nobody had phones these days, those days you got a telegram boy to the lady where I was living, and he said would it be all right if we came back. And this lady had never met my mum and dad, that was at the people I was living with. So we went back, but my two sisters got as far as Oxford where the big colleges are, the universities and they couldn’t get any further. Because of the bombings they took the seats out of the cinema, and they had to sleep on the floor all night.
Sharon: Why were you sent to the countryside before the war in the first place?
Gladys: Because my father expected that the war was going to start, and that was on a Saturday, and I went on a Sunday and war was declared. So they came back straight away, and asked the lady and man, they bought me some more clothes, would they take me in where I stayed till 1940. And then everybody was the same, because everywhere was quiet, and everybody was coming from the lips from children at school, because when I left school, we were told to look after some infants, and we all had to keep a case locked under our bed ready in case we had to go quickly away. So I used to keep a case under the bed with clothes, so if we had suddenly had to go. But that didn’t happen that year, that was 1938, but it started the following year. So that why I had to stay there, because mum said it would be best to stay. But most people, and all the other younger children came back home because there was nothing happening. But the following year it happened.
Sharon: At what school were you at the time?
Gladys: I was at… long inside the road at Elephant and Castle, it was called St George the Martyr. But our big church was up at the borough by Great Dover Street.
Director: On Borough road?
Gladys: Yes, it was Borough road and London Road, there’s a oblique now, there used to be a clock in the middle of the road, just there was my school. We had a playground on a roof. There were so many factories, that the roof got a bind wire around it, but our playground was on the roof, with the boys, they got a different section, but we could see the boys. And we had to play on the roof, and that school is still there, it is used by the university I think, it’s named the Southbank, and it’s all the area there. I can go on now …from 1942 I came home.
Sharon: Lets a bit talk about how was it to be a child at that time?
-What games did play with?
Gladys: I had some lovely skates, big skates with clip-on’s and they were really good. And we used to play with a ball, we used to bounce the ball and say one, two three and you used to put your leg over it. One, two, three allery – my balls down the area. And because our houses were basement, they’d call it an area. So, I don’t know if that was the usual game, or just the name of us. We were playing that if the ball went you had to stop, and we just used to put our leg over. We used to play a game, I know its dangerous but if you got an old tin, and mums used to put newspapers in it so you wouldn’t cut yourselves, and there’d be four of five of us, and you’d leave the tin, and one had to stand there, and then you’d run away and hide. And the person that was left, we used to call it tin-tan alley, and we used to hide, and while that one was looking for you, looking for someone say over there, somebody would run from here, and you had to bang the tin when you came and say (laughing) one- two-three tin-tan copper, tin tan copper that was what it was called, and it was fun. We had these old fashion lamp posts, and they had gas lights, and we used to come to Borough Market, and we used to get these long cords. When they used to send the oranges they used to wrap around the oranges, they used to be in big wooden boxes, I forget what was it called, and we used to get it off the wooden boxes and tie it together, because it used to be very long, so when you got to the lamp post you used to throw it over, (demonstrating) and then you would bring it down and tie it in a knot and then you would sit on it and run around the lamp post to twist it around, and when you came back the other way, you’d held the rope and you could be an aeroplane like this, and someone used to have to look out for policemen and shout out COP (policeman) and we would run . But when we came back the policeman was gone. He never bothered us, but he would cut our rope in pieces. We didn’t care because we got back to Borough Market and found some more. So it was fun really fun. In Guy Fawkes Night although it was cold and we always had our coats on and we didn’t have much money, I used to get a penny , one of those pennies I’ve given you, that one, and we used to get one for my brother and one for my two big sisters. You could buy fire-works or get one cracker-jack with that, and one penny for golden rain. It was beautiful, I think you can still get them, you put them in a pot or milk container and it would spray. That was our Guy Fawkes Night; we didn’t have big bomb fireworks everywhere because it was in London. But we had these fireworks that were cracking all over the street, that’s was fun, a game. Along the Borough high street there’s a side turning with a church that’s called Trinity Church, and along there, there used to be a little cinema. If you had two of these pennies, you could go in on a Saturday morning, and we used to call it the Tuppenny Rush , and you used to see two good films. And when you got in, the ticket the man gave you , the half, and if you looked after it carefully , during the interval the other half they would put it in a hat, and they would pick it out . I won a tin of toffee once. So you were sitting in the seat after the interval eating out tin of toffee because we had won. We had so many games, I can’t think.
Director: How did you feel when you were told that you were going to be evacuated, when your parents broke it out to you?
Gladys: Not very nice, because I felt I was just going away for holiday, and I cried, I mean I was just 14 and I dried. And they came back the next day and brought me clothes, and I wept, but they kept saying, you’d have, it’s best if you stay. And I think I used to cry every night because I was on my own. I didn’t really didn’t know the lady and man, it was only friends of my dad , and it was only because of the girls I made friendly , the girls that lived in the country in the country…, I still write to two girls now. A girl named Audrey, girls, they are the same age as me, and a girl named Elma. I don’t know what I had done without them, because the lady where I had lived wasn’t very nice to me, and on a Friday when I got in from work, we only had oil lamps, we didn’t have electric or gas even, so she set the electric lamps on the table, and she used to cook by the fire, you know and then she had a little..What you call primus stove where you burn oil in and I wasn’t use to that. And then, in the winter , they picked some flowers, and made little bunches, and put them in a shoe box , and the lady said to me , you better take them with you to work tomorrow and sell them. I didn’t really want to. And there were some men working behind me, they used to iron the hats , once they were done, they used to press them out for the soldiers , and they used to make fun of me, they used to sing a song, I used to take the violets rounds in the lunch time and say: will you a bunch of.. and they cost 2 of those (shows the children the pennies that she had brought with her)and the men used to sing this very old song : don’t you buy my pretty…and instead of saying flowers they used to call out violets (laughing). I used to cry when I got back from my working because I was lonely, I didn’t have any family with me. But, somehow that makes you stronger, you know some people scare you, and they make you not want to look at them anymore, just talk to them, you don’t need to ill treat people or say nasty things , just talk to them, because in the end you will get the better of it because they know that they can’t hurt you. I’ve done that when I came back at 1942 , I had to go to work, I worked in a big factory with aeroplanes , I was making the big part of the Wellington Bomb , and then we had the Doodle Bugs, I it all right I talk now about the Doodle Bugs ?
I was living in Croydon then, and there were a lot dropping down because the coast, and where I was working then in a big factory, they had 2 lights on a toast, and there was a white, and a blue, and a red, and when the aeroplanes and Doodle Bugs where coming over the coast the blue light would come on. You actually had to go on working and keep your eye on the blue one, when the red one would come on , we put all the tools down, and went in a orderly fashion one by one, like you go in school into a shelter. And I was home one day and the Doodle Bug had dropped then just up the road, and I lived in Norbury back then , so I sent my mother back again, we sent a telegram , where we were living then my father put my mum on a train in Paddington, so there was just my dad and I left in the house, and the next night one fell in the road , and we had a big table in the loom, just like that (pointing to a table in the room), it was called a Morrison Shelter , and we use to have to sleep there over night. It was tea time, and it was day light, so the siren sign, and I stood up with my dad, but before we could get to the other room the engine cut out. And when the engine cut out .., and I don’t remember any more till it was very dark , and this is precious paper to me (shows newspaper cuttings ) , can you read the bit there?, its only small , it’s about me, they put me as 22, but I was 20 , and it seemed as if my father said that I had dug him out, but I don’t remember, but all I remember was calling out daddy, and he used to call me kid and not Gladys, and he said: over here kid, but the next thing there was a man carrying me and my father out, we had to go to hospital, and when I’d came out of hospital they sent my dad to Scotland, all the way from Croydon, as he was so badly injured. And then a vicar, a priest came to see me, saying: have you anywhere to go? and I said: no, I haven’t got a house, I haven’t got any family, I hadn’t got any clothes, and a girl I knew her mum took me in again. I had to wear her clothes to come out of Hospital..
– What’s V.C ‘s ? (reading from the newspaper cuttings Gladys had bought)
Gladys: Victoria Cross. Because they talked to my dad and they said I was brave, I don’t know that I deserved 20 V.C’s. But that was because he was badly hurt, but I don’t remember whether or not. You do things without you knowing , but who knows, I’m not going to take , I can’t say I did, but it was nice for him to say I did, even so.
Then I had to live with somebody else (crying), that was in July and dad never came out of hospital till Christmas, and because I didn’t have a house to go to, the local council found us an empty house. So I got my mummy at home from Witney, and they bought my father home from Scotland , and when we went to the council they found us this empty house , and we went to the council, and when we went in the house they gave us free cups and saucers , free plates, free spoons, free knives and forks’, and just enough, and tea pots, and we had mattresses, we had to sleep on the floor , and just enough bed linen, you know, to keep you going to change, but that was in an empty house, we didn’t have a bed, we didn’t have anything. And I had to go to work all day, and my mother, and when I come home my mum and dad often were sitting there (crying) crying and it must have been a blow for them, but I’m here, god must have saved us all. And I’m proud of my dad for saying that whether I had, I don’t know. But, its hard times, I wasn’t the only one, there were lots and lots of people just like me. Lots of mums and dads, and cousins and everybody. So you’re lucky now because you have all your family, you have nice places to go out to, its nice to get with everybody all over the world. To see that you can get along together without all these wars. Its not very nice and I’m glad that I have lived through it, I’m glad that god brought me through, and without the help of my friends and the people I have met over the years, I don’t know how many times I’ve moved. So when I’ve got marries and came to where I’ve been living now, I don’t want to move, so many place I had a suitcase that I had to pack up, and you’d go somewhere else. And when I’d come out of hospital I had my led bandage and my head , but I had to come home on a tram because they didn’t offer to bring you home like you are carried about now . I came home on a tram, paid the penny, but never the less, I had came out of hospital. I didn’t have anywhere to go if it wasn’t for another man and women and my friend , that her mum and dad took me, I don’t know where I would have gone, I just don’t know, but people are kind . Don’t let people make you done, don’t let people bully you, respect them. Don’t answer back you know, let them see, you don’t need to be afraid to be bullied, because you don’t want to go around like I did. I know it makes you stronger, but you can still be strong in your own school, in your own area. And I love to come back here, I still love London, because I was back here in August, I used to go to school, up by the borough there used to be a school called Orange Tree School, I use to have to walk a long way to school to go to school to learn how to cook or to wash, but that was another school, it wasn’t my school. But we all turned up, nobody stayed away from school
Director: What was it like for the public in general? Where you kind of pulling everybody together?
Gladys: Yes, in a way. You see, this friend of mine I was working with me, she came home one day, you see I wasn’t very happy in my house. And she said to me: would you like to come and live in my house with me, my mum said that she would write to your mum and ask her if you would like to come and live… And I had a room of my own because her brother was in the army and he was in Italy, and he was taken as a prisoner. And I think her mother missed the company of, and they were so kind to me, they really were, better than where I was in the first place. Yes, I’ve seen lots of things, and as I’ve said I’m not the only one, there are lots of people around the same as me, but it makes you strong , it makes you see other peoples more, so
-Could you tell us a bit how did you feel when they were dropping the bombs?
Gladys: Well you were frightened, and you could hear the planes coming over and you’d, if you were in the shelter you’d just hear. I can’t explain the feeling; there is nothing you can do. You can’t run anywhere; you don’t run out, you’d just do as you’re told. If the air warden said to stay there, you’d stay till it was all over. The rest of the time you just went about like you are doing now, you went to school.
– How long where the bombing s coming down on you?
Gladys: Oh sometimes it was all night, specially these flying bombs. I didn’t get up a couple of nights, I just thought they were aeroplanes on fire, we never realised they were bombs. The minute that flame went, we run out and the engine stopped they would come down. I never thought that, I just thought they were aeroplanes. But when we realised what was happening , then you got up and went in this , we were still in the house, this one was in the house , you use to scramble in under the netting, and just lay there , and then get up and go to work, go to school, you still carried on like you are doing now , except when the siren went in , you had to go in orderly fashion, you didn’t run , you just went calmly because you never knew who you were knocking over , just acted calm and went to your shelter.
Director: What did it sound like?
Gladys: As I said , when this Doodle Bug dropped that was dreadful, I can’t explain, one minute I was standing there and the next minute I don’t remember anything.
-What were the shelters made out of?
Gladys: Oh, brick, when I was at work we just went outside, and also in the streets , they used to have like a long brick garage , but on the side it used to have E W S , and that was filled with water, that was the emergency water supply. They were high, you couldn’t get in and drown unless you were, but they were filled with water ready in case there was a fire and people needed water.
But in the community shelters they were best because you could, there were lots more people and you could laugh and sing and one thing and another.
–Was the water clean to drink?
Gladys: Oh no, that was just in case there were fires and that. But when we went down the shelters, the family ones, you took water down there, a little light, little beds for 2 there, 2 up the top
Sharon: What did you do in the shelters?, for how long were you there?
Gladys: Well it all depended how long, sometimes it lasted all night. When we were at work it lasted , two or three times a day you had to put your tools down and then sometimes because I wasn’t far from home , I used to work with my big sister, and she used to say: you cycle home and see if mums all right. So in between, I used to say to the manager: can I go and see if my mother is all right. So, I used to cycle home, this was in Croydon, sit, and then come back to work.
-Where about was your work?
Gladys: In Croydon, and we were making big parts of aeroplanes, and I was on a big bench working on the Wellington Bomber. If I could come again I have a nice book they wrote about the factory and my badge with my number on. You had to have a number on, and before you could go in to work in the morning, there used to be a man on the gate who used to look like an officer and you couldn’t get in unless you wore your badge to let him see you were the right person coming in to work. You might have been.
-How about if you had lost it (the badge)?
Gladys: You had to report it, and they would have given you another one, he would know us, but sometimes he would say : you can’t come in today and we would say, yes we can and show the badge. In work you had to be careful, you couldn’t let anybody come in.
-Did they not let you in because of the German spies and stuff?
Gladys: Yes, there was a boy working with us, he was a , he must have been born over here but he was Italian, and when we were doing the aeroplanes work, before you put one piece to another you had to put some brown liquid on it, to stop the rust because it was an aeroplane, and he was working on a part of a Spitfire , and he wasn’t putting that stuff on , and he got into trouble because it made it worse for him because he was an Italian . But he was still doing something that was wrong, because that would get rusty, and if an aeroplane was in the air and got rusty, that bit would fall apart, wouldn’t it. But that was only because he was an Italian boy that, he could have got to more trouble.
-And did some people get left out of the shelters?
Gladys: Oh yes, I once stopped to put my tools in a draw, and when I come back, the man they called the foremen to see that you were doing your work and everything, came and told me off. He said , another time when you hear the siren you must drop everything you are doing and go your shelter, don’t stop behind, because we wouldn’t like to come back and see that you were badly hurt. You didn’t rush, you went quietly but as quickly as you could .
– How big were the bombs?
Gladys: I don’t know , some of them pretty big because where I lived in Southwark, there was a great big block of buildings opposite mine , and a big landmine fell on that, that was worst than a bomb, and they destroyed all that. So I read, I bought books on Southwark, So they were quite big some of them. Id used to hear the aeroplanes going over at the night, going boom-boom-boom-boom had you listened. I was at the cinema was when a bomb fell, and the screen just blew out just like a curtain flapping. But we sat in there because in was silly to go out. If you happened to be caught, you still went and did your things, you got to live your life normally and do the best you can. I wouldn’t have missed it, although a lot of it was frightening, I wouldn’t have missed it , I’m glad I am here to prove it, and you can, how badly hurt you are , you’ve got family and you’ve got friends and you still can get along in the world .
Director: I was wondering how your diet was like, about the rations. How did that work?
Gladys: I can’t say I was ever hungry. My mother used to seem to find all right
Director: How did it work?
Gladys: The only thing that I lacked, you had your clothing book , you could buy only that many clothes. But there was a shop, you heard about the Lamberth Walk, if you went along there , there used to be a certain shop . If you wanted a dress, it used to cost you twelve coupons out of your book. But if you went to that shop and bought a dress, you would buy another one and you didn’t need coupons for that. So that was what they called part of the black market. Food wise, I tried to eat what they called Slook , and it was meat and that was horrid , it was like you were eating a piece of meat but it was fish. I did like what the Americans send over – Powder Egg, I wish you could but it now, I have bought it but it doesn’t taste the same like the American one that used to be nice. When I was working we met with proper airman from the air force, and when I was twenty-one they came to my house, and they bought some food from the Canteen for my mother, so we had a little party. You couldn’t get cakes or anything because the bread started to be on rationing , But when I had opened the door, I wish I had brought it, they made me a big key with RAF CROYDON on it, and hung it round my neck . we couldn’t get bananas, and I had loved bananas or oranges, but apples there were all right, but when I was evacuated to , the lady had a big apple tree , and I used to call for my friend, and it used to be her mother’s cottage , and she used to say: take an apple of the tree. And in this time of the year, it was a lovely winter’s day, even if there was snow on the ground we still needed to cycle
-What sort of clothes did you wear?
Gladys: Like you do now. I can’t remember about shoes, we had to have a card (showing her card), we had to carry one of those every day with you , you open it and its got your name address, and if you were stopped you had to tell them your name and address. Where I was working when I was away, in the country I came home one lunch time, and at the top of the road there was a pillbox , and there were 2 soldiers there, and they were not going to let us by because we didn’t have our card with us. But they eventually did m but everyone had to carry, that what you called your identity card. Anything more to ask?
You must treasure your friendships. Whilst I was away, when I was coming back from the village , and the town which I worked in all the girls got me a ( xxxx),. Look, some of the pencil is going , I wish I can find in there something I want to show you. A manager where I worked, when I was leaving the manager came to say, can you see that one? (Reads aloud what is written in the notebook) Tell me what’s that, a Y, so : two Y’s you are , two Y’s you b’s, I see you are 2 Y’s for me(laughs). My manager in the factory where I worked put that for me, and that’s from 1940 I have had that. Even in the bombing, because my dad put all my books, so I still have got them now. He put them in two big trunks and then we kept them, when we went to Croydon we didn’t unpack a lot of things because it wasn’t worth unpacking your clothes. So, you are lucky these days children, make the most of what you have got because life is great and you have to make out of it what you will. I mean I have come through, and at times you feel oh I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to go to work, but its fun and you have to do it. My son, he’s a big man now, he’s got a very good job, and he works for the Red Cross, so there’s a lot in life. Because years ago it was all running down shelters and things, so really we couldn’t concentrate like you have the chance now. Don’t spend too much, don’t eat too many sweets, for that we used to go into a shop, and you could buy a Ha’peny Dip, and the man used to have a big cardboard box with all envelopes in it. And you used to g can I have a Ha’peeny Dip, and he used to go under the counter and bring the box, and you’d pick whatever envelope, and you could get four ounces, eight ounces, very rarely did you get eight ounces, but you could get a lot of sweets with a lucky dip.
-Could you still spend it(refers to the pennies in Gladys hand)?
Gladys: No, but it’s still nice to keep, this old money. I forget when that went, in 1963 ling before you was born. And we used to have, when it was Epson Races, where I lived, the coaches used to come by, and they were old fashion coaches with the windows, and we used to stand in the corner, and when they used to pull out, we used to shout out: throw out your molldies, and a lot of the old men used to bend out the windows and throw their old pennies out . So, we used to collect the pennies of the pavements then, it was good , When it as Darby Day, all us children went to the corner and wait for the coaches to come by.
Director: Did you have a radio?
Gladys: Yes, we had what they called a pie, and you could still see them now on one of the shows. They were a round circle with like a rising sun on it, and that was a pie shaped radio
Director: Did you listen to any specific broadcast?
Gladys: I used to listen to , I can’t remember the names now, I used to like children’s hour, when I used to come in from school in the afternoon in the winter, my mum used to put the radio on. And she used to say: before the rest of them come home. So we used to sit by the fire and listen to the children’s hour by the fire glowing with a cup and tea and toast, and I used to love that, just my mum and me all our own before my brothers and sisters came home. And that was just listening to the radio on children’s hour, there used to be Uncle Mac , and Larry the Lamb..but that was good days . And the comics, I always had boys comics, I used to have the Rover, and a magazine called the Hot Spur, and lots and lots of comics.
Sharon: I would like to know a bit about your family, your brothers and sisters. And how was it to live in this area before the war?
Gladys: My grandfather lived in the Borough, he was an architecture designer, his name was Gardner, and the streets not there anymore, they built over it, it was called Bittern Street in the borough. And we only had three rooms, we had a front room, and a bedroom, and a kitchen, and my big brother had to sleep in the front room, and my mum and me and my two big sisters slept in one big bed, two at the top and two down the bottom. And my dad had to sleep in the kitchen in a folding up bed. So we were all together all the time, we didn’t have a room of our own. So, you are so lucky these days, but you know, the generation you are born in you feel is the best one. As I said, I used to get three pennies a week and I was rich really, I used to buy a sweet it was called sugar-something, it used to be on a string, three four lumps that looked like glass, but it was sugar and you could eat it off the string. The ice cream man used to come on a tricycle where you could buy a snow fruit , it used to be like a triangle, like a Toblerone, and it was like that in big white wrapper, and you’d just push it out from the bottom, and it was all coloured, and you could buy a yellow one or a raspberry one . Then a man used to come around selling Toffee Apples , and he would take it out , but if it got a coloured bit on the stick, you didn’t have to pay him, which wasn’t very often, but that is how we bought our sweets. There used to be an Italian shop by me, you used to sit in the shop and eat it , on a bench. And it used to be on a glass stem, but you had to sit in the shop and eat it, lick around the glass. Where we used to play, there used to be horse crofts in the road, big stones for the horses, but at one end there used to be water for us to drink, it used to be on a very big thick chain, so you used to have your water, but it was all chained. So there were horses and human beings, and at the bottom there used to be a place for dogs to drink, we all drank from a big, you weren’t using cups of water, but it was nice, it was fun.
The park I used to go to was called the jail, and that’s where they used to hang prisoners years ago , in the times of Charles Dickens, and that’s along by Harper Road in the end of Newington Court, where it comes to the Borough High Street , there was a turning called Harpers Road, And there’s a big court in the corner now , and that’s where they used to have prisoners in Charles Dickens times .
-What was it like when you and your friends used to play games?
Gladys: Well you don’t do any skipping now, do you? Do you know two tennis balls, we used to play double ball up the wall, and that’s quite hard to do. And in between you throw one round your back, while you throw one up. You need to try, it’s fun, and the next time you had to throw one through your leg, and catch that one as well as the other one coming down. So we had the ball, the nearest park to me was Kenington Park , so you really played in the street. I used to play with a tie, and in the road you used to have stoned blocks, and then they changed them to wooden blocks, called tie-blocks. And in the summer, when it was hot, they used to stick out, and we used to pick them up and we used to get all sticky and black. And also London trees, they are called the plain trees, the skin peels off, the bark peels off which is good, that’s why they chose those trees for London they took all the bad air, and then the bark would grow again. But you used to find lovely little caterpillars, green ones and lovely little black ones, they were beautiful, you don’t see them on the trees now, I never have.
Director: During the war did you watch Dog Fights? What was that like?
Gladys: Only in the summer when the Blitz started, but other than that you just heard the bombs coming over night, and the search lights. But my father had a great telescope and it was a night one at the time, and you could actually look at the bombs then. But that’s the short time when I saw the Dog Fights, on the August that’s when it really started you now, when Britain.
Director: Did you see any bomb blow up?
Gladys: No I never saw anything like that. Even when I lived in Witney one bomb did drop, because the aeroplane you see in the films, you got a spare bomb, and he didn’t want to take it back and land with it , and he let it go. But I remember that one when we lived in Witney . we were coming home that night when the Blitz was starting , we were running home , and the air raid man said quick, but we had to get home first and let our mums know where we were, but as soon as we come home we had to come out and go under the railway arches.
-Did you stay under undergrounds?
Gladys: No, I didn’t go there at all because we were too far, we were in between the Borough and like Elephant and Castle, so the underground station was too far. Once the air raid siren gone, you had to find you, you might be down there with strange people. I mean, when the Doodle-Bug dropped I just been and bought two mud guards for my bicycle that day. And that night we were bombed, I didn’t have a bicycle any more , I didn’t have home let alone a bicycle, and I bought two mud guards for my bicycle , and I didn’t have a bicycle anymore. So that was a bit of a blow. We used to go to work, even if you were on a bus when the sirens went off, you stopped but you still had to carry on to work, because work counted . One girl was doing nights with the Spit-fire, another lady was putting spray on all the wings for the aeroplane to preserve it. Do you have anymore to ask?
-What was it like when you were evacuated?
Gladys: As I said, I didn’t know the lady and man, you see lots of children, and you didn’t know who you were going with. And they have got another little girl that I didn’t know her and she was a lot younger than me, but I had to sleep with her. And it’s a bit strange being with people you don’t know, its not like being at home with your mum and dad, you couldn’t say I want this, I want that, you had to wait, you know.
Sharon: When you were evacuated and sent to that family. Did your parents tell you anything, like how to behave there, or did they give you something to take with you?
Gladys: Oh no, you couldn’t do much of an evening because we only had oil lamps; I suppose years ago they still used to do needle work. But when I used to get back home from work at night, it was always dark because it was the winter then, you had your evening meal, and because of your rationing I had a special jar with my sugar in it , and they had a special jar with their sugar in it, so when I ‘d have sugar in my jar , that was handy for them because they had extra sugar .
-You see, if you had a baby, what would you put with your baby in?
Gladys: My sister who lived a Bermondsey had a big leather thing to put the baby in when the siren went off, and you had to pump air. We had gas masks that they had a big thing to put the baby in, and you pumped air in case there was gas drops, but other than that you just had your baby in your pram. You had to live normal; you just couldn’t run away from things because that was life.
-Was it really true that the kid’s gas masks was shaped as Mickey Mouse?
Gladys: Some of them where, but I just had the normal one. You had to always take it out with you, you couldn’t go anywhere, you always see it in the films where people always have a piece if string, so whatever else you had, you had to take your gas mask with you.
-Was it years when the war stopped?
Gladys: 1939-1945, that’s when the Americans ended the war completely. The one in Europe ended before, because where I was living I was in bed one night , and there was bang bang bang, the lady and man which took me in the end, and I thought what’s the noise. And when I got up, the houses that were close together , and the man next door was banging with his stick on my window , and opened the window and he’d say that the war was over, and that was May the 18, I think. And then, that day, I forget what day it was, but the girls that lives there and me, we went up to London and we went up to Piccadilly, and there were thousands and thousands of people , and everybody were singing and dancing, and we stopped there, and when we came home on a tram in the evening we went, people were taking some wood and we made a bomb fire. So we were dancing around the bomb fire at night, so that was good then. I mean, the bit of the war was still going on with Japan , but at least the European war was more or less finished .
-How did you feel when the war was over?
Gladys: Great, because you didn’t have any serious bombs no more, that’s what I think, was the difficult bit for most people, it got to what we call un-wind. There were still what they called pockets happening, but at least you didn’t have no worries. You didn’t have to worry of being bombed, and the food was still not very good, we didn’t have too many sweets, didn’t have much bread. But I’m here, I’m not bad, and I’m not the only one, so our mums did look after us properly even if there was not enough food, we all got through it.
-You know when you were younger. Did they used to have medicine?
Gladys: Yes, but it wasn’t very nice. You used to have to go to the doctors; you used to have to pay a shilling. If you couldn’t go to school, my mum used to go to the doctors and get what you called a certificate , which cost a shilling, that would be twelve of them (the coins in Gladys hand) , and take to the school, and say: Gladys is not well today, she can’t come to school. So you had to let the school know that you couldn’t be going because there used to be what they called a school-board attendant. And if you were off for too many days, he’d come around and knock to say why you are not at school. They wanted to know why you were not in school.
Sharon: When you and your father were hit by the bomb, where was your house then, what road?
Gladys: We were living at 127 Norkbrick Crescent, and that Norbury. I mean this house, because so many people would leave their private house empty , that what happened, the council would find empty houses , so when I come out of hospital I was living with a friend , but when my father said that eventually he was coming out, it was not till the Christmas , a couple of weeks before the Christmas they sent him down from Scotland , my eldest sister went to the council, and they said its a house at the back of West Croydon Station somewhere , and it was just empty, and that’s all they gave us , so it was empty.
Sharon: So Norbury Crescent was the house you went after the bombings?.
Gladys: Yes, No 1 , that’s the one I got bombed from , and we were right by a railway then, so we were on a corner which didn’t help. And I got little case where you used to keep your precious things init. So Id got some under wear that they made from parashoot silk, I got a little necklace, and all my little privates, but somebody stole that , he took it from what was left of the house, a nasty thing to do. But here you go, that’s life, you can’t get away from life, can you. You go through it, don’t you? You fight your way through it, in your mind a mean not that sort if fighting, be strong.
-How much was the jewellery worth?
Gladys: Well, I don’t know, because one of my sisters had bought me this gold locket and I a photograph of my mum and dad in it, so that meant a lot to me. So I don’t know how much it was, but I’ve got a lot of little charms, I had a Mickey Mouse, and I say my friends, because I made friends before the war, I never saw then anymore, and that’s not really nice, its different if you move away for your own reasons, but I often wonder where they are. We all moved and played, and suddenly.., we were made to go away, and friends are precious, and you might move and sometimes you write to them, but to suddenly go away and not see them anymore, I just wonder where they are, are they alive?, and some of the boys had to go to the army, and are they alive?, I don’t know. And that’s a lot to think of in life. Make friends, because you need friends, even if you don’t see them after a while, you might think of them or write to them. I can still feel my friends in my mind, and I still wonder where they are.
Have I answered all your questions? It’s been interesting for me; I hope it has for you.
Sharon: Is there anything else you would like to talk about
-No, I think that’s it.
Wendy: Was every building made out of brick?
Gladys: Oh, yes, unless, where I was evacuated to was all flat cottages, it was pretty to look at but not very nice to live in, it was always sort of dark. We played on the streets. I’ll tell you what, with six of those (refers to the pennies in her hand)you could buy a ticket on the train, it cost six-pence, six of those and you could use it all day, you didn’t have to pay. You could have a ride in the morning, get on the tram and come back, but you didn’t have to pay for six-pence for all day – that was great.
Wendy: Thank you for your time
Gladys: Thank you and it was nice to meet you, you are good children, study hard and have fun at school, have fun at school. Don’t worry about bullying; you are as good as the next one. They are only doing it because they are afraid themselves half the time, you don’t know how to get on with people. But you think, I have known so many people, been in so many different houses, and unless I would have tried to be friendly.., I only cried because I missed my mum and dad , but other than that, I’ve made lots of friends, people I will never see again, but they help you through life. Meeting different people makes you think about things, and make you decide what you would like to be like and your attitude to yourself. Its a great life, you have got it all before you, make the most of it children, do do.
Sharon: Thank you very much
Gladys: Thank you for having me ….
Interview with Barbara Robson by Edward Garlick and Tabitha Earthrowl Law
I was born 1.8.1930, I’ve just had my 80th birthday
I was 9 when the war broke out and 11 when the blitz was on
Could you please tell us bout the beginning of the war?
Yes I can. The family were on holiday in Wales and of course it was very dramatic – my father had to leave us down there because we didn’t know how soon we were going to get bombed daddy had come back to London and we – I had to stay down in Wales with my mum and sister Betty.
So how old were your brothers and sisters?
My sister was 5 years older – 14 when war broke out.
Was your sister bossy?
Was my sister bossy! I should say so. She had to look after me, it really got on her nerves.
How did it feel when you came back to London?
None of it was making much sense at that time. What I do remember , one of my earliest memories was mummy and daddy taking betty and me ton one side and saying to us we’ve got something ver very serious to ask you, you are only children but we have to ask you this verydiffiucult question. You will know that many children are going away to live in the country to be safe – they are called evacuees – our question to you is do you want to go to the country with the other children and be safe or do you want to stay in Beckenham with your mum and daddy and almost certainly be killed. Now that was a dreadful question and I thought to myself , I was only 9, I didn’t like the idea of staying in London to be killed but how can I say I’d rather leave my mummy and daddy so I said that I’d stay with you.
How did it feel when that question was asked to you?
I was embarrassed mor than anything. I thought it was terribly rude bow could I say I’d rather go to the country and be safe. I couldn’t really say take seriously what saying in London might mean. See we didn’t have TV and we didn’t see these killings on TV like you children – it didn’t really make sense. So we stayed Betty in London all through the blitz.
A lot were evacuated – I can’t remember any of our friends were evacuated, I was concerned with our friends and there we were going to school throughout the blitz.
Can you tell me about any games you played?
Collecting shrapnel, do you know what it is? Bits of bombs, Well what used to happen in the mornings after raids at night on the way to school we would collect bits of shrapnel some would be quite hot some quite big pieces big as a ruler nasty looking things but anyway we used to swap them – see who got the biggest piece – and different shaped pieces – I’d give you 3 small pieces for a large piece – or I’d give you a couple of marbles.
Were there any serious injuries collecting hot shrapnel?
I don’t remember any.
Parents might ask you to wear gloves ?
No they didn’t inactual fact – no it didn’t occur to them. I don’t think children were looked after to the same extent.
So why do you thinkparents were not so responsible?
I think its part of people becoming more…/ people tend to think more. Before the war our homes didn’t have so many books –rare to have books. People didn’t think so much.
I thought books would be what you would do in the shelters
Musn’t generalise. Betty and I would receive books at Christmas and birthday during the blitz. We would probably play games like snakes and ladders and ludo and Bagatelle and dominoes and snap – parents would be on edge, the atmosphere tense.
How did you feel yourself?
I was more concerned with the effects on my mother and father. Dad had been a soldier in the first world war and had been in the trenches and a POW and locked up – couldn’t bear to stay indoors so he enlisted as an air raid warden which meant he had to go out. My poor mother she was so frightened she used to stand in the corner of the dining room –timber supports helped hold the ceiling up- a brick wall built outside – a blast wall, glass wouldn’t get blown. Criss cross sticking paper on walls and blackout – not a chink of light.
I must have been a bit worrying when all was blacked out and the bombers bombing.
Absolutely yes. It saws terrifying. The thing that was worst was the flying bombs – doodle bugs when they first came over we didn’t know what they were- we thought they were aeroplanes -made a terrible noise- didn’t have a pilot. The first remote controlled rockets. They were sent to go a certain number of miles and the cut out, crash and explode. Then this dreadful noise – whirr whirr hear it cut out– silence you never know when it was going to land. My poor mother would stand in the corner put her hands up pray silently for it to fall on somebody else!
The actual blitz itself – we had waves, waves of bombers wave after wave – anti aircraft guns shake the ground, searchlights trying to pick bombers. Guns pointing at them .
If there were lights – wouldn’t the bombers bomb to the lights?
Would try to bomb guns. Searchlights going up, also guns it was very scary.
Haven’t mentioned it yet – incendiary bombs – they were frightening. Much smaller – when they landed they set firs- created fire –that was why we had Air raid wardens – walked up and down with tin hat and whistle. When they saw a fire the – the incendiary bomb had come down –they blew their whistle – buckets- primitive- to put the fire out. Other people would come running with buckets.
Did your father tell stories about the war?
He told endless stories about the first world war. My dad – raids had a terrible effect on him. He had to get out from any situation where he was trapped. Preferred to take his chances in the street.
One night there was stickerbomb – planes came over head for docklands attacked shipping destroyed ships bringing in food – blockade – I was asleep under a shelter in the living room – the Morrison- I knew nothing till morning. My mother shouting “Are you going to sleep for ever?”
What had happened during the night was that ever so many house in our road had been totally bombed our ceiling had come down and the windows blown out. I had slept all through. We were one of the few people who had a phone – it was being used as a reporting place also ourfront room was being used to receive wounded people all this was going on and I was still asleep! A child is not affected… When I remember about that night …2 sisters – one had an artificial leg –these 2 ladies in our house – one had lost her artificial leg =- so distressed – more distressed than the bombing –I’m sorry to say –children being children- – my sister and I found this ever so funny.
Tell us about your family and friends.
My dad worked fro the Home and Colonial Stores – an inspector – he checked the stock – quite a responsible job – food rationed – people would be trying steal. All shops in South East London everywhere he went there were air raids – mainly at night and plenty during the day where he was going –it was dangerous. Poor mother in constant anxiety – was he going to come home all right in the evening? Sometimes he had to sleep away form home.
My mother apart form being worried about being potentially bombed worried about how to feed us. My dad was honest although he worked with food he never went on the black market. Poor mummy, like most women endless queueing for bits of ration. A jar of marmalade lasted 4 of us a month. Go home from school for lunch – I would go to local baker who would bake potatoes in his oven – my mum give me 2d- have these no butter or marge.
Must have been frightening, mum no have contact with your father over night.
It put a strain on her – my mum being a refugee herself. She had had a hard life. Worried terribly when dad was away he couldn’t always phone to let her know- he could be stuck- we knew that mother would get anxious and be cross. Betty and I had to tip toe around. We weren’t really understanding…
Did you have to eat up every bit of food?
School dinners were awful. Teachers made you eat stand over you and you would get detention. My mother didn’t believe in that- told the school you are not to do that to my children.
All the vegetables had caterpillars, slugs and snails. We had cabbage, cauliflower even worse at school – sure to find caterpillar slug or 2. heaven help if it was salad the slug would crawl out on the plate –ugh- it wasn’t a happy experience!
What was wonderful – my mum was able to make a cake out of.. well there were so many things she didn’t have to put in it – she made a wonderful cake – it was a luxury.
What was the food at school?
It might have been rabbit – rabbit stew – oh dear – with cabbage and slugs. Stewed rhubarb without sufficient sugar –lumpy custard, not sweet enough- rice pudding all full of lumps- no jam. Beef stew all gristle fat. Supposed to eat it – hide it if I could in a hanky. We wore thick blue knickers under our gym frocks, in the knickers was a little pocket for our hanky – those of us who couldn’t eat the dreadful gristle and fat, tried to put bits in our school knickers.
What did you use your garden for?
We didn’t grow vegetables .We had a shelter didn’t have a big garden We had a little suburban garden. We had an Anderson which was a hole in the ground with a corrugated cover. We also had a Morrison in the kitchen- 4 times as big as this table made of metal. We stayed indoors. We slept under in a cupboard under the stairs – 2 cupboards – considered to be the safest place to be. Couldn’t get the 4 of us in the cupboard – slept with heads and chest in cupboard and legs in passage how we got to sleep I don’t know.
As the blitz got worse and worse, Dad was given permission to use the cellar of one of the shops nearest to us, so off we would go every evening with games, tin hats, gas masks- go to the cellar under the shop, there we had bunk beds – my sister saw to that I went in the top which was right up to the ceiling – spiders. We did have lovely games together and she thought up nice things for me to do but she could be very nasty – I was scared of spiders much more scared of spiders than bombs. She would say I saw one going under your sheet and I would sit up suddenly and bang my head on the ceiling…
One day, there was a tremendous raid and we couldn’t get out when dad tried to lift the trap door – all the tins of the shop – baked beans corned beef, spam had fallen on top of the trapdoor.
How was your sister affected by the war?
Bearing in mind that she was 5 years older that I was – my sister’s interests were I marrying boys. (laughter) She wasn’t too worried about anything else. There were no clothes, we had ration books. How could she make herself pretty for the boys?
She did what she could. She was pretty and quite successful.
Was she ever worried about boys who died in the war?
She wasn’t worried. They all used to fall in love with her and she had difficulty choosing which she liked best. One night in the air raid shelter, (I remember) helping her write a letter to a boy she once liked and who was getting on her nerves and so she wrote this letter with my help which said “ Dear John I don’t want to see you any more because you get on my nerves. Once I thought you were very nice, but now I think you are rotten. love Betty.”
Could you tell me about your scariest moment?
Yes I can. I don’t know whether it happened or not . I’ve told this story so many times I don’t know if it really happened or not. I was returning to school after my baked potato on my bike which didn’t have any gears ( I loved my bike, I used to watch the dogfight, the spitfires fighting over Biggin Hill) I was on my way to school…air raid siren went I kept on pedalling to get to school and go in the shelter before I could get there however a plane swooped down and I actually thought I was being machine gunned, threw myself into the gutter, lay in the gutter an believed I had been machined gunned – I told everyone I had been machined gunned, everyone thought it was very exciting. I’ve told the story so many times, I cannot remember – you see when I was riding my bike on an unmade road – lots of pebbles what might have sounded like a machine gun could have been pebbles flying up on the wheels exciting to think I was a heroine, that a plane had singled me out to machine gun me. I don’t know if it happened or not. Sometimes if we tell a fib often enough we believe its true and this is what might have happened.
Another think that happened at school that was scary- we went to films- there was a film with Sabu, I fancied him, Jungle Boy, talk to the animals. My friend Evelyn and I were always hungry. Behind the bike sheds at school there was a stream and an orchard – we used to over the stream, made a bridge to the orchard thinking we were Mowgli – collected sticks and stuff. Then it rained and rained. Came to school the next morning, there wasn’t a hockey pitch – it was a lake, seagulls floating and a duck! We went to school assembly. The head mistress, Miss Fox, was very strict. This is very serious, girls, someone has been very naughty and flooded the hockey pitch, built a dam and flooded the hockey pitch. I want those culprits to stand forth and own up. Did I own up? What do you think?…I didn’t.
So I was in trouble over that and I was also in trouble over eating iron rations we were all given when we went into the air raid shelter. When the sirens went at school we all had to go into the air raid shelter in an orderly fashion and we had to take our gas masks with us. We were given biscuits and I managed to get hold of some biscuits and ate more than we should and she found out so I was not popular- now she hates me for eating more biscuits and I certainly was not going to stand forth and say I flooded the hockey pitch.
Going back to shrapnel swapping is that how you got more biscuits?
I think I did. I almost certainly did. They were good biscuits, like a cream cracker, like a sandwich.
What was your happiest moment?
Deplorable story- it was a beautiful summers day. Battle of Britain –so few airman fighting- neighbours came to watch this up in the sky – all these planes flying about, the spitfires- leaving trails in the sky, some of them going into a nose dive- which meant they were going to crash and be killed – we were encouraged to hate the Germans – we were encouraged not to think of them as human beings- enemy so when you saw a plane start on the terrible journey down with smoke pouring out of it – we were cheering an laughing. We thought it was wonderful- like a football match- our side’s winning.
What made me more happy was to go on my bike without gears –arduous pedalling to beautiful countryside to watch over a lovely valley called Biggin Hill, watch the airman and Spitfires. It seemed so beautiful – we didn’t take seriously what was going on – that happy.
Betty, about 16, we would have parties – have bread, made into sandwiches with marmite and past, we’d have games – kissing games – that was exciting.
Did you have birthday parties?
No I don’t remember birthday parties. I remember Christmas. During the war my aunt had a poultry farm in Woking and chicken was a great luxury, tremendous luxury. The chicken would arrive through the post – we were quite worried – had it gone off? No fridges either.
We made things with crepe paper. Round boxes that had contained cheese – at school- glue crepe paper round these boxes- made lots of things – shops empty.
Do you remember special events?
The arrival of the chicken
Most meal times – quite hungry lot of the time
One of our favourite programmes on the wireless, special comedian Tommy Handley in ITMA. Favourite dance bands
End of the war- street parties
Was the day time better than night time?
Yes more frightening at night doodle bugs more menacing drone and cutting out. During the day you could keep busy. During the night, stuck there wondering whether you were going to be… not much to occupy you.
What was the best shelter?
Anderson was very good. Shored up room most…
Did you ever want to put on hole in the top to look to see what was happening?
No never see it coming, fell so fast, didn’t go straight down, the wind would carry them. Stop dead above you – doodle bugs designed to make people into nervous wrecks – lower morale – war of nerves – trying to break our spirits.
Winston Churchill- people don’t remember him so kindly now, but when he spoke on the radio everyone was quickly silent – listened to the words of Winston Churchill an his words of encouragement.
So did you feel when England completely bombed Berlin- revenge?
Now, when I see the films of the bombing of Dresden and the German cities – then we thought of it as a football match. Our family was very lucky and nobody was killed or injured during the war. Didn’t hit us hard. When news came – Germans – so may killed we would be pleased.
What was your experience of bombing?
Would hear the whistle, as bombs came down. When bomb exploded, at a distance, would shake whole ground, everything would rattle. Things fall off the mantle shelf. If closer the windows would blow out –the blast creates a ripple of air, powerful, smash glass and bring ceilings down. I never had a direct hit.
Did adults tell you that there was anywhere you shouldn’t go?
The biggest warning – no lights- never show a chink of light –not strike a match. When siren went you had to taker shelter, get under cover to avoid the shrapnel.
Thanks and end of interview
David West – Interview – 21/07/2010
Louie Douglas and Ella Fogg interview David West
L: The name of the interviewers are Louie Douglas and Ella Fogg, the name of the interviewee is David West. We are at London BUbble Theatre, the date is the 21st July, the interviews is for the Grandchildren of the Blitz. David, can I ask you for the place and date of your birth?
D: Yes, I was born at the Elephant and Castle, just behind Spurgeon’s tabernacle, 1939, it was a year before WW2 started in fact WW2 started that year – but the Blitz didn’t start until the end of 1940 of course.
E: Could you tell us a little bit about how the Blitz changed things?
D: Well, the country had gone to war and there was a so called “phoney war” in the summer of 1940, so it gave the country the opportunity I suppose to build up defences and people were mentally prepared and then, presumably, the Battle of Britain started, the germans trying to destroy the Royal Air force and get the air superiority in order that they could get inside
E: Was this scary at all?
D: I’ve little consciousness as I was so young at the time – of actually being frightened by anything.
P: Could you tell us though, of your first realisation that people around you were scared?
D: Well, the house I was living in was bombed in 1940/1941, I’m not sure myself as I was only like one or two years old sort of thing, and I found it actually quite difficult to get information from siblings, but the house was destroyed and for a little while the family was living on the Elephant and Castle underground station and eventually, we were evacuated . My first memories in life are as an evacuee down in Devonshire
E: What was your evacuation like?
D: Well, out in the countryside area and led a very quiet life, I can just remember a few country rambles and things. I have been back to where I stayed, even though in very recent times – to have a look at the site and its a very quiet sort of location. I’ve only got a few memories of being there. I had whooping cough at the time and that’s sort of ingrained in my memory. And going to primary school or nursery school. I have some memories of a visit by my father and some walks we had. But like many evacuees, everybody in the country thought it was safe to return home once the D-Day landings had taken place and had been successful and evacuees sort of suddenly en masse were returned home and of course because of the D-Day landings Hitler wasn’t overly happy about the situation and unleashed his doodlebugs in retaliation. So, the Blitz as I sort of recall it started then, even thought it was very late, the real Blitz had already taken place, so I just got the later sort of tag end of the situation
L: When you were evacuated do you know if you were living with family or somebody else?
D: Well we were just staying with strangers, they weren’t relatives at all – we were just sort of presumably allocated to the home that we went to. They were perfectly kind and I’ve no adverse memories , I know some people who had pretty terrible sort of recollections of things that happened to them, but we were well fed and nothing untoward ever happened to me.
P: Did you keep in touch with them afterwards?
D: Yes, my older sister did yes, I’ve got two sisters were were about ten years older than I am and they didn’t stay with us – as evacuees they actually went to some other sort of family, relatively near by but I had no contract or knowledge of them at all so i never met them until I came back to London, they stayed with a family in Sydenham
P: Can I ask how old you were when you came back to London?
D: When I came back to London? I was born in 1939 so I came back, again as I said earlier my siblings are very uncommunicative, very unhelpful in advising dates and things, you see I must have come back 1943/44 so I would be 3 or 4 years old, certainly when I came back I can recall going to 2 or 3 different nursery schools, so you know, and then I started primary school at 5.
P: And did you move back to Elephant and Castle when you came back to London?
D: No, because the home had been demolished and until recently there were pre-fabs built on the site very close to what was the London Park Hotel, which has also disappeared with redevelopment, but we moved to a new home in Camberwell. Actually, it was a very big flat , acres of space so in some ways, one might say that Hitler did the family a favour
P: Was it a newly built flat, was it a council place?
D: It’s a council place, I’m not sure when it was built, it looked like a 1930’s/1940’s building, but it was exceptionally large, you know 4 large bedrooms, so it was sort of staying there, it was on the top floor so it was over 2 levels at the time, I don’t think Penthouses were known as penthouses, but looking back – we had the sort of penthouse suite
P: Did you have a lot of friends when you moved back to london, can you remember playing any street games at all?
D: Absolutely, you know, on the housing estate I livd, I was in contact….actually no genuine sort of really close friends, no one you could call sort of a buddy, but there were lots of children around so I had lots of social contact with people, I was always sort of shy and reserved and unenquiring sort of things and I just sort of tended to take things at face value so you are in contact with these people, you played games, you know almost a victorian sort of childhood with hoops and tops and alley gobs and eh…
P: Sorry, what was the last one?
D: Alley gobs , line 5 stones you used to throw them and play on your hand and skipping hopscotch and everybody in those days were mad keen on collecting things, anything and everything, collected cheese labels, cigarette packets, ‘cos you spent alot of time collecting things, playing on bombsites actually, all these just acres and acres of houses and bombsites everywhere, you could sort of play around to your hearts’ content, making up imaginary little homes in nooks and crannies.
P: You had a lot more freedom I suppose than children nowadays?
D: Well, in those days, people were oblivious to what their children were doing and its totally amazing you know, comparing now them then, the transformation, nowadays parents won’t let children out of their sight almost, also, these days they’re almost got to the stage where the children are walking around with mobile phones reporting back what they’re doing all the time, but in my time, on would disappear and as long as you’re back by 10.00pm that was all your parents expected, 10 o’clock in the late summertime, or back normally by sunset sort of thing, but apart from that – they would never investigate where you were or where you’d been or what you’d done
L: When you were evacuated, were there any bombs that landed near you or by you?
D: Not while I was down in Devon, you know, I wasn’t conscious of any fighting taking place
P: How about when you returned to London, did you have any experiences of…?
D: Yes one quite vivid recollection, I can remember leaving home, leaving a meal unfinished to rush down to the air raid shelter and eh, I was pushed onto this bunk bed and I was quite irate at the time at having this young baby sort of dumped beside me which I wasn’t to keen on and people seemed, to the best of my recollection, to be staying awake, then during the night or at some time then we heard a doodlebug and a mighty great explosion nearby and when we went to investigate the next day it was in the road I was living in, in Wyndham road in Camberwell, only about a hundred yards away and a Catholic convent had been hit, destroyed and alot of shops, so there was a bit of a bonus of the time because one of the shops was a sweet shop so I spent alot of the time collecting sweets and then I was too young to take in the bigger picture or to emphathise with people and experience any sense of suffering, there was no sense of suffering – no fright either
P: So that memory was just about the sweets?
D: Just about the sweets!
E: During this bombing did you lose any of your family or friends?
D: No, amazingly! I come from quite a big family, both on my mother and fathers’ side and many of them in the arms and the navy and war esrvice and eh, everybody came through totally unscathed, amazingly, so it didn;t actually have any great impact emotionally.
E: Wow, was this a shock for you by any chance?
D: A shock, that they all survived? Well, when it was happening you were to close to events to really understand and it’s not till later on in life that you compare experience with other people and realise the sort of traumas that some people sort of go through, you know, one friend of mine who left home to go out and do something, when he came back his house had been obliterated and both his parents were dead, so he couldn’t return home and had to go and stay with one of his sisters , so obviously some people, their whole lives were totally shattered.
L: Could you tell us a bit about the impact of the Blitz on the landscape?
D: Yes, I come from a part of London that was heavily bombed, probably not as bad as the docks area but it was close to, it was in Camberwell, roughly, there was alot of damage close to where Burgess Park is now and the Canal was there, reading the reports, apparently even the canal on moonlit nights, helped as a sort of landmark for bombers because the moonlight would light up the canal water so it would help them navigate so there was alot of bombing around as can be evidenced by all the housing estates that have sprung up, the Aylesbury estate which is like the biggest in Europe was obviously on bombed areas
P: Louie recently went on an archeological dig in Trafalgar Avenue and they found evidence of the bombing that went on there
E: Did this bombing affect your lights being turned of or staying on all the time?
D: Well, I missed the main part of the Blitz, I was down in Devonshire and then when I came back, sort of ’43/’44 sort of things, most of the heavy bombing had stopped or there wasn;t much taking place locally. It was only when the Doodlebugs were around but, at the time there was no problems with electricity so obviously bomb damage didn’t effect us, after the war there were lots of problems with power cuts and things due to union activity, but oviously during war time everybody, the unions, the government all tried to pull together, so there wouldn’t have been any industrial action that would have caused that situation.
P: I was wondering, did you spend alot of time in the air raid shelter? Because you mentioned being down there with the baby…
D: No, not very often . I can’t really recall going there too often to be honest, but it was a constant reminder, because it was stuck right in the middle of the estate and eh, you know you couldn’t avoid sort of seeing it and playing aroun it
P: Your memories of being down there, was it really uncomfortable or were there some fun aspect?
D: Well, there was no fun aspects as far as I was concerned. I can’t recall running around or anything of that nature or playing or being sociable at all, we were just sort herded downm well that’s how it seemed at the time, we weren’t singing songs to keep our spirits up or anything like that!
E: You mentioned singing songs to keep your spirits up, where these songs that we sing now?
D: Well, I haven’t been in close contact with schools’ activities recently. Actually, I can recall one thing, we did have a street party after V.E. day, I can recall where it was held so that was quite a bit sort of sociable event, it’s a bit of a tragedy nowadays everyone would have thousands of photographs of it, but in those days, few people had cameras or they weren’t sort of mentally attuned to taking pictures of everything all the time.
E: How old were you when VE day was
D: i I must have been five years old, yes at the time I would have been at Primary school, V.E. day was a convenient day, like nw it was in the middle of summer, it was a nice bright sunny day, well when the party was held and they had a victory parade along by Kennington Park which I attended and a viewed, Montgomery came past in his jeep.
P: Do you remember that?
D: Yes, I think that was the 8th June, just happens to be my brother’s birthday, I’ve got a younger brother
P: And your whole family was reunited by that point, were you all together?
D: Yes, by the time we came back to London we were…I’ve no actual recollection of us all assembling together, or maybe, my sisters came later, I;m not too sure, I mean my siblings have been totally unehplful about piecing together events of the past, maybe because there are things they would prefer not to think about
L: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
D: I’ve got two older sisters and one younger brother, who is about 18 months younger than me
E: Was the war when it finished, a real big party or was it something people had a party about and then forgot?
D: Well, we had a street party, people were just relieved that the war had actually finished so nobody was going to be killed from that point of time onwards, but obviously many peoples lives had been totally disrupted either their homes destroyed or damaged or the loss of loved ones, sons, husbands, wives other relatives, so it obviously transformed people lives and it would have taken a long time to come to terms with, the only thing, in those days, people were very communally spirited and eh to a greater or lesser extent one almost used to sort of live in each other’s homes – you could come and go, more or less quite freely, whereas nowadays, most homes are like fortresses, in the past you’d even call on relatives without contacting them beforehand and that was quite normal, nowadays you probably wouldn’t visit someone without at least making a telephone call first
P: Do you think that the nature of community changed during the Blitz, as a result of the Blitz, did it have any impact on community and the way it functioned during the war, did it strengthen?
D: Well yes, it must have strengthened community spirit and after the war with people sharing food stuff temporarily for convenience sake, if someone had run out of sugar – you wouldn’t hesitate about popping into your neighbour and borrowing some sugar for a while, whereas nowadays you’d think the person next door was a bit odd if they knocked on your door and asked if they could borrow some sugar for a while, so you had that community spirit – sort of living together and people would leave their doors open and to a greater or lesser extent you would more or less, if you knew them well you could walk into their homes and one silly thing about life in the past and security etc was that most people, certainly on housing estates, used to hang their keys on a piece of string – down by the letter box and pull the key through the letter box and at night you wrapped the string around a nail on the side, people were more or less oblivious to security
E: Did you find some people annoying who were in your community?
D: I never personally sort of experienced that as a war-time experience but inevitably you are bound to get the minor irritations you inevitably get from life when people are all living in close proximity
L: Did you ever experience people fighting over ration booklets or stuff like that?
D: No, that was never a problem
P: Did people help each other out, in terms of rationing, of they had a bit of something?
D: Yes, undoubtedly, people would sort of muck in and people would at least talk and communicate with their neighbours and would be quite happy to borrow something if they needed to. It was an experience as a child to do shopping, the whole nature of shopping has changed, supermarkets didn’t then, there was the store just below where I lived so you;d go down and if you wanted a piece of cheese they would specially cut the cheese you wanted and when you bought some bacon they would specially cut the rashers of bacon for you on the machine that they had. There were other characters around, people used to come round and sharpen knives and things
P: Do you mean door to door?
D: No, there would be somebody on the street with these big wheel sort of things and people would get their scissors and knives and things and go down and have them sharpened up
E: Were there some rations that you didn’t really like, but you ate them anyway because you wanted your share of food?
D: For some reason or other I took a liking to eating lard, because it was like the residual from cooking etc but it was all so, always under the top crust of lard there was always a thick jelly so when you put it on your bread, this sort of jelly on it as well, also my mother used to use a mincer for things and I was quite partial to helping myself to picking up bits of meat and just eating them from the mincing machine.
E: Did you grow any vegetables that you didn’t eat before?
D: No, we didn’t have a garden so I was never into the gardening sort of thing, ‘cps I was just a younger sort of person I just ate what I was given without any thought to what was god or not good or whatever, but my parents were quite conscious of healthy foods, I remember eating lots of oranges and fruits and stuff.
P: May I ask about sweets again, do you remember any particular favourites, were they rationed, was it hard to get the ones that you wanted or were there plenty of sweet things around for you?
D: Well, when it comes to sweets I’ve got a bit of a criminal record so I don’t know whether I should talk about it too much but I suppose in one context it’s sort of educational and also helps put parents on their guard – I suppose, I became quite addicted to sweet things just as a sort of comfort food I suppose, so I was always eating toffees and what-not if I could get them. The criminal record bit was I used to steal the coupons from by brothers and sisters if I could get them, fortunately or unfortunately, in retrospect, the shop sort of cooperated ‘cos I used to tear the coupon out and when I went to the shop, I’d only take the coupon not the book but the sweetshop used to happily accept the token or half token that I had
P: But you were supposed to give them the book?
D: No, they were happy to just take part of the coupon, as they might have done, why is this boy coming in with bits of coupons where did he get them from? but obviously that thought never crossed their minds, maybbe they were just happy to get the small sales, I was only spending like a penny or tuppence or whatever but eh, there was one particular…sharps toffees were the things amongst other, sharpes toffees I liked, i’m not sure whether they exist today or not with all the brands, sort of companies, you know mergers and takeovers.
E: Did anyone find out that you stole your brothers and sisters coupons?
D: No, fortunately, I told them recently about it as a way of trying to clear my conscience, I’m not sure whether they actually believe me or not but I certainly used to. My mother used to hide the books away in one particular place that was very difficult to get at but I used to climb up on a chair used to sort of swing along on a shelf, obviously I was quite light at the time ‘cos I didn’t fall down and I could get hold of the books and retrieve them and take out what I want and put the books back afterwards but I never used to overdo things and of course I had 2 sisters, a brother and my parents as well, if they didn’t have a sweet tooth, but I became addicted to sweet things, with the benefit of hindsight you realise what a drug sugar actually is, without sugary things I was, you know, lost – I had to have my daily fix
E: Did any of your family members not like sweets or anything they were given for their rations?
D: Well once I was given a great big box of chocolate bars by a brother in law who was, it was after the war actually but it was a throw back in the past, the RAF flying crews used to have a chocolate ration, when they were flying they had this chocolate to have on the aeroplanes so they had this flying ration and my brother in law got it in quite a big box and I think they why Fry’s chocolate cream bars and they brought those home as a gift and they all disappeared quite quickly, there was no sense of stretching these things out at all
L: Could you tell us a few chocolates or sweets you liked to eat?
D: Well, sharpes toffees was one, in those days you used to get chocolate buttons I was quite keen on, and the jellies, animals and letters and stuff, it was an era of I I can’t remember blowing bubbles but, bubble gum, people were mad collectors of coupons, we used to get in these packets as well, the film starts we used to collect
P: Did you have a favourite sweet shop, was it close to where you lived?
D: Yes, very close by yes
P: Do you have any memories of the people who worked in there?
D: Yes, very vivid memories yes
E: Were they nice to you
D: Yes, they were very nice, yes
E: What were their names?
D: Their names? There was an elderly lady used to run the sweetshop, her name was eileen, she just used to run the shop and eh, take care of things, I never really had any contact with other people in the shop, it was like a corner shop, they used to distribute newspapers, I never distributed newspapers myself for them though I would have liked to ‘cos people liked to to have a job they could do but at the time I tried to get a paper job, they never had any vacancies, my brother did it for a few weeks, just standing in for a friend but otherwise, I remember as well they had one amusement machine in the shop so that was one feature of the place
E: Did you ever find any coupons on bombsites or something where somebody might have dropped one?
D: No, never found anything, we just sort of rummaged around, alot of the time I’d sort of, growing up I used to wander around to various partks – Myatts Field, Brockwell Park, Ruskin Park and eh, just sort of busy wondering, our time could have been used with the benefit of hindsight, more educationally but eh I suppose we were just happily to be out in the fresh air, presumably with age memory plays you tricks, I suppose basically it would be in the summertime, these long evenings, so you would be out and about
E: Did you lose any prize possesions that you owned?
D: I never had any prize possessions to lose. People had few personal belongings, toys and things for the average family were few and far between, people joe about people leaving their doors open etc…’cos they say well we left it open ‘cos we didn’t have anything worth pinching, but that wasn’t really the case ‘cos obviously they had radios and later television radios only come into being in 1922 so even people in WW1 didn’t have radios at all which is quite a surprise really and also televisions only came into effect in the 1950’s
E: Do you know anyone who lost prize possesions?
D: Not really as I said earlier, I was basically a sort of shy, introverted person not very communicative so even until quite a late age I would almost never discuss anything with anybody I grew up in my own little bubble
L: How many friends did you have, were you in a like gang, or one or two friends?
D: Well, when we used to go wandering around the parks there was myself and my brother and 3 or 4 other boys, so we didn’t regard ourselves as a gang, we almost shambled around somehow had a sort of unspoken communication, we’d say shall we go here or shall we go there, sometimes to Myatts fields to play cricket otherwise Brockwell park, trudge off to we used to walk quite long distances actually, without any thoought about it and of course the parents didn’t know where you were
E: Did you have any arguments with anyone in your group?
D: Well, only nominal friction that you’d get in a group, occasionally something might happen to irritate your temper, I only recall ever being in a couple of fights, sort of thing. I didn’t go about looking for trouble and they were just sort of spur of the moment things, when the red mist falls and your emotions overcome your rational thoughts but I didn’t get into fights normally – I can’t recall fighting other children at primary school
E: We’re going to move on to the next subject – now, what were the most happiest and the most terrifying memories you had of the Blitz?
D: Well, the worst memories, if you can call it memories – was the fact that people’s lives had been devastated and we sort of went without both emotionally and materially as a result of it all and afterwards I suppose, there was a great sense of relief and something that persists until today even, there’s an erroneous sort of sense that Britain had won the warm you could sort of paint yourself as heroes and in many moral aspects they did but economically it was devastating, in 1946 it was one of the worst winters ever and obviously caused lots of problems for lots of people, living in London then was, in these days people had coal fires so everyday you made up your fire and of course there was smoke everywhere and so called pea soupers, these soup sort of fogs I can remember running out on night, the fog was so bad, I went out just to experience it ‘cos you couldn’t see anything you know, walking along you couldn’t see your feet
E: Did this fog make you bang into anything?
D: No, you walked very carefully but even the buses and trams were taken off the road. I remember going down to Camberwell Green Tram station and the Conductors were walking in front of buses and trams so drivers could see, just in order to get the vehicles off the road and into the garages – people literally couldn’t see anything.
P: Thank you David
D: You’re welcome
SHEILA MCCULLOCH- INTERVIEW – 19/07/10
Jodie Witcher and Alex Saoukin interview Sheila McCulloch
Today is Monday 19th July 2010. I am Jody Witcher – WITCHER – and this is Alex Saoutkin – SAOUTKIN – and we are interviewing – could you tell me your name please?
Sheila McCulloch – MCCULLOCH.
Thank you. We are at 20 Eastry House, Hartington Road, SW8 2HU. We are part of a project called Grandchildren of the Blitz. Could you tell me your date of birth and place of birth please?
I was born on the 24th August 1938 in a hospital called the York Road Lying In Hospital, which used to be opposite St Thomas’s but is no longer there.
Could you tell us a bit of what you liked doing in the Blitz
In the Blitz – well you don’t realise all that much when you’re a child obviously because it’s the grown-ups who are having to deal with it, but you always lived with the fact that you might get bombed – you had a shelter that you built in the garden, half way down into the ground. It was called an Anderson shelter and it was covered with earth – we actually grew tomato plants on top of it and it was difficult because going to school, if the siren went that meant that was an air craft raid. If you weren’t near a shelter – which had been built by the government – if you weren’t near a shelter, the only sensible thing was you heard this siren go and you fell flat on your face as far down as you could get on the pavement. My Mum was taking me to school and that would happen. And she hated it because we had to have coupons to buy clothes during the war and it was very difficult – if you wanted a dress you had to save up your coupons . Stockings – we didn’t have tights, they hadn’t been invented – but stockings I think they might have been one coupon, I don’t really remember. But you know when Mum threw herself down on the floor, ruined her stockings – that was one coupon. And that was pretty dramatic for her because where are her next lot of stockings coming from? You haven’t got any more coupons.
You mentioned Anderson shelters. Could you tell us a little bit about how you felt when you was inside the Anderson shelter?
They were horrible. They went half way into the ground – not completely – in your back garden. We were lucky to have a back garden. It was domed shaped at the top, dug into the ground and it had some bunks each side for people to sleep. And then once they’d dug it into the ground, earth was put over the top. That’s why we could have the tomato plants. But of course it smelt dank and earthy and not all that nice and not only dank but damp as well – not a lot of fun. When the air raids sounded you came out of the house, you went down into the thing and then you probably stayed all night. My Mum and Dad used to put me to bed down there every night raid or no raid so I was already there protected. No, it wasn’t all that much fun really and the people upstairs had a little Scottie dog – it was a really sweet little thing – and that of course had to come down with us – they weren’t going to come down without the Scottie . So there’s my Mum and Dad and me and the two people upstairs with their dog – so you’ve got quite a few people in a very small space and of course you’ve got not lighting – you’ve got to bring down a gas lamp or a paraffin lamp or candles if you had too. No, it wasn’t all that much fun – but it was safer than getting blown off the face of the earth.
Was there any case where you weren’t in the Anderson shelter or any shelter?
Well yes – but even if you were it didn’t guarantee anything. We had one raid, almost a direct hit, the lady next door I’m sorry to say lost her life. The lady who lived above us, she lost an eye. And you wouldn’t have heard about this probably but behind our gardens there was what used to be called a workhouse. It was a place where you went when you retired – they didn’t have old peoples homes as such. It was a place you went when you retired – literally the last place anybody ever wanted to go into was workhouse. It was Victorian. But it had been picked by the local authority to try and save it obviously if there was going to be a bombing and it was surrounded with sandbags – great big sacks of sand to try and stop the blast of the bombs. Well that was good in theory but didn’t work really in practice. When the bombs dropped straight down on us all the sandbags burst which wasn’t really much fun because they came and covered our Anderson and we had to be dug out – literally from loads and loads and loads of sand and earth and we were – we were dug out and luckily we weren’t hurt but one thing that I do remember- and I was only a small child remember – not as grown up as you or as sensible – my doll’s pram had got smashed, really smashed. And this gentleman who helped dig me out – I don’t know where he was from – he could have been from one of the local services, he could have been a soldier, I don’t know, but he was wearing a uniform. And there’s me, crying about my doll’s pram. My mother and father haven’t got a house, you know, the furniture’s ruined, we’ve got nothing – and there’s me going on about my doll’s pram. And he did say to me – ‘well I’ll get it fixed’ – which of course looking at it was completely and utterly impossible and I remember saying to him – ‘well it’s black but could you have it painted green?’ – I mean of all the stupid things! And for weeks and weeks I sat around expecting that someone was going to bring me back a green dolls pram. Needless to say they never did – at the time it seemed a good idea you know! Anyway I suppose I was crying – rotten kid – you know – it stopped me. But that was more or less what it was like. And then they managed to drop a bomb on my birthday. Now my Mum had been saving – once again coupons, you could only get so much on your rations. She had been saving little bits and pieces of margarine and sugar to make me a birthday cake. Now you couldn’t get icing sugar or anything like that and she’d cut out a white – circle of white cardboard to go on the top to look like icing etc and it was on the table in front of the kitchen window. My birthday party, a couple of people were coming, don’t remember who. Siren went, we all disappeared down the Anderson shelter, when we came back all the windows had gone and the kitchen window had gone straight on to my birthday cake and so all slivers of glass in it. You couldn’t eat it because you didn’t know where the next sliver of glass was coming from. And it’d taken months to save that stuff. Oh, she wasn’t happy! (laughs). Well that’s about all I can say about Andersons – they did come in useful.
So. How did you get the coupons?
Well they were issued by the government and everybody go the same amount. You had coupons for everything – for clothing, and for food. Some things were exempt – there were certain things you could get in the food line which weren’t on ration as we called it but clothing – you had so many points you called them. I can’t remember the exact amounts, but lets say you’d been given 40 points for the year – and a coat is going to cost you 10 – so you’ve got 30 left. So you’ve got 30 points and probably shoes would cost 5, a skirt would be 4, jumper – that kind of thing. Once you’d got through the 40, you’d had it – you’d had it kid – that’s your lot. You can’t really be bothered about fashion because if you haven’t got any coupons, you can’t buy anything. Which wasn’t all that funny. But certain things for food weren’t on coupons. Some were – meat was. Meat was very hard to come by because you only got half a chop or two sausages. But funnily enough it transpires that although it sounded draconian – that was a healthier diet than what we’ve got now. We didn’t have fat people living off takeaways. I’m not saying that everyone should have to live on wartime rations by any means. And of course things were so different in as much as I asked my mother once ‘What does a banana taste like?’. I mean I’d seen pictures of a banana and I knew it was a fruit but how would you describe a banana – how would you say it tastes like?
Quite. My mother, I mean she’d had them before the war. ‘Mum, what does a banana taste like?’ Well, I mean it tastes like a banana but you can’t tell anybody that. And then at the very end of the war I had to go into hospital for tonsillitis – to have my tonsils removed and my Mum and Dad bought me a quarter of a pound of grapes. Now does quarter of a pound mean anything to you nowadays? 125 grammes of grapes. Well what can I say, it would have been about 90 pence but they were only earning about £5 a week. My Dad was earning £8 actually because he was in a good job. Can you imagine earning £8 a week? You can’t, can you. I mean my pocket money – even after the war I’m talking about now, my pocket money when I was 11 and 12 was the old sixpence which would be 2 ½ pence today – end of message. It was absolutely ridiculous really but that’s all we had – and of course at that stage we hadn’t got mobiles and all this television and all the stuff that goes with it – we were primitive really. Most people didn’t have a television. Nine people out of 10 didn’t have a car and as for bathrooms – I mean this is ludicrous – we didn’t have a bathroom when I was small, I mean before we got bombed out the first time. My Mum and dad had two rooms and what we called a scullery – a bit worse than a kitchen – on the ground floor. The other two people had three rooms on the top floor. There was not bathroom, and the toilet was out in the garden and in the scullery thing we had a great big bath – ordinary bath, but it was a metal bath hung on a hook and once a week you got it down, then you had to boil up water in the copper and jug it into the bath. So you didn’t have a bath each. The cleanest one, which was usually me, got in first. Then Mum had a go, then Dad cam last. I mean that’s how it had to be. In fact you’re dead lucky now when you think about it. I mean it’s natural to you isn’t it, just to have a shower or a bathroom. You’d think someone was out of their tiny mind if they came and said to you ‘ I’m terribly sorry but the only toilet’s out in the garden’ Or could you? What would you think? Lost for words! I imagine it seems to you such a time couldn’t exist but it’s not that long ago. I’m sorry did you want to say something?
Could you tell me a little bit about what you had to give up for the war?
Everything, practically. Everything. We’ve already established we’re rationed on food and we’re rationed on clothes. There’s no street lighting for a start – because that might guide enemy bombers. So it was blacked out completely. Which is fine now – not so funny in November. So you had to give that up. Of course you had to give up family life apart from anything else. Most of the men under a certain age – and I can’t remember what it was – most of the men under a certain age were called up and were in the services so you got mothers left here with the children on their own. And the service pay was abysmal, it really was – it was hard going for those women. I was dead lucky in that my father was in what was called a Reserved Occupation – in other words a job that was contributing towards the war effort and was needed. So my father never did go off but if you had a father who had gone off then Mum’s got to bear the whole business bringing up the children on a small amount of money, never knowing from one day to the next whether she and the children would get bombed or whether she’d get a nice little telegram from the government saying ‘Terribly sorry, you’re husband’s dead’. I mean I think that’s enough to give up really, you gave up your freedom. But we were fighting for freedom because we’d seem France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, all go under the Germans and we were about all that was left. Twenty miles of channel between Calais and Dover. Probably we couldn’t have been any worse than we are now, because we seemed to have gone completely and utterly doolally now – but I don’t know. I felt quite proud of being English at that stage – I don’t now.
Can I ask more on a personal level – as a child how did it affect your feelings as a child – the whole experience of the war?
Well I got sent off to some friends in Bedfordshire, and being an only child I suppose I was probably highly strung or whatever. I was there for about – it seemed years but it was probably only about 12 weeks or so – I just could not stand being away from my parents. And I developed St Vitus Dance – great . Still never mind, I lived through it. But you don’t really remember all that much, you remember highlights.
Have you got anything that you do remember – any stories?
Well, I remember first time going down to the seaside just after the war. You know when you go down with your bucket and spade etc. Miles and miles and miles of barbed wire. Why they thought that would keep back a German invasion I do not know. And of course some of the beaches were mined. So we went down there and I can remember my Mum and Dad saying ‘That’s the sea ‘ but we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near. That’s the sea but we can’t get anywhere near it because there’s still mines there and there’s still barbed wire. And one noticed every day of course, when you went to school, with your gas mask of course, and you’d always got your gad mask. I had a Mickey Mouse one, they were nice. And do you know I had that for years and do you know I must have been at least 30 – and the firm I worked for we’d been talking about it and I said ‘ Oh I’ll bring my Mickey Mouse gas mask in’ which I did – and somebody swiped it! I thought that was a bit off – but they were horrible things. Possibly it’s just me but I do not like being enclosed like that – whether its Mickey Mouse with a funny little flap or not. Apart from that of course, I wasn’t really all that old at the time and really don’t remember. Having been born into a war – well I was a year old when the war started – but having been born into a war, you don’t know any different. You just accept the fact – well you don’t even think about it – you know, this is life, here I am, I’m growing up. Mum says I mustn’t go over there cos there’s an unexploded bomb. We mustn’t forget Fanny Faraday – she was a great favourite. Remember these big air balloons they used to have. These big silver things with I think three ears. They had them in various places in London theoretically to stop low flying planes getting through – they never would have done. But we had one in the Nitten [24:40 can’t make name out] Nitten Green Square on my way to school. Because I went to school Merrow Street, just behind Walworth Road – and I lived in Faraday Street which is no longer. We used to have a huge water tank there in case of incendiary bombs so that the fire brigade, or the OVLP [? 25:00] could get to it. Old Fanny Faraday – because I lived in Faraday St – you’ve got to give a name to everything – this great big silver balloon was anchored halfway to my school so we called her Fanny Faraday and we got by – that’s all I can say. I do appreciate that our parents must have gone through hell. I was too young to appreciate the fact that I was going through anything else but normal because I’d never known anything else.
So what about the local community?
The local community, the same as today – I like me usual second choice. There was no community spirit to talk of, there never has been. And if your home got bombed, not literally to the ground, but if it got bombed and was still standing with bits in it – you’d be looted. Let’s have no consideration about the fact that people were sweet and decent to one another. Some were – of course they were – you’ll always get someone being decent. Oh but there was looting and the black market making a penny wherever they could out of people that couldn’t afford it really. When I say rationing – you could get anything you wanted provided you’d got the money. But which of us working class had got the money? I mean I think Dad was on about 6 or 7 quid a week and our rent was 10 shillings.
So was you ever a victim of looting or did you loot yourself?
Well not looting but I did – when the sandbags behind the workhouse blew and came over our Anderson, we had to be dug out by the – there were various people you know – the Auxiliary Corps and Dad’s Army – for want of better words – you know they all came around. And we were dug out from the whole thing. That was about the only time. You know actually I didn’t hurt but on the other hand the lady next door as I say she was hurt and the lady upstairs lost her eye – it was just lucky I didn’t . So you know. Right who’s next?
Could you tell us a little bit about your experience of school during the blitz?
That was a different thing completely really. I ended up going to four different schools because either we got bombed and we had to move house – and we were put in some weird and wonderful places – or the schools got bombed. So during the Blitz I had at least four different schools – and that’s before I was 11. But I must admit – what they had done during the war – they called up all the young men obviously – and they recalled teachers who’d retired even. And I was dead lucky. I had a couple of teachers who’d been retired and come back and they still worked to the rather old- – I was going to say old-fashioned though that’s not quite true – discipline – whereby no mucking about and you learnt. And they were disciplinarians, Not harsh – but they taught you and they expected you to learn. And that’s ordinary school just round the back of Old Kent road, New Kent Road. They taught me enough that I went to grammar school – which I don’t think you’ve got now – but very few of you went to grammar school. But you could do it – mind you as usual most kids mucj around and waste their time and it’s not until you’re about 30 that you realise – I wish I hadn’t – but I can’t imagine that’s ever going to change. I mean do you like school? How good are you? Do you keep up with it? Are you interested?
I like school because of my friends but I don’t really like doing work.
In actual fact then you don’t like school. You’ve got to work – sorry I’m not preaching – you’ll never get anything unless you work at it. I mean you’ll never learn how to cook – you’ll make some horrible mistakes – haven’t I just – you’ll never learn how to cook, you’ll never learn how to knit, sew anything. Mind you I was lucky my mother taught me them all – that’s another thing I’ve got a big bleat about in this life – mothers don’t bother to teach you anymore – that’s even if they know themselves because probably their mothers haven’t taught them. Oh dear – oh sorry mother! And what were you going to say love?
Can you tell us a bit about your hobbies and what games you liked to play when you were a child?
What age were you thinking about? Thinking about the wartime? Well I was only about 7 when it ended so there wasn’t much time but I hated sport. I always hated sport. I liked drama and we had singing classes – I quite liked those – but drama I liked and we had dance as well. But when it came to sports you know anything physical – ooh no way. We had netball and we had hockey Urghh – the further I could get back the better. If you could only get lets say 14 people on to the netball and there were 20of us, I’d be the first to say ‘I’ll sit out – I don’t mind sitting out’ I’m talking about later on actually. I hated tennis – we went and I hated it. I don’t think my tennis racquet ever came out of its press more than twice in the whole time I was at school. I still hate it!
Could you tell us a little bit about evacuation?
That was not a very nice scene. My husband got evacuated with a lot of people – en masse. I was lucky – I went to some people we knew, so that was completely different. But he went to through the government and he went to a place that honestly you’d never believe. They literally kept him and a couple of other kids in a chicken coop. They weren’t allowed into the house. I don’t know what kind of bedding they had. They were barely fed. I think she had three of them and they were literally kept in a chicken coop at the end of the garden. And my father in law – that’s his Dad – went down, saw what it was like and immediately took him away. Yet on the other hand there was a young lad who lived behind me in Walworth, before we got bombed, he was evacuated to Wales to a farm and they loved him to bits. And they left the farm to him eventually. Wow! Quite. It was good and bad – some of them really wanted to look after children because the war was on and they hadn’t got parents who were able to look after them at the time but some of them were just there for – let’s bring in the money, keep them in the chicken coop and we get so much per week per child. Evacuation – going away from everything you know and everybody you know at a very early age is not the best of ideas. I don’t know what would happen nowadays but if I’d got a child – you know if I was younger and I’d got a child – I think I’d cling on to it whatever – and not let it go.
Would you have preferred to be evacuated or stay in London?
Well I was evacuated to friends but it didn’t agree with me. I’d never been away from my parents – didn’t like the idea and no – it brought on an illness – a kind of mental illness – for a time. And I just had to come back. My mother said at the time – OK, she can but get bombed, She can get bombed here or she can end up as a mental idiot kind of thing down in Bedfordshire. So I think I’ve ended up as both. I got bombed and I’m a mental idiot! (laughs) Well it makes a change doesn’t it. How are we doing?
We’re still recording – I’m Marigold Hughes the project co-ordinator. I wanted to ask you Sheila, in the long term, how do you feel your life would have been if war hadn’t happened?
I suppose had the war not happened we would have stayed where we were before we were bombed, we would have probably continued there with the local school. It would have been up to me to see whether I could have shone or not – and big head here did at some stage manage to do a bit better than the others but whether that would have happened I don’t know. It didn’t alter the course of my parents life really because mother had a young child so was exempt from going to work and my father had been kept out from the forces – so we were a pretty family kept together. But the whole of the war changed everybody. When you think about it our mode of life, even during the 20s and 30s, it’s ancient compared to what goes on now. Manners, things like that. I mean I know this shouldn’t come into this particular conversation but you were proud to be a virgin – no man wanted to know you to get married unless you were really – now look at it. Now it’s probably me being old and crabbity but I just do not believe in the loose morals today and I do think the war, because it let women off the leash – which is a horrible work really – but it did. The men were away, women were necessarily put into work and suddenly found they’d got freedom and life has never been the same since. I mean when did you last see a man stand up when you walked into a room?
Um, I don’t know, I’m not really conscious of it
No, I bet they don’t. But it was an accepted norm – and even youngsters used to be polite to one another – they’re not now. Oh I could rabbit on for years about that. It used to be nicer in my time! I don’t necessarily meant that but I do think standards have fallen. Right come on then.
Could you tell us a bit about your family please
My family. Well I haven’t got all that much family actually. I lived with my Mum and Dad until I got married and I disgusted my headmistress by getting married at 18. I was still at school and she called me out amongst the whole assembly to say I could just have ruined my life. I had my Mum and Dad. Mum was the eldest of 9 children and so of course she had gone through the First World War as well. So therefor grandfather’s in the war, mother’s been called up, my mother was heartily fed up of looking after 8 siblings so she had me and thought – Thank you very much that’s enough. I gather from her that it was a toss up between me and a grand piano. In retrospect she’d have done better with the piano but never mind! My father – I didn’t really see that much because he was working 6 in the morning till 6 in the evening 5 days a week and 6 till 1 on Saturdays. I mean that was more or less normal – so you only got Saturday afternoon and Sundays. So I very rarely saw him. And there were quite strict regimes then. When I was young I had to be in bed by 5.30 at the latest and even when I was 10 and 11, 9 o clock. Even when I met my husband – through the church where we both went – he was 10 years older than me so he was a grown up man thank you – but I had to be, even when we were engaged, I had to be at home by 10 o clock. No mucking about. It seems incredible now but you did and you wouldn’t dare do anything else but. Of course not having any brothers and sisters. And of course we didn’t have any children so we haven’t got any grandchildren either. And funnily enough I’m an only child, my husband was an only child, so therefore I have no family at all. There’s only me left. Since my husband died a couple of years ago, there is only me. But we were dead lucky because we really got on well and it wold have been our 50th anniversary 2 weeks after he died – so that was the ruination of a good party wasn’t it – you know. He could have organised it better so there you go. So really family wise it’s a dead loss, there’s only me. It’s not very nice on Christmas, for example. Everyone else has gone off with their families – my friends have gone down to their families and things. You can bet your bottom dollar that Christmas is the four days that I won’t see or speak to anybody.
So would you have preferred to have any brothers or sisters?
No I don’t think I would. I don’t know because I’ve never had any but being the only one, and being the only one and being the only one from two people who were the only one – I think you get very selfish. I’m probably very selfish – I try not to be – but I don’t think – well I don’t know what it would have been like that’s the thing – probably I would find that it was great. On the other hand I don’t know. I don’t think I would like to but on the other hand if I suddenly found I had brothers and sisters I’d probably think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread – I don’t know!
So what was Christmas like during the war?
Well there wasn’t one really. You did your best but you’ve got to allow for the fact that you might have to dive into the Anderson at any moment kind of thing and all the food was on ration so you couldn’t really make a Christmas cake. If you wanted to make a Christmas cake you’d got to save up your sugar ration for practically the whole year which means you don’t get sugar for 11 months and in December you can make a cake which isn’t the brightest thing. But people did enjoy themselves. They got together and danced and laughed and sung as much as they could and they always made their own paper chains – which I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of. Strips of paper glued together – they made chains and we made paper chains. It’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got to – improvise. Then of course half of the people weren’t there – most of the men were in the services.
So when you said there was none of your family left, how does that make you feel?
Well. I’ve never had much family to lose really. I hated losing my mother and father but I had my husband there who was always an absolute rock and he was 10 years older than me – so almost looked after me. Now I feel lonely and isolated. I’ve got no family – I’ve got some friends – obviously you’ve got friends and you speak to those – but they’re all my age and older – most of them are older – and unfortunately they do keep popping off. I mean practically every other month somebody has died because of their age – which is to be expected. It makes you feel lonely most of the time I suppose – or what’s it all about.
Sheila – to go back to where you lived. Is it right that it was just off the Walworth Road?
It was Faraday Street – its no longer there.
So was it completely bombed out- the whole street?
Yes – and in front of it as I remember, they had a big water tank, a huge thing as an extra for the fire brigade. You had Westmoreland Road with the workhouse, then you had Faraday Street which was me with this water tank effort. If you went from Walworth Road up Westmoreland Road it was just off there but it’s all disappeared now I imagine, I’m sure it has.
So when the whole street was bombed out, did you say you were relocated
Out of the area completely?
Well I don’t know if you would call it out of the area. We tried to get a place in Camberwell, opposite Camberwell Town Hall practically, which some friends had vacated because they were going to the country, but it was privately owned and we were turfed out after 3 days = the landlord didn’t want us. Then the council got us 2 rooms just off Kennington Park, sharing a bathroom and a toilet outside and then 1947 I think it was, Southwark Council rehoused us into a flat in Falmouth Road which is between the Borough and Bricklayers Arms – and Mum and Dad lived there the rest of their lives. That’s where I got married from.
And when you went back to that area – when you’d go back after the war had gone – in what ways had the community changed as a result of the Blitz happening?
Oh completely and utterly because everybody, us included, we’d all been moved from pillar to post. We had never lived in Falmouth Road, nor had a lot of other people. Any community spirit there might have been –zilch.
Just because of the transitions and the changes that people had to be put through?
Yes, we had come from Walworth, other people had come from other places, nothing in common – and that was it. Oh dear!
And I suppose now that’s quite common to change your street or to change your area and it isn’t quite so big a deal but at that time things were different.
I mean before the war as such, when we were in Faraday Street – people had been there generation on generation kind of thing. Even in this place, which is nothing to do it, this had always been a place that once children grew up, they got a flat and then their children go a flat – well no more.
As a child -how conscious were you of that being a big disruption to your life?
I didn’t because it was just normal. I doubt very much at that young age that I could’ve even told you what a war meant. All I knew was that you dived – when those bloody awful sirens went you dived. That you knew – you dived for cover even if it meant flat on the pavement as I’ve said.
Can I ask about the teddy bear please?
That is my Ted. I’m a Winnie-the-Pooh fanatic. There’s Winnie-the-Pooh books, things, you name it and he’s always called me Pooh and he bought me Ted as one of my wedding presents. And seeing as on Thursday he would have been 81 – Ted’s got to be 54. That’s ted and I’ve got Paws in the other room, mainly because he lies flat on his back and he’s made by a company called Pawson – so I said well fair enough – Paws. So I go to bed with Paws every night – probably sounds stupid but I do. Paws goes to bed with me every night.
Thank you so much Sheila for your time.
Millstream House, Jamaica Road – 12th July 2010
Kezia Herzog and Asya Karababa are interviewing Brenda Watkinson
Kezia Herzog: We are at Millstream House, Jamaica Road. The date is the 12th of July 2010. The interview is for the Grandchildren Of The Blitz Project. The name of the interviewers are Kezia Herzog and Asya Karababa assisted by Robert Herzog. We are interviewing…
Brenda Watkinson: Brenda Watkinson.
Kezia: And can you spell that for me please Brenda?
Brenda: Yes, B-r-e-n-d-a W-a-t-k-i-n-s-o-n
Kezia: Thank you, and the place and year of your birth?
Brenda: 26th of July 1937 at 11 Raymouth Road spelt R-a-y-m-o-u-t-h. Raymouth Road, Bermondsey.
Kezia: Thank you, and can I ask you how old you were during the Blitz?
Brenda: Well I was born in ‘37 so I was 2 when the war started. The actual Blitz strictly speaking is 1940 so I would be 3 then. Um, but I lived in that house through ‘til almost the end of the war, 1944. So I was between the ages of 2 and 6 during that period of the whole period of bombing.
Asya: Could you tell us a bit about what you liked doing when you were a child ?
Brenda: Um, there were very few of us children left by the time I was allowed to go out and play, because everybody had been evacuated. There was just about half a dozen of us. And we played, funnily enough, we played on the Anderson shelters. The Anderson shelter was, is the shelter that saved our life, and they were in the back garden. Each house in the terrace had an Anderson shelter. And being a bit of a tomboy we quite liked climbing up on top of the shelters and showering each other with pebbles or whatever. Another thing, again tomboy, is the next street, Aspinden Road, which is still there, as you walk away from Raymouth Road, and you are walking down Aspinden Road, to the right was completely bombed flat. And Gosnell’s, spelt G-o-s-n-e-double l apostrophe s , Gosnell’s Lorries used to park there, the trailers, and we used to love climbing, always climbing, climbing on the lorries and getting smothered in oil and tar I’m afraid, and generally exploring the bomb site, which was very dangerous actually, I mean there were great craters in parts of the bomb site. I can remember children trying to get down and it was extremely dangerous. The other thing that we liked to do, um, I had an old bike given to me, by my granddad, I don’t know where on earth he got it from, it was a little tricycle, it had no tyres, no handlebars, and the noise as it went up and down the pavement between my home and the pub on the corner, which is still there, it’s now been converted into flats, was called The Raymouth Tavern. I used to ride up and down there a lot much to the annoyance of the neighbours. Um, with the other children, um we played skipping, but it was a reasonably main road so we tended just to be in each other’s gardens. We played skipping, I can remember, you know, children holding the rope at either end, and, you know, and then you jump into the rope. Um, I didn’t much care for dolls and prams, I’m sorry I always wanted a car. I was not a doll person. I was given a doll but I really wasn’t interested (laughs). Um, so I was very interested, reading was the main thing. My dad read to me every night, and I read this wonderful book called The Children’s Wonder Book which I knew from end to end practically. And I was very interested in things like fairies; and you’ll laugh at this, but I was convinced in the book I had read that fairies came at night and did things in your home, and if you left some water out for them, they would leave you silver pennies and only being about 4, 5, 6 years old at the time I read this I believed it all, believed it all. And because I always wanted a car, in my little head I thought maybe the fairies would like a car as well to save their wings. So I made them a car, of paper. I sewed it all together, I can see it now, this little car with wheels sewn on (laughs) and I left it out on the back bedroom mantelpiece for them to drink, I left a glass of water beside for them to drink. Well obviously my parents must have removed the car because I never saw it again. But in my imagination I’d believed that they’d been and they’d driven off in the car! (laughs). So, you see there was no television and we used our imagination a lot, a lot more I think then they probably do now. The other activity that was very popular with me, um was not the children, but it was actually in the shelters; we sheltered mostly in the railway arches, which are still there, on the other side of the road. The one we used to use was the metal working factory, sheet metal, cutting metal for industry and we went there at night for company and this was heaven to me because I always wanted to entertain; singing and dancing and being on the stage was my aim in life. So I pretended that I was in the theatre. I had no costume of course but it was all in the mind. I used to go a lot behind all the machinery, pretend that I was in my dressing room, and then I would come out and sing and dance to the people who were sheltering and it cheered them up; and it took their minds off the raid. They would join in; so you see you couldn’t shut me up (laughs). That was my sort of entertainment for myself…..um, other games we played; I had a whip and top, I don’t know if they make those now. You wind it round, then you pull it and the top spins. We played, of course no one told you off if you put chalk on the pavement, we played hop-scotch on the pavement; I think, I don’t know if people do that now. Trying to think what else we would have played; card games of course and board games, ludo, snakes and ladders, that sort of thing. There was a lot of reading that went on, I think that was our main thing having no, and of course there were parties with our piano, my mother played the piano, we were a very musical family, so yeah I think, they’re the first things that come to mind, is riding up and down on my noisy bike much to the annoyance of the neighbours; fighting on top of the Anderson shelter (laughs), playing skipping out the back and sometimes having a stirrup pump, we had a stirrup pump given to us by the government, in case we caught fire with the bombs, and we used to water the garden with it, and sometimes my brother, who was ten years older than I was, we would sort of turn the hose on each other, like you do. It’s fun (laughs). Is that enough?
Asya: Many things that you said like skipping, singing, and dancing and riding your bike you would think were fairly modern things now but it goes to show that they did use to do stuff like this in the war…
Brenda: Yes, that’s how Petula Clarke started. She was a big star in the sixties and seventies and she started off in the air raid shelters. I think quite a lot of people did, they had to do something to cheer themselves up. Yes, and um, as you say, skipping, is that still popular? Is it? Oh I’m glad to hear that. Healthy (laughs).
Kezia: And could tell us a bit about your family?
Brenda: Yes, I lived, the house that I was born in was shared by myself and my brother, ten years older than I was; mum and dad and my brother and I were on the downstairs part of this terraced house, and upstairs was my mother’s father and mother. Um, it was quite usual in those days to all live together as a family unit, you know, the older generation. Before they moved in, we had lodgers from time to time upstairs, but that was our family. Unfortunately there was such a huge gap between my brother and myself, it was almost like being an only child really. When you’ve got a brother who’s ten years older than you, they really don’t want to know. It’s a wonder I’m still here. I mean the neighbour, poor soul, when he was ten years old, and a baby sister was presented to him, he was not impressed, as you can imagine; and he was given the job of taking me out for walks in the pram. Which didn’t appeal to him at all. And one of my neighbours knocked at my mother’s home and said, ‘If you’re not careful, that child won’t live to see one year old!’ because she had seen him round the park with his head between the pram handles, charging along like a chariot with me bobbing up and down in the middle! (laughs)……so, I mean, that was his revenge on me (laughs). And then when he got to not so long before we were bombed out, I was… so he would be 16/17 then, and we were, again he was just old enough and I was old enough then, six, to take me round the park, and he would take me round the park, and he, at that point I had a better, a better bike given to me, which was really not supposed to be used, and again he said, ‘Now you sit in the front, get your hat.’ He’d sit on the back and go like crazy and I sort of sitting between the handlebars and his lap and absolutely terrified. ‘Don’t tell mum. Don’t tell mum,’ was all I could hear in my ear….And you know (laughs)…there’s not much companionship when you’ve got a big gap like that. The problem, the reason there’s a big gap is, my sister, who would have been the half-way mark, died at three months old in St. Olave’s Hospital, which has not so very long been demolished and made into flats and just down by Rotherhithe Tunnel. And then there was another child, but she was aborted because my mother was dying, it’s what they call an ectopic pregnancy. I don’t know how you spell it, but you can probably find it. And, um, so that baby had to be removed, and I shouldn’t have been here at all. My mother was told, well one thing you wont have any other children; and suddenly ‘Hello’. It’s me. And I was not welcome I can tell you because, parents had had such dreadful economic circumstances. They were married in the year of the Depression and the General Strike, 1926. Photograph is up on the wall. And they had the most dreadful time economically. My father was in poor health immediately afterwards, and mum was the bread winner and producing my brother within a year. So, to be the bread winner and to be pregnant at the same time as your husband’s out of work and in hospital, it was very difficult. So I was not welcome. In fact, she actually asked for me to be aborted; the doctor refused. But I must have been determined to get here I suppose. So that’s why there’s this big gap between my brother and myself. I only caught up with him at certain times of our life, like, I was to say when I was six before we were bombed out, in that year, we had some little outings together. And then at the end of the war he was in the Army, when we had gone back into this awful condemned house in Delaford Road, when he came home on leave, he would take me roller-skating, which was a great thing to do. And that was at Forest Gate. That’s in, what we now call the East End of London. So they were nice. And then I caught up with him again, he was sort of like a stranger, and I caught up with him for short periods of time. When I was 18 and he was 28, he was living here, he wasn’t yet courting, and we used to go dancing together; so that was nice as well. But it was only these short-lived periods that I had a brother, if you see what I mean, because of the circumstances, of the age and the war. It kept separating us. So when we were bombed out, you see, we were separated completely. My mother and I were on our own, my brother and father were left in London. My brother was living in the premises that were given to him by his employers, that was in Beckenham, and my father was up at Fire Brigade Headquarters. So there were these long years of separation, so really I never felt as though I had a brother really; you know, quite sad really. But that was all the family I had, apart from nan and granddad upstairs.
Robert Herzog: Brenda; Brenda, you said you were bombed out, was this in Raymouth Road?
Brenda: From Raymouth Road, that’s correct. Yes.
Robert: Can you tell us what happened? Was the house actually destroyed? And did you have to move somewhere else?
Brenda: No, it wasn’t. I think it was still there until, certainly it was there in the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I remember photographing The Raymouth Tavern. I’m walking down the street, and the house was still there. I’d wish I had photographed it. I have a photograph here from 1935, which I will show you, of King George 5th’s Silver Jubilee before I was born. There’s the family outside the house. What happened was, I don’t know ‘til this day where the bomb fell. It’s a mystery to me. Because what happened, we were in the Anderson shelter all night and pretty horrendous circumstances to get into the, I’ll tell you that in a minute, and but what happened was we were discovered there the next day at 8 o’clock in the morning, and the fire-watchers, the boys who come round and check whether any fire bombs have been dropped, incendiary bombs, they put the fires out; incendiary bombs, don’t know if you know about those? Yeah. And they came into the Anderson shelter, and said, ‘You know the all clear’s gone‘, and you know, ‘Did you know?’ Oh we didn’t know. All huddled together. And Mum said, ‘I could have sworn I’d bolted the front door last night.’ But of course there’s no front door there. Because the house was blasted inside outside. I don’t know if you….blast damage sort of goes in and out, doesn’t it Robert? They were telling us the other night at the launch party. And so all the inside was destroyed, you know, I mean the ceilings were down and everything was strewn about, and plaster everywhere. But the house stood, minus it’s front door. And people say, oh you could leave your front doors open in those days. Not true. That house was looted even before we got out of the shelter. My brother’s camera, which he’d carefully saved up for, had gone. You know, teenager, you know starting work, well he’d been working since he was 14, he’d been saving and saving for this lovely camera. It was in the front parlour, which was on the street level; it had gone and a few other things had gone as well. It’s amazing to me that people can do that when the house has just been bombed. But to say, we got out with our lives, and for that we have to be thankful. We were all alive. The story of the night and how we survived is in a thing that Marigold’s got a print up of it and I’ve got one here as well, and I’ve put it on the BBC website. It’s called Our Life-Saving Cat.The cat that saved our lives. But I wont go on with that unless you want to get on with some other questions. But that’s how we were all saved, us and the people next door by my mother.
Asya: After you were bombed out, did you move straight into this house?
Brenda: No, no, no. We were out. We had no home. The government had what they called Rest Centres. Ours was Credon Road School, which is actually in Credon Road. I don’t think it’s there nowadays, don’t think so. It was the school hall. We were just taken there with what we stood up in, my mother and I. And we slept on the floor, just on bare boards, for about a week or so. And then the government found us a home, in a home. It was run by the American Air Force, it was funded by them I should say, it was funded by the American Air Force, and it was in Woking in Surrey. It was absolutely appalling because I was taken there at night and my mother was removed from me. I had no idea where I was going, it was absolutely terrifying, I was still only six, and I was taken into this, well I thought it was a dormitory, looking back I suppose it was just a very large room. It was, no lights on, because the other children there were asleep. My clothes were taken off me, much to my aggravation, and crying and screaming, ‘Don’t take my clothes off me!’ ’Where’s my Mum?’ this sort of thing; and when I woke up the next morning I discovered that I was in a room full of other little children. And they were told, ‘Oh we’ve got a big girl with us now, she can look after you.’ I was six. These little children were aged between about 2 and 4. And why I discovered we were in a house, and each mother or aunt or grandmother, whoever it was that the children had come with, had to be a female relative, they were all deposited in another house on the other side of a park. And we were told you can see auntie, mother, whoever it was, for two hours next Wednesday. On a Wednesday afternoon you can visit with your relative. And you try telling that to very young children. It’s a million years away. It was one of my worst parts of my life, and it’s also in my story. I put it on the web. It was so awful, and the elders, I discovered afterwards, were half-starved. The money was being privately funded for the Americans to give lots of food, and they weren’t getting it. It was being diverted, maybe the black market, you’ve possibly heard of the black market, I don’t know. People sold stuff privately that they shouldn’t have been selling. And it was just an awful time so my mother quickly got us out of there, but the time she was there she spent her time trying to find somewhere else, a lodging house. And she found us a lodging house, and that was equally terrible. We were only there a matter of weeks, pretty awful family, and that was also somewhere in the environs of Woking. And by this time my grandparents, who had been upstairs and bombed out with us, because of their age, they weren’t expected to be sent round to these other lodgings. They were found a flat, a council flat, in Bermondsey in a street called Decima Street, which is just off Tower Bridge Road. So they were deposited there, and what we did, we came back and we lived with Grandma for a while; so that’s three different places already. But at the end of that period, we couldn’t stay there long, there wasn’t any room for us, we were like refugees really, we were refugees. My father wrote to his uncle in Diss in Norfolk. And that’s in Norfolk, just south of Norwich. And he had his own house, beautiful house, in its own grounds, he owned the land as well as the house. And we lived there from a year from the end of ‘44 after all this to-ing and fro-ing between. We were bombed out in June ‘44 so we had a number, a few months of, you know, zeb, dib, dib, dib, dobs and then we went to Diss, and we lived with my uncle ‘til not very long before the war finished. We were there a year, I’m a bit hazy on the timings now. We must have gone there at the latest, yes we did go there in the late summer. I remember now, because it was boiling hot in the train, it was full of soldiers, you couldn’t move for soldiers being moved. And yeah, that’s right, so we were there for ten months I think exactly. Back we came again, we’d had enough of being separated, and by this time my mother had managed to lodge us with my aunt who lived in Bellingham, that’s down near Bromley. She was living down there, so we lodged in with her. And after that we moved, not long before the war ended, my father found us this condemned house in Delaford Road. Delaford Road has been completely re-jigged now, you can’t recognise it. It’s just off Ilderton Road, do you know Ilderton Road? Delaford Road, it’s the first right as you go down towards Old Kent Road. And we lived in this awful house, well I say awful because it was very wet, everything was rusty, it was so wet; that’s why it was condemned, it should not have been inhabited, but my father had managed to find it, first with the help of the council I suppose and put out what furniture we’d got left, he’d put it into this house, and then we were reunited with our furniture if you follow me. But at least mum was reunited with her husband and that’s very important. Then we stayed there and that’s where we had the V.E. party, which I’ve got photos of as well in the street, it was a street party. And in ‘48 we were there three years. The government requisitioned, that means they forced, the owners of flats in this block to give them up to people who had been made homeless. So basically, we were homeless from June ‘44 ‘til May ‘48, exactly four years. And that’s when we moved in here; been here ever since. So quite a colourful period of bump, bump, bump you know; like if it’s Wednesday, it must be, you know (laughs), those sort of periods. Quite disconcerting for a child. But you know, we lived through it, there we are, we lived through it, we’re still here. Does that answer your question? There’s a lot of it, isn’t there?
Robert: I was just wondering Brenda, obviously your house got bombed out as you’ve explained. Did your family ever consider evacuating you out to the countryside?
Brenda: Absolutely not.
Robert: Why was that?
Brenda: My mother had a mantra. All through the Blitz, she was always saying and referring to it in years afterwards, oh no, if we go, we all go together. If anybody was killed, we’ve got to all be killed together, so that nobody was left behind. When you come to think of it, that’s a pretty tall order isn’t? I didn‘t think about that until I was about in my forties and she repeated it. And I was in my forties living here with her, and I said, ‘Do you know Mum, that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? So in other words, if you got killed, I’ve got to be killed as well!’(laughs) You know, but that was her idea. And also I think she’d heard some pretty horrendous stories of evacuees. Some came back because they weren’t treated very well; some were treated brilliantly and they had a lovely time. Others were not treated brilliantly and I think that was her fear. So, no, she never, she never considered it. There were not very many children left really in Bermondsey. But I did go to school at six years old. I had almost a year at Galleywall Road School.
Asya: Ok, thank you Brenda. We’re going to move on from that subject now and we’re going to go onto artefacts and possessions. Could you tell me a bit about any of the artefacts you still have from the Second World War and about any possessions you might have had during the Blitz?
Brenda: Yes, I have one here. It will crackle. I have with me to show you, maybe you could even use it in the show, the dressing gown, the hooded dressing gown that my mother used to put on me. If we didn’t have time to get to the shelter across the way in the arches, and sometimes there wasn’t a warning, there wasn’t a warning the night we were bombed out, that’s why it was all chaotic, my mother would put this on quickly over my night dress, and it’s a hooded dressing gown with thick plush material. And that for some reason she kept and I’ve got that here with me. I know there’s a ration book somewhere; we used to have a police whistle but I think that we were ordered to hand it in some years ago, you’re not allowed to keep police whistles. My father was a fire watcher in his time off from the Fire Service. They had 48 hours on and 48 hours off. I know he had a police whistle. A lot of my home is so old, that there are things like, not related to the Blitz, but just old equipment. I mean some of the stuff that’s in the kitchen, it’s from that period. The forties. Very low tech. Amazing to look at, I’ll show you afterwards. But that’s not sort of related, it’s just of the period. If you were to walk round my home you’d find something in every room, there’s all sorts of things. But that’s the main thing that I’ve got, and of course I’ve got photographs as well, which I’ll show you as well. Excuse my eye, it keeps leaking, driving me up the pole. I think that’s about all I can tell you as to what remains from the Blitz because everything was left in the house, and all we got out was the furniture, which, there’s the piano, that’s from pre-war. And my mother’s bedroom suite. I think that’s about all, all we had.
Kezia: Ok, thank you for that Brenda. Could you tell us a bit about your experience of school during the Blitz?
Brenda: Well I didn’t go to school until I was six, that was the starting age then. So by the time I got to school, we weren’t there very long before we lost our home and we were off on our travels. I went to school there, Galleywall Road, you know Galleywall Road? It’s called that because that is where the Romans used to moor their galleys, their boats, when we were occupied by the Romans. So it’s the wall where the galleys were. I went to school there for a little while, and then went to school in Diss. And then, by the time I’d got back, we went back to Galleywall again, once we’d got back into….I didn’t go to school at any of these other places until I got back here and went to Galleywall until we came here in ‘48. And then I went to the Allwyn Grammar School after that. So I didn’t really have a lot of schooling, but I was well ahead of the others when I did join the class because I was taught at home. My parents were just so good at reading and English and, I could read, I mean my party trick was to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica at six years old, which is full of very long words (laughs). That was my party trick (laughs). That’s about all I could tell you about the schooling.
Robert: Can I just ask a question about this schooling aspect? What happened to children who might have been a bit older in the war, did they, were schools sort of used in the war, were schools….?
Brenda: Yes, well as I said, the Galleywall was open but I wasn’t able to go there until I was six. I mean obviously there was a class for the children already there. Yes, oh yes, I mean they just had their schooling, it was just that the starting age was much later then it is now. I mean now you have pre-school as well, don’t you? Oh no, they had a normal schooling, if the school wasn’t bombed. And presumably, some of the people that I had met, children I suppose that I had met when I was six , I probably caught up with again when I got back into, ‘45 I’d be eight then. I probably, you know, some of the children were still there in the higher classes. I’m sure we were there until I was eleven, when we had the, they used to call it the Eleven Plus. Oh yes, the children went to school. But we just started later.
Asya: Ok, thank you Brenda. Could you tell me a bit about your experience of evacuation?
Brenda: No I wasn’t evacuated. No. No.
Kezia: Could you tell us a bit about your memories of rationing during the Second World War?
Brenda: People say about rationing, I was never hungry I can tell you that. But looking back, I guess my parents probably were, ‘cos you had very small amounts of meat and cheese and that sort of thing. I can remember eating plenty of meat, I can remember roast lamb being one of my favourites. And certainly I was never hungry, but sweets were rationed, and yet strangely enough I can remember two of my favourites snacks when children get hungry round about the middle of the afternoon, and it’s not yet time for the next meal, I can remember sitting on the back door steps and been given (laughs),one of my favourite snacks was just bread and sugar. Sugar sandwich, can you imagine that now? Bread and sugar, delicious, or bread and condensed milk, or bread and syrup. Those were favourite snacks. Fill-ups. The small stomach, you know. And I don’t remember any sweets until I was at Woking. And on one of these afternoons, these Wednesday afternoons, when I was able to meet my mother, I had my seventh birthday on that Wednesday afternoon, and that was the first sweet I can remember, and looking back, I know what it was, it was Maltesers, and I thought I had never tasted anything so delicious in all my life. These little chocolate balls, with, what is it inside? Honeycomb. The honeycomb, and I didn’t know what they were. I can remember to this day my mother unwrapping this, well it was part of my birthday present, these sweets. After that, when we got back, there was a limited amount of sweets allowed on your coupons, and so when we were living back in Delaford Road, which was from ‘45, early ‘45, rationing didn’t stop until some years after the war; we were still on rations and I can remember such things as Sherbet Lemons, one of my favourites (laughs). Cigarettes, liquorice cigarettes, pretend cigarettes. Crazy (laughs). There was a shop on the corner in Ilderton Road that sold the most delicious ice-lollies, and I know why they were delicious; she made them in eggcups, put a stick in them, and put them in the fridge and the eggcup was just filled with undiluted squash, which made the most delicious orange lollipops. Absolutely beautiful. I’m trying to think what else, other sweets that I had. Palm Toffee, my father was always buying this Palm Toffee, Palm was the brand. But Sherbet Lemons; and my mother, because ice-cream wasn’t really available, or difficult to get hold of, my mother made ice-cream, can you believe? She had, she found a recipe and whereby, it was a very cold old damp house as I said, and she found this recipe, she could make something that was like pretend ice-cream; it was in a block, it must have been made out of custard powder, and I don’t know, other kinds of dried milk or something. And it was in a block, and then she’d put it up in this cupboard until it got really cold, and then you could cut it. And she used to actually buy the wafers, ice-cream, do you have ice-cream wafers now, do you? Oh you do. It’s about so big, you have ice-cream in the middle. And all the kids from the street used to come in to have some of Mrs. Watkinson’s ice-cream. But it was delicious. What she made it out of, I do not know. But it was lovely, and a lovely vanilla flavour. And of course it wasn’t frozen, it was just very cold. You see, there were lots of wartime recipes to make up for the fact that you hadn’t got the real thing. So that was one of the pretend, the pretend ice-creams (laughs). But I do remember as I say….The other rationing, I wasn’t really aware of because I think lots of parents probably just cut themselves short and gave enough to the children. That’s what I think. I don’t know. But certainly there was enough for me ‘cos I can clearly remember the Sunday joint being cut and me asking for the fat. Because, would you believe, I loved fat. And I used to call my brother Albie, his name was Albert. He hated fat, we were like Jack Spratt and his wife, I don’t know if you know that nursery rhyme, ‘Jack Spratt would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean, so between the both, you see, they licked the platter clean.’ And that was exactly like us, and I used to say to my mother, ‘Oh let me have Albert’s fat, it’s leaner than mine.’ (laughs). I used to eat all his fat and crackling, and he’d (laughs)…..So, yeah, I know we had normal pud, and of course the desserts were made at home. In fact, now this, you’re talking about artefacts from the war, I used an old recipe book from the 1920’s, which my mother used to use, I used it this week. Yeah, yeah I’ll show you in a minute, it’s a tiny little book from Atora Suet, which is obviously still sold. I bought the light Atora. And I made, I’d brought them back from Norfolk, fresh gooseberries and redcurrants, because you can’t buy those in the supermarkets up here, and I made myself a gooseberry and redcurrant suet pudding from a pre-war book, which was used a lot during the war, lovely little book, yes. Yes, as I say, I can’t think of a particular artefact, it’s just that the whole home is full of old bits and pieces. Some of which, as I say, is still in use. And none the worse for that I can tell you. It was delicious (laughs).
Robert: Going back to rationing again Brenda, were you aware of, I mean obviously you were too young to appreciate the drinking culture, but were you aware that people would still go to the public houses, were they still around? Was alcohol rationed or anything?
Brenda: You see my parents both suffered at the hands of their parents, who drank too much in the twenties. And they, mum and dad, found each other because they both wanted, that was their ambition, to find a partner who didn’t drink. They weren’t teetotallers, they weren’t prudes, we had parties and then there would be drinks in the home. But only very limited amounts because the party was mainly singing, dancing and eating. There was always a good table of food spread out. So there’d be a, the men would have a glass of beer, my uncle and aunt would come down, nan and granddad, and they would have a glass of beer. But people in my family circle didn’t go out to drink, dad never went to the pub at all. But, after the war, when we would have a Sunday afternoon walk, I can remember very clearly that if we passed a pub, and by the time of the end of the afternoon, if the pub had opened, dad would often say, ‘Oh just wait outside I’m going to go in for a glass of ale.’ Sometimes there’d be a pub with a garden out the back, but it would just be a glass of ale. And at Christmas there would be a bottle of port opened. Locally there would be pubs, but you see, so many men were in the army or fighting the fires in London, they didn’t really have, I don’t think they had much time to go to the pub; and I certainly never saw anybody drunk until like recent times. Funnily enough one of the pubs, I can remember us walking through the park and my pop going in there for a little while, while I stood outside, was next door, and looking up at this very flat, which was bombed; this flat didn’t exist. And when you go out, if you look at the plaque that’s in the bottom of the building, and then you’ll look up, you’ll see there’s a gargoyle from the Houses of Parliament at the top of the building, and it tells you that this side was bombed during the war, and it was rebuilt just before we moved in here, so our flat is a rebuilt part of the building. And the strange thing was, we used to, my mother used to look up at this flat, ‘I’d like to live there.’ Isn’t it funny. But no, that’s the way we drank in as much as drink was at home, but only for parties. And certainly I never, I didn’t know anyone who went to the pub. I think people were just too busy just trying to stay alive really (laughs). I’m sure they did drink, yes, pubs were obviously open, but the men were busy, and do you know, a lot of the children were away. You had to fend for yourself, didn’t you?
Kezia: Rationing, so obviously like clothes were rationed as well…
Brenda: Yes, that didn’t bother me at all. ‘Cos my mother was a dress maker in her part time. And they were poor my parents, they were poor, but they didn’t have to go out and buy cloth. My mother was a great community person; what she did, she would do work for other people in the borough, and then they would pay her in cast-off clothing, like you have charity shops now, they didn’t exist. But they would give her the clothing of their older children for me. But I never had cast-offs as we called them, what I had, my mother would take the clothes to pieces, she would cut her own patterns, she was wonderfully gifted. She would dye the material to an appropriate colour for a younger child. She would cut a completely different pattern out of it and make it for me. I never had anything from a shop until I was fourteen. And that was everything, all the inner clothes, all the under clothes, the frocks, the hats, the coats, even the socks were knitted. So, and my mother would make things for even my older brother, she made jackets, she made shirts. And when a tailor once saw her work, he said to her, ’Who taught you to turn a collar?’ Turning a collar is a skilled thing. She said ‘No one.’ She taught herself. Her work was wonderful. And she was paid, she got her materials from people in the community who couldn’t afford to pay her, it was just a very poor community, where we lived, now, Bermondsey; and so there was a lot of help one to another, you see, and I was fourteen before I had a pair of ordinary bought socks; I thought it was wonderful to have thin socks. I’d had these knitted socks all my life. So we weren’t really bothered by, of course she made her own clothes as well. I think she bought some, well she did buy some of her clothes, yes. My father wasn’t bothered by the rationing because he was kitted out by the Fire Service, and my brother started work at fourteen, so he had some wages to buy his clothes with. Apparently his first day’s work, he went to work at fourteen wearing a trilby hat. Can you imagine? A trilby hat at fourteen. He must have looked so sweet(laughs). But she made his clothes as well, shirts, all sorts of things. So, we were very, very fortunate to have a gifted mother. It was wonderful really.
Kezia: What did you do for shoes?
Brenda: Oh shoes were bought of course, yes, obviously shoes had to be bought, yes.
Asya: Ok thank you Brenda. Now we’re going to move onto a different subject. Earlier you mentioned about bombing, so could you tell us a bit about your memories of the bombing?
Brenda: My main memory of the bombing was either of being screaming terrified, because I was old enough, well just intelligent enough I suppose, to realise that we were about to be killed from the skies. I knew what the bombs were, maybe a little child wouldn’t have done, I don’t know, but the time the Blitz started, that was 1940, I was three, but I was very well aware, excuse me, this eye’s driving me mad, perhaps you could turn the fan off, could you please? By the ‘40’s I was old enough to realise that we were in danger, and my memories were of being terrified all the time. The only place I wasn’t terrified was when we went across into the railway arches. And there, all the business of singing and dancing took over my head, and I forgot all about the war (laughs). And one night, everybody was joining in, it was such a good time ‘cos I got everybody singing, by this time I was about four, and the Air Raid Warden came in and said, ‘Why are you all still here? Do you know what time it is?’ No, nobody had realised what time it was. ‘The all-clear went ages ago. What are you all still doing here?’ And they had been singing and enjoying themselves so much, they didn’t go to sleep, they didn’t realise the all-clear had gone (laughs). So it’s a complete contrast, my reaction to the bombing; either I was busy entertaining, da-dah, da-dah, you know, this is me, hello! or if not, on the night that we were actually bombed out, and I can see it now as if it was yesterday, was standing screaming in the garden because my mother again put this dressing gown on me quickly first, said, ‘Go down to the shelter while I get everybody else up.’ There was no air raid warning, as there should have been, the siren didn’t go. It was the cat that she realised was behaving strangely; it was 2 o’clock in the morning, my mother was whitewashing the back scullery ceiling at 2 o’clock, because my father was at the fire station, everybody else was in bed. So she was getting on, she was a bit of a night owl anyway, she noticed the cat and she realised there was something going to happen, because animals can tell you when there’s danger coming. And she got me out, but I wouldn’t go into the shelter because my mother was still in the house trying to get my brother up, trying to get grandma and grandpa up and get them dressed and upstairs. And also getting the next door people up which was terrible as everybody was dead to the world, you know in the middle of the night, they wouldn’t wake up. So my memory then was of being absolutely petrified and screaming my head off, and my mother to come down as earth’s falling back to me, ‘Go down the shelter.’ ‘No, no, no come.’ So extremes, extremes of memory. Another night I remember, two nights. The blackout, my mother had me in her arms, I must have been again not much past three, it was the early part of the war, which is, as I say, the Blitz actually started in 1940, so I’d probably be about three then, so she was carrying me and if you walk along the other side of Raymouth Road you’ll see that it’s, where all the entrances are to where the sheet metal works were, and then there are private businesses, there’s a bit of pavement and then there’s a gap, then there’s a bit of pavement and then there’s a gap, in the blackout she fell up the pavement, fell up the kerb, and landed on top of me and completely winded both of us, and I can remember being squashed underneath her. Neither of us were injured, but that’s a very strong memory of falling in the blackout. And also because of the bombing, and also on another night, we were all taken out of the railway arches and put on a lorry and taken, I cannot remember where, that’s where the memory goes. But I can remember vividly coming out of there on an open lorry with everything on fire around us, that’s all I can, where we went I don’t know. But looking back, they must have been the incendiary bombs that were dropped before the other bombs started, and they started fires. And it was like hell. Like a vision of hell. Being driven with all these other, you know children and grown-ups in an open lorry surrounded by fire. Those are my four main memories. You know, entertaining, being frightened, being squashed flat on the pavement and being driven through the fires.
Robert: You mentioned before that you had a garden, is that correct?
You had an Anderson shelter in the garden? So you had these shelters under the arches, is that right? You had two shelters?
Brenda: No, no. The shelters that I’m talking about entertaining were the premises of the sheet metal workers who were under the railway arches on the opposite side of Raymouth Road. So we were in commercial premises, not shelters, we were in commercial premises, they just let us go in there for company. So those were our two forms of shelter, the row of houses all had an Anderson shelter in the back garden, which saved our lives. And as I said earlier, for company, ‘cos they were cold, those Anderson shelters, and cramped when you’ve got nan and granddad as well (laughs), sort of like this. So we had the two options. And what we used to do, on reflection, I think what we did, we went to the sheet metal workers under the railway arches when there was time, when there was a warning, and all the neighbours would go, ‘Oh hello, we’re going over there now,’ and we all went across in the blackout or if there wasn’t time, like that night, when there was no warning, we would dive into the Anderson shelter. So there was two options, yeah. No we didn’t have anything in the front, there wasn’t a front garden; terraced house was just concrete front.
Kezia: Thank you for that Brenda. Could you, like you’ve been telling us a bit before, could you tell us a bit more about your experience of air raid shelters during the Blitz?
Brenda: Well as I said, they were very cramped, the Anderson shelters, very cramped. And you had to, you couldn’t sleep in there, well I suppose you could sleep sitting up if you were lucky, but you had to find things to do. So I used to read, and my mother, would you believe, taught my brother to knit. My mother was a great knitter, and she saw nothing wrong in a chap being taught to knit. So at this period, we were bombed out when I was six, so he’d be sixteen, and around that time I can remember him being taught to knit in the shelter. And he knitted beautifully. I can’t knit for toffee. My mother tried to teach me after the war. She said she couldn’t make out why none of the rows came out the same length! (laughs) I had none of those skills, but my brother knitted beautifully. As I said, I think I’ve really covered the experiences of the shelters in what I said before. The community shelter, which was not a proper shelter, was just commercial premises, the sheet metal workers’ premises, they were very happy places in a way ‘cos everybody was trying to cheer everybody else up, and it was a nice atmosphere, it was like having one big family really. And there was cocoa made, I can remember so vividly this little lady who used to bring us a big jug of cocoa. Where she made it, goodness only knows, but she brought it from the home, maybe ‘cos they were only ‘cross the street. But you know, we were looked after by ourselves, our own efforts. People pulled together, and I can always remember when it was coming up to cocoa time, I’d be up the front of the queue! (laughs) Very fond of cocoa. And I can remember saying to her, ‘Little lady’, ‘cos I never knew anybody’s name, I still don’t know anyone’s name! (laughs) ‘Little lady, pour the cocoa out.’ (laughs) And that sort of became the family joke for years afterwards, ‘Do you remember saying little lady, pour the cocoa out.’ But it was very, what’s the word, sociable. It was very sociable atmosphere, and people did what they could to cheer each other up, you know, chatting, telling jokes until they went to sleep. Course they had nothing to sleep on, just what you brought over with you, maybe a cushion or something. I mean this is the point, you had to try and get to sleep if it was a long raid, some of the raids would go on all night. And people tried to sleep. I mean you just took with you what you could find to sleep on, cushions and so forth. It was very much uncomfortable. But at least the Raymouth Road arches were drier than the shelter in the back garden. We never had a staircase that you could put, in proper houses I believe some people had a different kind of shelter that they could put in their house called a Morrison shelter. But I don’t know anything about that, but not having that kind of, they were bigger houses. Ours was just a terraced house. Yeah, so I think I covered what I can remember of the sheltering conditions. But I think we just had to sleep, you know, sitting up in the Anderson shelter. You just hoped it wasn’t too big a raid, too long a raid. Some of them went on for an awfully long time.
Robert: So how long are we talking about, like eight to ten hours?
Brenda: Well all night some of them, you know, you’d go over in the evening and it would be daylight when you came out. It just depended; if you heard the all-clear, then it might only be a few hours, you know, a couple of hours, three hours; but you see then again people were afraid to come back out in case we had another raid afterwards. They came back again, the bombers, so you tended, once you were over there, to stay there all night until it was daylight, and then you could come back. Course there were daylight raids as well. Another place we sheltered, I can remember again one without warning, was diving under the table in what we called the kitchen, nowadays people call it the living room; but I can remember diving, you just sheltered where you could. But at least we had more room. People who were in proper air raid shelters, so I’m told, often had horrendous experiences ‘cos too many people went down the stairs to go in, and sometimes people fell over on top of each other in their rush. Some people were actually killed in that way. There was a very big incidence over in, was it Golders Green I think, no it was in the East End wasn’t it, in the East End somewhere? Hundreds were killed where somebody tripped at the bottom, people were rushing down, and everybody else fell on top of them. That was awful. So we were actually safer where we were because it was all on the level, it was on ground level you see, there was plenty of room in this sheet metal working premises.
Robert: You mentioned before that your brother was ten years older. Was he ever interested in joining the war effort as a soldier?
Brenda: Yes he was in the Air Training Corps. Yes as soon as he was old enough, at the time, just after we were bombed out, while I was in Woking, I reached my seventh birthday. His birthday was a few months ahead of me so he was already seventeen, and he joined the Air Training Corps, like a junior R.A.F. that’s right, and he was given time off work to do that. And that he kept on doing. What he did I don’t know because we were living all over the place, we didn’t really aware of what he was doing. Obviously he was doing whatever he was told to do by the government in the Air Training Corps. We didn’t catch up with him until we got back to Bermondsey and Delaford Road in, that would be probably early ‘45 but we weren’t there very long before the war ended. And by that time, so then I’m eight and he’s eighteen, he’s called up. He was in the Royal Armoured Corps, otherwise known as the Tank Corps. He stayed as a soldier for three years, so first he was in the Air Training Corps, as a teenager, and then into the army as a, I think he was a tank driver. But he didn’t go out because the war was coming to an end, he stayed in England. But yes, he was involved in the war effort, yeah. Yeah.
Robert: Hope you don’t mind if it’s too personal, but is your brother still alive today?
Brenda: No, sadly not; he died quite young, 66 years of age in 1993. So he’s been dead quite a while now.
Robert: Ok, I’m sorry about that.
Brenda: And my father of course fought the Blitz right the way through. He joined, he couldn’t get into, he wanted to join the R.A.F. and he wasn’t allowed because he was completely deaf in one ear. So he became part of the Fire Service, it was called the AFS when he joined, and then it became the National Fire Service, the NFS, and he was posted up at the Fire Brigade Headquarters on Lambeth Embankment. And he stayed there right ‘til he was 74. He was the same age as the year, so in other words, he’s, no 73, he was a veteran. After he finished with the war effort, I mean that was really something to be fighting the fires with the bombs falling around you, it was pretty horrendous. But he had a charmed life my mother said. When he wasn’t doing that, again with the war effort, he was on fire-watching, so when he had his time off, during the time we were bombed out and after, ‘cos we left him behind you see, he would be doing fire-watching in this area, so he’d have 48 hours on and 48 hours off. And time and again, he just walked away from a corner that he’d been standing on and a bomb fell there just afterwards; so he wasn’t meant to die. It was extraordinary really. And then after that, he was the store man driver up at Fire Brigade Headquarters right until he, he stayed on there right until he was 73. So he had an extraordinary career with the Fire Service. But that was the two men’s contribution to the war, fighting the fires and fire-watching and when the war had finished, before we came back, dad worked, when his time off that we were still in Diss, he worked at the Regal Old Kent Road as a commissionaire down there. A lot of them did that, fireman, if they had half a day off or something, they would work in the cinemas. But that was my brother’s contribution, yes; he was demobbed up there, that’s his demob suit. He’d just come out of the Army, so he would have come out in ‘40, he must have come out in ‘45, ‘46, ‘47, yes he was in the three that year, that’s right. And he was out for some time before we got moved into here. So that would have been ‘47, 1947. But sadly he’s dead now. I’ve got no family left. Father died in ‘75, mother in ‘87 and my brother in ‘93. So they’re all gone now.
Robert: And you’ve never married yourself have you?
Brenda: No, no. I’ve lived here with my parents until they died. And just kept the flat on. Most convenient place to live.
Robert: Is there anything else you want to ask? We’ve covered most of the topics here; I think, maybe did you want to ask about the, I know the sheet metal arches ‘cos they’re still there…?
Robert: Those arches you were talking about.
Brenda: Yes, they’re still there. I think they’ve just been sold off now, the land. Because I see that there’s boarding gone up, and they were talking about, what did they call it? Railtrack. Railtrack would sell it, part of the railway company wasn’t it?
Robert: Well last time I’ve been down there, there’s still been commercial arches. It sounds quite fun, this big community all together in the arches. You much preferred that to the Anderson shelter?
Brenda: Oh yes. Who wants to be in an Anderson shelter, you know. Cold and, well you were frightened, you were just sort of huddled together. I mean, my recollection is of a place not much bigger than what we’re sitting now, you know, sort of squashed. But maybe it was bigger than I thought, but it just felt very squashed. Yeah.
Kezia: So was the arches like quite far away from where you were?
Brenda: On the other side of the road, literally on the over side of the road. That’s when my mother fell over in the blackout, you see. Crossing over with me in her arms from one side of Raymouth Road to the other, she fell over these kerbs getting into the railway arches, yes. When I say railway arches, it was inside, you know. The commercial premises were underneath the railway, if you see what I mean, actually underneath the railway. Of course the railway didn’t run at night, so. But of course, we were a bit stupid when I come to think back, that’s what they were trying to hit. Doh, we never thought of that (laughs). We never thought of that (laughs).
Robert: It’s a miracle you’re still here Brenda!
Brenda: It is (laughs). I was, I intended to come and stay, didn’t I? First I was tried to be get rid off, you know before I was born. It’s amazing that I ever got here, and then going through the Blitz, there must have been some purpose to my life, I’m still trying to find out what it was (laughs).
Robert: So would you say, because you were a child, do you think your memories are, obviously it was a hard time, but do you think if you had been older, your memories would have been less happy, do you think being a child was kind of quite nice in the war in a way, if you know what I mean?
Brenda: Well I suppose it would have been less safe if you had been grown up and going out to work, you’d be travelling across London, wouldn’t you? You’d be more at risk having to go to a place of work, you know, keep moving about when there were quite a lot of daylight raids, you never knew when they were coming. Sometimes there would be a siren, and people would rush off to the nearest public shelter. But yeah, in a way, I guess that I was safer by being a child. I mean, even having to go to school, I’d have to walk round to Galleywall Road, so you were exposed. And of course in those days, you didn’t go walking with your parents like they do now, and everyone’s so cosseted now. I mean when I was in Delaford Road and going to Galleywall Road School I just walked there. And to the Allwyn, you know, when I was living here. It’s quite a long way, but nowadays everyone’s taken everywhere by car. So I guess really, yes we were a bit safer by not….My mother was working down the ‘Blue’ when I was a child, she was in food and then subsequently, well not when I was, in fact when I was a baby really, I was looked after by my grandparents in Camilla Road, she went back to work for a little while and she worked in Albion Street, she worked in the butcher’s in Jamaica Road, so she had to move about. But once I got, I suppose, after I was, no later than two, she was at home as a housewife. But that’s the only thing I can think of, is that you were more exposed to the bombing if you were grown up, yeah, yeah.
Robert: And you mentioned before that, in your area, you said that a lot of kids had been evacuated so you were kind of…..
Brenda: There were only about half a dozen of us but I can name them now, you know. We lived adjacent to each other in this little row of houses. There was Genie Atkins, and then there was that spinster who didn’t have any children. And then there was us at number eleven, just myself. Next door was Donald, next door to him was Tony, Tony Bowden. And round the corner in Aspinden Road, was Bernice. And that was it. That was it. That was the only children I knew.
Robert: Quite a little gang then?
Robert: Have you kept in contact with any of these people?
Brenda: No, I wish I had. Well, funnily enough, I met up with Tony when I was 21. I met him at a social club in the fifties. Yeah we met up for a little while, but he’s moved away now. He used to go, you see those houses were refurbished, they were mended up, and let again and the Bowden family, two doors along, went back and lived there. And he was certainly still there in the early seventies. So the houses were habitable; they’ve been pulled down now to make place for some sort of homeless people’s dwelling or nursing home or something, I’m not sure what it is. ‘Cos I’m always in the car when I go down there. But no, I never got in touch, well I never saw any of them again except Tony, yes. It’s just that one person, yeah. And we were friends for a couple of years. And then, I think what it was, the branch of that club closed and I sort of lost touch with him. It was just a local social club. I wish really that I, he’s still alive. There’s one lady who works in a charity shop down the ‘Blue’, Lil, and I knew her, she lives across the way. And funnily enough, I knew her through a friend of mine, who was working with her at one time, and apparently, she’s his auntie. I don’t know if she’s auntie by relative or just called auntie. But it’s so funny that she…I met her through another friend, who doesn’t even live in London now, and therefore I hear that he’s still around, they’ve moved away from London; I don’t know where he is now. But married and moved away, you know. But, you know, I said to her only a few weeks ago, ’Do remember me to Tony.’ Yeah I would love to meet him again. But as I say, only this lady who works in the MIND shop knows where he is. But I’ve never sought him out, I mean I’ve said ‘Say hello from me’. But you know, he’s never contacted me. Why would people, I mean, you know people move on, don’t they? Their lives change.
Asya: You said earlier that you lived across the road from a shelter underneath an arch..
Brenda: Yes it wasn’t a shelter. It was the commercial premises, yeah.
Asya: That means you were very lucky to live across the road.
Brenda: Absolutely, yeah, just walk across the road. But baring in mind it was usually in the blackout. That was the dangerous bit, crossing the road in the blackout, yeah. Yeah, we were lucky really. Luckier than most people who had to get to public shelters downstairs. I think they were pretty awful places, and often I believe very over-crowded. Other people sheltered in the Undergound stations. But I think, yeah we were quite lucky when I think about it.
Asya : Ok thank you Brenda for your interview.
Kezia: Thank you.
Robert: Also Brenda’s pointed us towards the BBC website, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar where she has two stories. One is called Care of Bombed-Out Children and the other is called Our Life-Saving Cat. Both stories she referred to briefly in the interview.
Barnards House – 25/06/2010
Ella Fogg and Louise Price are interviewing Betty Grimwood
L -I’m ten years old and I love to roller blade. What did you like to do when you were a child?
B- When I was a child I loved all sport but because of the bombing during war I couldn’t do any for at least ten years.. which broke my heart
l- That’s a shame
E – Could you tell me you memories about evacuation?
B -Right from the beginning? At the time I lived in Brixton and the war started. Everyone was listening to the radio when the war started. The bus came along and all I can remember I was nearly 7 and I had a packed lunch and I was put on the bus with my brother who was older than I and – my elder brother didn’t go – and we were on the bus to go to the station then it was cancelled and they said we had to go the next day. So on the next day it all happened again we were given a packed lunch because at the time things were very very bad in London, the work was much worse than it is now it was very bad and then we didn’t have hardly any money or anything, and we were sent to Crawley in West Sussex which isn’t very far away and we were told we were being evacuated there. And so we were all packed and labelled with our name on it and the other side had a handkerchief on a safety pin on your jacket so you didn’t lose it with a safety pin . We arrived there in Crawley Sussex, a big hall I think it was something to do with the town hall or something a great big room, must have been about two bus loads of children were there and went into this room and saw all the ladies came in, there were a couple of men they were their husbands, to choose who they were going to take and my mother said I wasn’t to be parted from my brother I had to be with him.
L – You did that you had a handkerchief on you and it was clipped to a safety pin so you wouldn’t lose it can you tell me why you had one?
B – Well in those days we didn’t really have handkerchiefs not as such, it was the men who always had a big handkerchief but because we were going on a bus or a train nearly everyone you can see from the photos of children years ago all of them had a handkerchief that’s in case you lost one but they were really used, you never had tissues in those days.
L – I had noticed that, in pictures I had seen them… when you were given your two packed lunchboxes how were you feeling what emotions were you feeling?
B – I thought it was heaven absolute heaven. Because we were quite poor and to see sandwiches all wrapped up nicely and I think they were fairy cakes I can remember and a packet of sweets and a bar of chocolate which we didn’t really get to eat in those days. Too expensive I suppose…
E – you said you had to stand at the town hall – Who took you away?
B – What happened you were there all lined up and these women would walk past. Some were a bit snooty – look at you, you know you could hear them saying Oh I dont’ like the look of that you know, and one lady came straight up to me, said – being fair, my hair was nearly white with a little fringe like that – and the more she kept looking at me and the more emabrarassed although I was nearly seven I was on the shy side and she just turned around and said I would like this little girl to come with me and I said but I’m with my brother and she said for a little while I will take the two of you. But really she only wanted one girl because she already had a son who was much older and had his own shop and had picked me. It was the first time that I had seen a bathroom. Had never seen a bathroom before and I had my own bedroom with a quilt that was that thick and I had my own caravan in a great big massive big garden and she had a caravan and she said that is yours to play with and I had toys and everything I had never seen before
L – You must have felt great
B – Oh I did, I thought I’d gone to heaven.
L –Was your brother as the woman only wanted you but said she could keep your brother for a little while, was your brother happy there?
B – Yes he was quite happy but he was a bit of a mother’s boy and he used to cry for my mum all the time. I took it as an adventure but he didn’t, he kept saying where’s my mum although he was a bit older than me that’s what he was like, he wanted his mum but I thought it was..oh this is a great adventure.
E – So, the person that took you – you know how we said they only wanted your brother for a little while, how did it turn out?
B – Well we were there for about 6 weeks and my mother came down to see us and in fact she wanted to adopt me this lady but not my brother and I think my mother was a bit jealous of the lady because she had everything and because she showed more affection for me than she did my brother she said it would be best if we moved so, well the poor lady just cried and cried but I think she would have adopted me if she’d had her way. She was a lovely From there we were sent to another lady I can’t even remember the firstt ladies name her name funnily enough bt the second lady her name was Mrs Wilson. She was an elderly lady. Her husband was a lovely man, he was an elderly man; she had a daughter and a on but the daughter didn’t live in the house she lived further down the road and she was married with a girl about the same age as me and the boy he was at home was about 18 I suppose, 17 or 18. But she wasn’t a very nice person
E – What impact do you think Mrs Wilson had on your life?
B – Well I think it’s the first time I’ve actually hated somebody and I think for a child that’s very very unusual but I did hate her not wickedly but it’s the things she did and the things she didn’t do that made me dislike her, you shouldn’t say hate..
L – Well we’re going to move on to our next topic and its coming back to London. Could you please tell me what happened when you ran away from Mrs Wilson’s house?
B – Because it was the summer holidays – it was the 6 weeks summer holidays, the schools in London went back on the Tuesday and the schools in Sussex whet back on the Monday so we had our dinner money for the week we had a load of comics because we’d been to London for a week before we went back to Crawley because the bombing had eased off so there wasn’t bombing as much and when we got back to Crawley all my brother kept doing was cry I want to go home. I didn’t take much notice so I suppose because I always thought he was a cry baby and it’s because he thought of my mother so much and I think thats what it is right he said we’re going to run away well at the time now when you look back you don’t realise the trouble you’re causing or anything like that and we had our money, we packed a suitcase full of comics, now that was a 7 year old and an 8 and a half year old… Nowadays if you gone on to like a coach the driver would probably say to you where’s your mother but nobody said a word, he just took our money and paid our fare and drove back to London and we knew our friends would be – I think it was Clapham Common – would be playing at Clapham Common for the day because they didn’t go back to school on that Monday they were going on the Tuesday and we stayed there until I think about half past four, five o clock because it was the September was starting to get dark… then we made our way home …..
E –What was the journey home like and what did you expect when you arrived?
B – Well the journey all I can remember coming home on the green line bus it was, was oh it just went to us, went very quickly because we were reading comics and everything having a good day out in the park it was lovely but when we got to the top of our turning where we lived we looked down road it was our mother standing at the gate with her arms folded just looking like that. I can remember she had like, years ago if you see pictures of during the war all the women wore turbans like scarves folded up, they used to have curlers in their hair and if they didn’t like to show them. And she just took one look she said Do you know the trouble you have caused? And well we didn’t we didn’t know the trouble we that caused to us we just wanted to come home and as we went in, she was so angry, in a way I think she was so relieved to see us because she knew we were safe but on the other had she was angry to think of all the trouble we had caused so as we went by my brother was very very crafty. He wasn’t much different in our height, he used to run, he ran quickly and I got the slap and he got away with it.
L – How did you feel when your brother never got the slap and you escaped were the one left in the dark room with your mother?
B – I didn’t really take any notice because it happened two or three times, he was quicker than I was at the time. I didn’t really take any notice I expected the two of us to get a good slap really, I mean in those days the parents used… to if you did anything wrong you’d get a slap and even to this day I still believe that if anyone is really naughty – which we were for running away – although we were too really young to realise the trouble we’d caused… I mean the police must have been called out although we never knew much about it, to think there was two children missing, even like today if you have two children missing everyone gets panicky, don’t they and frightened any everything so you don’t know the trouble you caused.
M – Betty, would you mind telling us a little bit about when you arrived back how your street had changed orhow the local area had changed?
B – Well there was a lot of bombing still going on and after a little while you started getting the buzz bombs, what we called buzz bombs and my dad was in what they called Heavy Rescue. There was like in the Heavy Rescue they went to a place which was like a hospital that had been bombed and he had to dig people out to make sure they were alive and everything then you’d get the light rescue they were the men that if they were alright they would put them in an ambulance and sort of send them away. We had a shelter in the garden but it used to get flooded a lot and my dad, because he was in this heavy rescue he always said If I’m not here and the bombs start coming down, you go under the stairs you know like you get stairs and you get a cupboard under the stairs that is the safest place in the house to go. Because during the day when you didn’t play up the park or along the street you played on the bombed houses that had been bombed that was our playground and in a lot of the houses all you could see was the stairs. Everything else was more or less pulled down but you could always saw staircase so my dad said always go to the staircase and where we actually lived there was a lot of bombing all the way round and I could remember my dad saying This is for us he seemed to sense we were going to get bombed and as the buzz bomb comes over it makes the most terrible drowning buzzing most peculiar noise [does noise] – then all of a sudden it stops and you can hear it stop and it was then it goes down so you know it’s going to be near you and we were all sitting down, my dad was still in the garden actually cause he used to although he had a tin hat he never wore it – used to get told off for that – but he’d come home that day I know it was sort of early in and he’d just shout. To this day I can hear him say it this is for us and but as luck happened it wasn’t for us it was for the house opposite. It hit the house opposite direct but we caught the full blast of the house it just sort of… everything sort of falls in the windows, everything sort of in a muddle… where there was a table about this high my mother says dive under the table she’s dived under the table and I can remember she was knitting me a dress… years ago we used to have these short dresses they were all knitted and at the bottom of it what they called bunny wool very very flared dress, beautiful they were, and she was knitting one of those and she’s dived under the table and all I can remember is seeing her backside stuck under there. Although she was thin she was trying to get under the table knitting and all I could remember the wool has run you know, and I’m watching that and years ago we used to have a fireplace, some of your maybe Nans or Great Nans would remember they had like a little box and a fender with a little box and you’d lift the top up and you’d put your polishes what you blackened all your grates in there and I used to sit on there because that was nearest the fire. And all I can say they turned round and said are you alright? My brother was under the stairs doing as he was told and they were saying are you alright I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t speak for about 2 or 3 days and when I did start talking it was like a stutter and my mum straight away the next day took us to the doctor and he said she’s got to go out of London so she got in touch with relations of ours in Lancashire which is, I ‘d never been up there before – to us it was a different world and I mean… With us in London you couldn’t open the front door without turning the lights off first and you’d open it and creep out then close the door because you had the men walking round, the ARP wardens turn the bloody light out they’d say even if they saw a chink of light in the curtain. So we were sent to Lancashire in a tiny like village place and we were there for about 18 months, a couple of years, until the end of the war but all the time I was there I couldn’t hold a pen because it’s a nervous disease it’s called cervicicus dance, can’t keep still, you’re twitching all the time and if you pick anything up it just slides through your fingers, can’t grip hold of anything and that’s from the shock of the bombing and I was sitting in this school, the school wasn’t far from where we were living I couldn’t read because I still stuttered I couldn’t speak properly, I couldn’t write because I couldn’t hold the pen and so all the time I could read to myself I would read and I would read all text books and I learnt more in those two years than I ever did if I could have spoke or wrote because you listen all the time that was the end of that story..
L – What was going through your mind when the bomb had hit your neighbours and you couldn’t speak you were just so shocked what was going through your mind?
B – Well my mind was sort of blank, just you’re in shock it’s like if you’re walking along the road and you see someone walk in front of a car you’re like that in shock I bet you wouldn’t speak I think you’d shout out you just sort of .. its shock more than anything that get over it. Then I was told I am not to do anything – am not to get excited, from there we came back to London, I must not get excited I must not go to the pictures I mustn’t play out I mustn’t do this I mustn’t do that and my own doctor was a lovely old man he was, he turned around and he said to my mother and said what is she like because of all this? and my mother said she’s getting worse and he said then reverse what you’ve been told to do. If she wants to go to the pictures if she wants to this if she wants to do that let her do it. And that’s what I did. So I did all sports that you could think of cycling, skating walking everything that I could think of in sport I would do and that’s why even today I love sport.
M- Girls is there anything you’d like to ask Betty about the neighbours house that was hit or any of her friends in the area?
L – Did you lose any of your neighbours or friends that you had?
B – Well when you’d go to school in London and there was bombing you’d walk into a classroom and you would just look around the classroom from the day before they’d be maybe say 20 pupils sitting there and you’d see one, two, three, four seats that weren’t filled. Nobody would say anything but you knew they were either killed or badly injured. Because the bombs had falled all the way round. And nobody cried unless it was a very very close friend of yours but nobody seemed to cry because it was an expectation, you expected it all the time and you’d just say where’s Mary Brown? and they’d say oh her house got hit by a bomb last night at to us we were so used to it it got to the feeling that oh that’s terrible thats a shame but I can’t remember anyone in that classroom crying it was what you expected.
L – We’re going to move on to the next topic and that is your family and friends. Could you tell us about your relationships with you family and friends during the war?
B – Well I was very close and I still am very close to my brother who’s about 18 months older than me. He lives in Tooting at the moment. He could tell you more about this than anybody because he’s, I don’t say he probably can remember more than I can because he was just 18 months older than me he was my besides being my brother he was my great friend really and he was my dancing partner. My mother and father during the war would run dances at St Marys’ church Clapham Common – I don’t know if you know Clapham Common there’s a great big church there and there’s the church hall. My dad would be dressed up with a dickie bow all nice and my mum would be beautiful, her black velvet dress I can always remember it and my brother and myself would watch them dance because it was proper dancing and we used to practise and practise and practise just the two of us and to this day he’ll turn round and say my sister is the only good dancing partner I’ve ever had. We’d jive. We used to do the jitterbug, we did the jive we did everything that was modern coming up we could do. Properly as well but it was all self taught.
E – Did you miss your family and friends when you were evacuated both when you were staying on the first evacuation and when you were staying with Mrs Wilson.
B – We didn’t actually miss them because we had our own friends who came from London although we didn’t know them at the time they were in different parts of London but come there but the London children did stay together they played together because you knew what you’d all been through. We called them the country people. We’d never seen a cow, we’d never seen a horse except for the great big carthorses that you’d see in London. We’d never seen fields before we went to Crawley because it was very countryfied at the time it’s all built up now but our friends were still mostly Londoners and we always when we came back during the school holidays we used to come back even if it was only for a week, took a chance coming back for a week we had our own friends in London that weren’t evacuated, they were at home.
E – We’re going to move on to the next topic now which is your time in Lancashire. Could you tell us about your time in Lancashire?
B – I thoroughly enjoyed it because we were there, although I was on special tablets to stop me shaking and god knows what I used to sleep until sometimes 10 o clock in the morning they used to just knock you out so you had a good night’s sleep. So I’d wake up and I was the only child in school who could walk into school at half past ten or eleven o clock while the others were doing their lessons but they knew it wasn’t my idea it was the doctors idea so I had a load a load of friends and I still go up to Lancashire. My husbands got friends up there and one of our relations is up there so he’s died now is my dad’s brother but we still don’t to see them a lot if there’s a big occasion or something and I thoroughly enjoyed it up there and when I had to come to London.. by then I had started speaking… I had started speaking with a half cockney half Lancashire accent. So people used to think I was speaking posh when I wasn’t it was because it was half and half. When I first went up there used to keep knocking at the door will you speak to us please? They had never ever spoken to a Londoner before. They only Londoner they had ever heard was on the radio because you didn’t have television it was radio and they thought people who lived in London spoke with a posh accent because the only people on the radio spoke with posh accents – oh this is the BBC – that’s the way they use d to speak all the time and if you hear any of the old broadcasts they sound like they have a plum in their mouth, that’s what they call it but we were cockneys. But with a Lancashire accent but I loved it. I thouroughly enjoyed it, used to walk all over this hills it was beautiful.
L – Do you think your time in Lancashire had a real impact to help you get back to normal?
B – Because people understood, the school I went to it was a lovely school a church school and because they understood and the teachers told the children what we’d been through they understood so I mean when I used to stutter bad they never sort of took the mickey out of me or anything like that they were very understanding as I say we had wonderful times up there.
E – How long it it take you to get back to normal?
B – When we came back to London I would think within a year I was back to normal probably if I’d did what this doctor in the first place told me not to do this not to do that I would probably would have been dead by now but because we went against – or the other doctor went against – what this specialist told us it done the trick. So, and I did the worst thing that anyone could ever do because I turned professional skater, roller skater. Have you ever seen a banked track like you know what they cycling on a banked track? Have you ever seen roller ball where you have the crash helmets?
L – Yeah, and do you wear the skates like the in-line?
B – No it was roller skates that’s what I used to do but it was America versus … and I was the only English girl there. All the English team was American except me, I was looking for the photo I put it somewhere but I can’t find it. And I did that I was working all day would finish work at like half past three I’d go straight to Haringey(?)….. and I did that for 6 weeks and got paid very very well for it. I used to get a bus home all on my own and I made lovely friends there with all the American girls in had a wonderful time that was fifty three, yeah 1953, what was that, either the coronation or the wedding, that’s when it all happened.
L – Your stories are very very adventurous and if I was a child during the war I’d like to have your experiences. We’re going to move on to the next topic and that is after the war. Could you tell us a little bit about after the war?
B – Well when we came back to London… I was actually in Lancashire when war ended, my mum and dad they came back up to Lancashire because my dad did so much in the heavy rescue that he had a nervous breakdown because he was one of the first people – I don’t know if you can remember this – over the East End I think everyone used to go down to the underground station when the bombing was very bad running down and if they run down and somebody fell towards the bottom over and over over and more and more people were coming down, they couldn’t stop and there was ;lot of people killed there and my dad had to go and rescue them. That was bad enough, made him very nervous then though he’d went just quiet but then a hospital got bombed and one part of the hospital that really got bombed was the maternity unit and they had to go there were grounds I don’t know it wasn’t this part of London, I know they used to send him everywhere and he’d go to this thing and there was like a big park and there were green trees everywhere and he had to climb the trees, he said, to get newborn babies that were thrown with the blast to the trees he said now what have they done to him, they’re babies they haven’t done any wrong anything, it really upset him. Through that he got out of the ARP then but then the end of the war came and after that he was alright… but he used to go to church a lot my dad but he stopped going to church, he couldn’t believe he said how can you believe when you get newborn babies but then I said that is life you had to try and get him round it, but soon as I got married – I got married in church – he started going back again, it took him a long while.
E – what was your life like after the war had finished?
B – Well by the time it had finished, at the time we left school at 14 and I left school on the Friday just before the Chirstmas and I was at work on the Monday, you didn’t hang about you had to go to work and I worked, it was a big store in Brixton road, right near the town hall, it was called Morleys and my first job was in the office there and I taught myself to type and I went to nightschool and taught myself to type there and I was there for so long it was lovely. I and I used to earn one pound 5 shillings that was like in the old money and they was to take 2 and six which was half a crown and put it in the bank for me and they said if you do that you’ve got to put 2 and six to go with it and so my wages really were a pound and my mother used to take that she used to give me my bus fare which was only a penny at the time but I thorough enjoyed my life afterwards.
M – Do you ever consider Betty what you life might have been like if the war hadn’t happened?
B – I’ve never ever thought about it, never, no I’ve never thought of it at all. That’s the first time that anybody’s ever said that I’ve never even thought of it I suppose it’s because its happened and that’s it. But I mean I could go through it again you know different things that have happened I know I could go through it and survive but it’s a thing that if I’d probably if I’d been older the only thing that I when I was about 14 or 15 the only thing I wished was that I’d been was to have joined up. I would have joined up in something but I mean it was just one of those things. But no I’ve never thought of that.
M – Girls is there anything else that you want to ask Betty about when she thinks back on to the war and what she thinks about it?
L – Did any of your friends change after the war so the way they used to act during the war did they change?
B – Well the thing is when you’ve been evacuated for a while in Lancashire when you come back to London eventually and as I say I started skating so there was a big skating rink at Brixton, big roller skating rink and – my Grandad actually helped build it years ago – and we had a club there so all my time was taken up with this club used to race at different other rinks and things like that so all my rime really was taken up so you make new friends, all the other people they all gradually move out like they do here like they go from here nearly all south Londons go further south, Bexley, Eltham, all that way if you was over north London or another part of London you’d go that way so..
M – What were the main things that you had to stop doing when the war started?
B – I don’t know I don’t think you stop doing anything really, as I say when we came home from evacuation when the bombing was on we still played out, it never kept you in unless there was a raid it was mostly of a night time but nothing really stopped you.
M – Okay -You know when you talked about being able to go through the same thing again what do you think the war did to change you ? Or to change the way that you look at things?
B – Well being at school I used to be very as they say blonde, if you look at my eyelashes it looks as though I haven’t got any when we’d been abroad my husband looks a bit germanish to look at him especially from the back, they always take us for Germans and I’ve never ever once said Oh we had the war I don’t like you and you’d get people, English people maybe at the same hotel don’t talk to them they’re germans but my husband he’d say I think your dad bombed my fish and chip shop you know and he’d joke with them and we’d made so many nice friends from Germany. It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t our fault it was the governments fault so you put the blame on them.
E – Did you lose any prized possessions during the war?
B – All I can remember losing during the war was I had a dog and cat when I was in Lancashire and we were all coming home and I’ve got the dog it was a wired haired terrier and my cat was a ginger cat and my mum said to me you cannot take the cat on the train you’ve got the dog, thats enough its a wonder they’ll let you on with that you cannot take the cat and I wouldn’t take any notice I wrapped the cat up in a blanket and I’ve got the cat in one arm and got the dog and when we got to the station the man’s gone like that and he’s said you can take one but not 2 animals in the coach. Now I’ve got the cat now what do I do with one cat? So I said to my mum I’m not going it’s my cat so one of the men on the station he said to my mum just round there he said there’s a little factory he said take the cat in there he said, I know they’ve got cats in there because of mice which is natural, they’ll look after it for you and he said something to my mum I don’t know what he said so that was the only thing that I regretted that for all the war everything that went on was to part with my cat and I Ieft the cat there and someone said don’t worry love we’ll look after it. And that was it so we got the dog but no cat but that’s the only thing. But as I say I’d live it all through again you know I would do it especially if I’d been older, oh I would have joined up and I would have had the time of my life.
M- Girls any more questions?
L – It looks like, you said, I’ve talked to some people especially my Nan who lives in Clapham that she said during the war it was okay but she didn’t really enjoy it but your stories are very adventurous and it looks like it didn’t have very much of an impact
B – How old is your nan?
L – My Nan is 82 or 83
B – Well she would have been that much older I mean I’m 77 so she would have been about 5 years older, don’t forget that when it started I was only 7. The war started in 1939 I was born in 1932 and my birthday was in November so I was only 6 nearly 7 when the war started, well your Nan was that much older, that 5 years makes a hell of a difference what would she be
L – About 12
B – Well there you are, I mean I left school at 14 you see a girl of 14 now or some girls of 14 they’re children but we weren’t we were all grown up at 14 you’d got to go out to work.
M – Thank you so much Betty
B – Its been a pleasure