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Alice's life in wartime Edmonton

by Stockport Libraries

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Stockport Libraries
Location of story: 
Edmonton, England
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 March 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of a gentleman who wishes to remind anonymous and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

This story told to me by my mother concerns some people who may still be alive so the names have been changed for a little privacy.

"The first woman in the story was born in 1910 in London, where she spent nearly all her life, let's call her Alice. Alice left home at 14, after her mother's death and the arrival of her father's mistress as housekeeper. So at the outbreak of hostilities, she was a working woman supporting not only herself but a husband, who made the excuses that he was not liked there or they had picked someone else for his reason for not working. Alice had worked for the same firm for some time and her boss, a Russian Jew, who had escaped during the revolution there, and set up as dressmaker in Edmonton, had stood guarantor when she set about buying her home there. You can understand then why she was worried and annoyed to come home unexpectedly one day to find her husband Frederick entertaining a group of Mosley's Black Shirts in their new front room. Not only did she disagree with their anti-Semitic behaviour, there was the possibility that she could lose her job and home if Mr Sokoloff took offence. Fred was of German extraction and never expected to be called up to fight, and so it was a shock for him when his call draft papers arrived. Too much of a coward to be an objector and too much of an idler to get work, he decided that he must make himself unacceptable to the forces, the best way being to be regarded as being of unsound mind. Very carefully one morning Fred took all the food in the house upstairs so it would not spoil, opened the windows and sat down to wait. When he saw Alice get off her bus, he rushed downstairs and turned on the gas taps in the kitchen and sat in front of the oven. It was the last straw as far as Alice was concerned. Stuck with a man like that, Alice did the only sensible thing and left him, but this of course meant she lost her home, so she went to stay with a friend's mother.

As the war continued, the dress factory found it could not operate and Mr Sokolff tried to manufacture battledress under licence from the government but his machinery and equipment was not really suitable and he did not have the heart to continue. One funny episode just before the factory closed occurred when Mr Sokoloff's son came home on leave. He asked Alice to go and get a ham sandwich, a thing his orthodox upbringing should have forbidden him. In reply to Alice's query, he said "If I'm driving my tank and a pig walks out into the road it's lunch."

After the close of the factory, Alice went to report for war work and was dispatched to the armaments factory near Waltham Abbey. Alice had worked in factories all her working life, but when they locked her inside she discovered that she had severe claustrophobia and the factory doctor issued her with a green card, something Fred would have longed for.

As she needed to live, she took a job in Woolworth's at Edmonton and there she met up with a youngr woman, Slay, who went fire-watching on the roof of the Regal Cinema Edmonton and so the two women joined forces and spent every evening sitting out on the roof far away from the local air raid shelter, another place Alice could not enter. They would spend whole nights listening to the radio and playing cards or watching as the bombers flew in to attack London. One night they watched as a single aricraft droned in along the Lea Valley and turned towards their position. They could see the fires starting as the bombs fell ever closer to them, the next lot would be on their perch up on the roof, but someone up there must have liked them becasue the plane ran out of bombs just at that point. Another time a land mine was dropped just on the other side of the road wiping out whole streets of houses. Then when the first of the V1 attacks struck the area, they went on duty to find the rescue squad helping a poor woman down from her half-demolished house in a great state, she had been stting on the loo when the thing struck and had been left exposed not daring to move in case the rest of her upstairs bathroom had followed the outer wall into the street. Alice always wondered just how effective a fire-fighting crew she and Slay would make with their leaky stirrup pump, buckets of sand and water, and tin shovel on a broom handle, thankfully they were never tested.

Slay met an Australian airman and they became what is now called an item, always together, so it was no surprise when they announced their engagement. A big party was held for their friends at the Astoria in London, and Alice was told to be ready for bridesmaid duty minus bucket and pump sometime after the war. When the end came, Slay waved her young man off from the docks with the promise that he would send for her very soon.

That call never came and Slay, who had saved hard and fast for their future, left England on the first ship available, it was actually carrying the English cricket team over for the test season. She asked Alice to go with her, but by then she had found someone else, and so Slay went off on her own. When she arrived, she found a stranger on the docks to meet her and holding the cash for her return ticket. Her letters had found her fiance, but he had fialed to tell her he was already married out in Australia and that was the reason for his silence. Slay was furious and refused to accept what she saw as charity in the form of a ticket back home, and got herself a job right there in the dock cafe intending to save up her fare. She never did come home, the stranger on the dock turned out to be the man she married and they were happy the whole of their lives."

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