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15 October 2014
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London's East End and Entertainment

by Barry Ainsworth

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Contributed by 
Barry Ainsworth
People in story: 
Mildred Gordon
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Contributed on: 
04 November 2005

Born in 1923, and lived in the East End, Wapping.
I was evacuated to Sussex but there was no schooling available there, and after a few weeks returned home.

My father an Air Raid Warden, and a local Councillor in East London, an area which had a mixed population of Irish and Jews who came to London from Russia early in the 1900s.

When the City of London was bombed we lived just outside and weren't really affected.
During air raids many people went to the crypt of our local church, St Georges.
Others sheltered in the local tube stations.
I vividly remember bits of charred wood floating in the air and the sound of everyone stepping on broken glass, but soon there was no glass in the shops along the Commercial Road, all just boarded up. Landmines were dropped nearby and we had a standpipe in the street as the water pipes had been destroyed.

We lived in a large old house with an old cooking range on the top floor, which my mother used for cooking, and an Anderson shelter in the garden

I couldn't continue my schooling, so trained in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.
After training I worked for a solicitor in London.
Clothes were rationed, I only had my school uniform and a couple of dresses which I wore at the weekend

The V-1's and V-2's were frightening.
There were fogs, they were dreadful, and at night in the blackout you’d just have a torch.
It was so dark and very difficult to find the keyhole on your front door.

I used to go to the National Gallery to hear Myra Hess playing the piano during my lunchtimes, and to the theatre in the evening.
You got a seat in the queue and gave a man a shilling to keep it for you while you had something to eat in Soho.
There used to be a limit of 5/- on the price of a meal.
I saw Margot Fonteyn, Ninette de Valois, Robert Helpman and a marvellous company at the New Theatre with Laurence Olivier (the predecessor of the National Theatre), sometimes we went dancing at the Hammersmith Palais.
All during this time I remember there were crowds of service men just having fun in the West End, where there were all types of entertainment.

During the war everyone became very politicised.
In the Forces there were Forces Parliaments there were thousands of people taking part
Whenever I travelled on public transport, I remember there were discussions on what would happen after the war, about the Beveridge Report and the Abercombie Report that reported on the re-development of London after the war.

I was struck by how well the London Dockers, untrained in administration set to and organised things to cope with emergencies, and how they rose amazingly to the occasion.

I was saddened by the fact that my mother had low aspirations for me, so, after the war, I took emergency training as a teacher, as did my sister.

In 1987 I became Labour MP for Poplar, during the time Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Mildred Gordon

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Message 1 - Re: London's East End and Entertainment

Posted on: 04 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mz Gordon

I read your story with pleasure. You are, however, far too modest in your last paragraph. For example, you fail to mention your excellent work as an MP from 1987 to 1997, when you retired, nor the contribution you made on the Education, Science, and Arts Committee from 1991, and the lasting legacy of the Mildred Gordon Cup for public speaking.

Kindest regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

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