- Contributed by
- People in story:
- michael williams
- Location of story:
- South London, Croydon
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 November 2003
I was born on January 27th 1940 in Croydon, Surrey. Being one of eight children was always going to be fraught with conflicting character identification from child to child. The inevitability and acceptability for families to produce many children were considered normal between the 30s and 50s. And for sure it was in some ways good to be able to hide among the boys and the girls of the family, day dream and not be noticed doing so, commit acts of retribution on my brothers and be only one of eight suspects.
On the down side if a suspect was not immediately accountable for some missing item of food or lost or broken this or that, we would all get it in the neck, sometimes twice, once from my father or mother and again from bigger brother.
Big boy would always clout small boy for some felony he knows he didn't commit, and so you had a chain reaction, big boy would “deal” with small boy until the smallest could only tear a slither of wallpaper from the living room wall in his frustration at not having a dog to kick. And thus it would start over again. “Which one of you little sods tore the living room wallpaper!”
I grew up on a council estate called Waddon which originated around 1936 as an overspill for Londoners. In those days we kids who lived in Croydon did not consider ourselves to be Londoners, since Trafalgar square was ten miles away and for kids who walked everywhere, ten miles through rival gang territory was not worth the risk of physical abuse from big boys.
There were no cars in my road in 1945 and only one in 1950, there were very few bicycles about at that time for reasons I know not, but there were plenty of trolleys made from any old pram wheels commandeered from the rubbish dump, and pushed around at great speed by dozens of enthusiastic mad kids. The trolley with a large box secured to the pram wheels also served as a transporter for mum to get her washing to and from the washhouse on the corner of London road and Mitcham Road.
The funny thing about so called hard times was that we didn’t know they were hard times. You can compare one way of life with another only if there is some scale of comparison with which to measure, and since every family in the road and joining roads were of similar status, this would be considered normal.
Keeping up with the Jones’s amounted to who could afford to wear socks with their shoes, and who had clothes that fitted - very well heeled families kept chickens and had saucers with their cups. I remember wearing wellington boots that were so oversized that they needed to have a few inches removed from the top to allow me to walk, and newspaper to fill the toe area, BUT, nobody knew if I had socks on or not! There were no rich families in Waddon and nobody owned their house.
My interpretation as to who were wealthy and worth befriending were those kids that could convert their sweet ration coupons into sweets, anyone who had street credibility went to school with their sweet coupons in their pockets, flashing them here there and everywhere to impress the other kids.There was no point in parents hanging on to the coupons, since money wasn’t available for such non essentials. Only the boys who had pocket money could buy sweets, and only two ounces (the ration book allocation for one week). The clever kid would befriend someone who had used up their coupons but still had pocket money to spend.
Enter little old enterprising me, who had swapped marbles and cigarette cards for sweet coupons, and now had a friend who had pocket money. So a happy ending would be that two small boys would end up sharing eight squares of marvellous Palm toffee. Brilliant, life was worth living.
Being the third up from the youngest (or sixth down from the eldest) is not the best starting gate position to be born. For a start the old worn out ‘hand me down’ clothes that came through the ranks were always to big or to small, always had major repair work with mismatch colour patches sewn throughout. Luckily grey or brown seemed to be the only two colours around in those days. Fashion didn’t exist for kids (or grown ups), and school uniform never figured in anyone’s calculation, and wasn’t compulsory at any of the schools that me or my brothers and sisters attended.
Just as well really since if anyone had gone to school in a uniform, he would have been pushed, shoved and ridiculed out of the playground - tough, but he would have been the odd one out under those circumstances. Kids could be very spiteful, say if your bum just happened to be hanging out of your trousers - and the latest tear in your jumper was the cause of a good ‘hoot’ from bigger boys, who would pull at the wool making the hole even bigger.
Strange how big kids could always be seen in short trousers, which were far to tight, prolonging the voice breaking evolving stage, and short kids with pants far too long - requiring multiple turn ups. I don’t suppose I’d have given it much thought at the time, but the clothes situation would probably have been worse for the two brothers below me because they would have to have my cast-offs — shame!
Those times just after the war when I’d have been about six or seven were not all bad, people did help each other at critical times and when personal tragedy struck. We shared with those that had very little and they shared with us, everybody pulled in the same direction, everyone wanted to laugh and forget the war.
Watching doodle bugs (V1 bombs) fly over our back gardens on their way to London made everyone nervous and anxious about the future. We would be greatly relieved when the flying bombs engine did not cut out and deposit it’s deadly pay load onto our street. We watched in silence as the bombs flew over the estate, knowing that they would fall on someone's street. Rather than break the spirit with the destruction of war, people helped each other gather strength and resolve to overcome hardship - life went on.
It wasn’t at all uncommon to see men, women and kids digging each others' gardens, and sharing what vegetables were available in the ‘Dig for Britain campaign’. I would have thought that tea would have been in short supply, but I remember cups of tea by the bucket load being drunk by mothers and ‘home from the war’ fathers, all sitting out in the sunshine on the pavement, chin wagging, joking and lots of laughter.
All the kids seemed to sense the change in mood, and played street games with unstoppable energy and a great deal of noise. Just as well there were no cars in the road, they would never have got through that lot. They were good times under bad circumstances - VE day was fantastic for us kids - more?
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