Thoughts of Ernest W. Stonestreet Born 2nd December l926 so my present age is 79 years.
I was born at Southall Middlesex. I attended Featherstone Road, Infants, Junior & Senior Boys’ School. Education was strange with the coming of the second World War, we did not return to school in the September. London Area children were offered evacuation, Hanwell W.7. was included but Southall the first town outside was not. Our Form Teacher, Mr. Lowman, was interested in his boys and arranged for us to use the Reference Library where I am convinced great good came from this tuition. Near my home, across the fields was the great bus & lorry works of the A.E.C., builders of London’s buses. Adjoining my home on the West side was the Martin Brother’s Pottery. It had had its own canal dock, which had been filled in many years before my memory. Any one who watches “The Antiques Road Show “ will know the value of pieces from this factory. Just before the War pottery production ceased, a series of small buildings were erected and Film was cleaned of print, the result went to make cellulose paint.
As is well known the Blitz caused us to try to sleep, night after night in the Anderson Shelter. Often daytime alerts caused us to go to the Shelter Room. The ground floor classrooms were re-enforced with steel beams with sand bags outside and muslin stuck to the inside of the glass to prevent it flying about if broken. I do not think those in the room would have survived anything like a direct hit or even a near miss. We spent many hours reciting poetry or just reading books. Little wonder that in effect our education ended at thirteen or so. I left school at Christmas 1940 age 14.
My dream was to go to sea. Not a very wise choice at that time. I was called to the Youth Employment Office and told in no uncertain terms that I could not be idle in Wartime. I had good marks for Woodwork so was told to get myself to Abbott Brothers’ factory on the following Monday. In peace-time they produced Office Furniture, not any more! Trench supports for the Army, made from rough heavy timber. Tannoy speaker boxes, in demand for allsorts of War time uses. Then my claim to fame, Bomb Boxes for Westland Lysanders. People will tell you this Army reconnaissance Aircraft did not carry bombs, I know that they did, small ones attached to the fixed undercarriage. These machines were also used by the SOE to take our Agents to France. I was not happy, particularly as I was sent rather than making my own decision so, when a vacancy for a Post Office Messenger came up, I applied and was appointed. One aspect of this job was delivering the Telegrams to bereaved wives. These days Police Officers and the like receive counselling , we had to get on with it, my friend living in Plymouth confirms this, having a similar post.
Next followed a turning point in my life. A friend of my Father invited me to join a Bedford Row, London, firm of Solicitors, a most prestigious Company. I would never been considered but for the fact that so many of their staff had been called up. Taking me under his wing, I learned a great deal, performing many tasks in a legal office. Being a keen cyclist I cycled up to town in the summer. I had to use the train in winter. This brought a crisis, for I enjoyed a student rate until I became l7, when I asked the senior partner for a rise he was not prepared to give me. I applied for a post in the Health Department in Southall , which I obtained. War time call up had taken Dr. Grundy the Medical Officer, so a Lady, Dr. Margaret Glass was acting M.O. I was very happy in this post. The office was situated in the Elizabethan Manor House.
One night the AEC factory received a direct hit on the service Department. The incendiary bombs looked as if they were coming our way. Then in the late summer of 1944 came the flying bombs V1’s. St. Bernard’s Hospital was hit.
In our neighbourhood one landed in Regina Road with some people killed.
Also on the shops at Norwood Green, I remember watching it approach when its engine cut and it plunged to earth. On another occasion I was cycling along the road returning after lunch when a flying Bomb overtook me and went on its way. The V2 Rockets were dropping more on London, so we could hear them, there was no defence from these early rockets.
On the 2nd December 1943 Parliament decreed that Men between 18 & 25 were to be directed into the mining Industry by Ballot. Too many miners, had been called up, resulting in a grave shortage of coal.
Imagine my surprise to find I was one of those affected. So I was directed into The Coal Mining Industry (Bevin Boy). There are those who believe that we chose this form of National Service, not so. I still have my documents which read ”Any person failing to comply with a direction under Regulation 58A of the Defence (general) Regulations is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding £100 or both. After a Month’s training in the bitter winter of 1945 being sent to a drift mine at Rhigos. South Wales. I was sent to work with a skilled Miner cutting coal. Eventually handling “Dynobel” (Explosive) and the detonator which brought down either the coal or roof as required. When I become 21, I was put to repairing by night which involved putting up 14 foot rings to make new roadways. I fulfilled my obligation in South Wales, completing three and a half years there. We received no gratuity nor Demob clothing, a difficulty on returning to office work and coupons being required. I tried to get some form of recognition for Bevin Boys, no one was interested, I even tried M.P.’s ,receiving a letter from Ness Edwards, Minister of Labour, saying “nothing doing”. British Legion pointed out they only recognised the Armed services.