- Contributed by
- GEORGE DETHRIDGE
- People in story:
- george dethridge
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 June 2003
BBC If I may submit this part of my life for your ww2 site. My Life.1937/1946
14th December 1937 here I am born into this big wide world, I am my parents fifth child the third son with two sisters born in the East End, Stratford, London. My fathers occupation was as house decorator and my mother was a full time housewife, with five children it certainly was a full time job, not many women went out to work if they had children in the nineteen thirties and forties, a husbands main job was to house, feed and clothe his family, their world was the family and its well-being. I have great difficulty in remembering much of my early childhood, in fact none relating to our years in London. Family has now increased with the arrival of a new brother born in 1939 before hostilities begin with Germany, so there are now eight family wise. My only earliest recollection comes with our move to Cambridge during the Second World War (1940) as evacuees.
My eldest brother has been able to pencil in the missing years regarding our move to Cambridge. It starts with the bombing of the East End of London by Germany. Air raid sirens would inform Londoners that another night of bombing had started and as a family we would go to London’s underground used as shelters and hopefully be safe from the air raids. After one such incident on coming out of air raid shelter we found out that our house had been damaged by bomb blast and the house was inhabitable. As housing was scarce there was no way of getting housing soon in London. So it came to pass that we arrived in Cambridge. Our first place of call in Cambridge was to Douglas House (Now Evelyn’s Private Hospital) Trumpington Road from here we are sent to Leys School, Fen Causeway, a private boarding place of education for the well to do. Leys school had been set up to accommodate evacuees while they were assessed for movement to parts of the Town (Cambridge became a City much later). We stayed at Leys school for three weeks, which was used for evacuees and also as an annex for the main Addenbrookes hospital during the war. Again this was to be our temporary home, we then moved to a place in the heart of the town called Clements Place very close to the Round Church, a small end terrace house which was to be our own home (Clements Place has since disappeared, was demolished for multi-story car park). Leaving Dad on his own in London and my mother having look after us all here in Cambridge on her own, it must have been so daunting for them both, to us an adventure. My father had found the family another house in the East End of London and tried to refurnish for our return to London. Then as we were due to join father again, there was a shock for mum as the house dad had managed to find was again damaged after a bombing raid. So we are destined to stay in Cambridge for the time being. My father was in London’s fire watch service (Like many people in the war he had to do his normal days work then report for fire watch as and when required which was most nights when bombing took place) so he had to stay in London.
Our home at Clements Place is were my life seems to start as all that had gone on before in London with all its ups and downs holds no memories for me. Clements Place was a very small house and I can remember that in the front room (Lounge) there was a steel structure, which was a Morrison air-raid shelter, as we had no garden for the commonly used Anderson shelter. Also when we arrived we had metal railing at the front of the house, which was later removed by workmen to be used for the countries war effects, the men had a rather big hand pushing cart with two massive wheels, they had many railings, aluminium pots and pans on the cart which householders where encouraged to pass on if the families could manage without them or they were beyond repair.
My first and main and clear memories of living in Cambridge now seem to revolve round the American GIs. The words that many of my age will remember will be going to the GIs and asking them “Got any gum chum” and usually they had and would always let you have a strip of gum or if you fell real lucky you may get five strips, a full packet. I can remember being disappointed if they gave the little white segments that could be purchased here in UK. One such GI asked if I had a big sister at home and I replied that I had and he asked me to take him to meet her. On going to our house my mother came out and I can remember saying ” This man wants to meet, before I could finish the GI on meeting my mother face to face he quickly turned on his heels and went off saying “its alright ma’m I’m on my way”. Thinking back she was my big sister but at that time she could only have been about twelve or thirteen. As with the chewing gum saga occasionally we would get black liquorish flavour and that was a treat and when the black American GI’s came to Cambridge we thought that they all chewed black liquorish gum we innocently thought that as we had never seen a black person before. They were as kind and friendly as where all the GI’s at that time. At the end of Clements Place was a thatched cottage belonging to a college professor and his wife they used to entertain us at certain times of the year such as Christmas and Easter. I do remember them at Easter, as they would hide Easter eggs for us to find, several Easters eggs would be ordinary chicken eggs (chocolate hard to come by) that had been hard-boiled, and we would then decorate and paint them to make them more festive! I guess the professor’s family must have felt sorry for our rather large family and they did their bit to ease mum and dad at these hard and difficult times. Dad had now rejoined the family from London, which I am lead to believe was not easy for him to get permission for moving because of the on going war.
There was also a very nice couple in Portugal Place who used to take us all under their wings and entertain us during our early days in Cambridge. I believe dad used to do odd jobs for them and this was one way of them paying dad back for his help. We could play with ease round and about Clements Place there was plenty of old wooden buildings about to explore and some older terraced house’s that where empty to muck about in.
I do believe it was a happy time in all our young lives and it was the adults whom seem to be having all the heartache of coping with the war and all the built in problems that we as children did not understand. Another thing I am not so sure about is schooling, we lived very close to Park Street infants school and I can remember going there whether to visit or attend I am not certain as starting age for school then was five and I am sure we had moved home before I was five. We also lived very close to Jesus Green and I have some happy memories of playing there, and fishing in the stream next to Jesus College. Our fishing tackle would be a jam jar tied to a piece of string and stick, it made it difficult to catch fish but that was all we knew and enjoyed. I can also picture a building next to the round church when on a certain day in the year somebody or some organisation would throw copper coins for the children to collect as a treat, they would be farthings, halfpennies, what was the reason for this I did not know but at the time very welcome as copper coins could buy sweeties (rationing not in force yet). None of my brothers or sisters can remember this happening but I have it in my head as clear as clear. I know that coin giving was a tradition for the Cambridge Midsummer Fair so during the war maybe the Fair was cancelled and they moved it to this building near the round church?
1941 now and the arrival of a new sister making our family complete, so altogether there are nine with mum and dad. We are now in our new home in Gwydir Street which has three bedrooms, an end terrace house with a back yard, with outside toilet and hanging on the sidewall of the house was our tin bath. Not forgetting that there are now nine in the family the three bedrooms were not really big enough by today’s standard but it was home and it was the best that could be done at that time. Downstairs was the front room (Lounge) it had a fireplace (fire only lit on Christmas day and Boxing day) and one gas lamp for lighting, this room was only used on high days and holidays; such as Christmas, it was known as the best room. The next room was the dining and cooking room with a cast iron black hearth, this was used for cooking and a fire was always on the go as this is were the hot water came from, a kettle or pan would be on the hearth continuously as this was the main source of hot water for all the jobs about the house and of course tea making at all hours, plus heating the solid metal iron when mother had ironing to do. With nine in the household she had plenty of ironing to do.
Mondays was taken up by mother to do the family wash, all the washing was done by hand and Tuesdays was her ironing day, so she did not have much time for herself as there was still the children to cook and care for. A door to the stairs was also off this room, it also had a gas lamp for lighting. In the next and final room was the scullery, in here was the brick boiler for washing the clothes, which was heated by wooden blocks, near the window was situated the deep sink with just a cold tap for the whole house. That was the inside of our home and in the yard was the w.c (toilet) and I do know there was no toilets rolls, just piece’s of old newspaper squares that dad had cut up and hung on a piece of string. I believe that mum and dad were more than happy with the layout of Gwydir Street, as it was a big improvement from Clemance Place. Mum and dad slept with my young sister in their bedroom and my two other sisters had the other bedroom, so that meant us four brothers had to share the third bedroom, with one double bed this meant that we had to sleep top and toe, i.e. Two at one end and the other two at the bottom end. We slept like this for many years to come. The backyard was about four yards Square, not a lot of space. At the back of the house was a large warehouse storing magnesium, for incendiary bombs. This in its self caused problems with rats and other vermin so we had a cat to help to control this aspect of our daily lives.
Younger brother and sister
My every day to day life seemed to go very well and again I think we were happy in our own way as most people were in the same situation, not having to much material wise and all parents struggling to make ends meet by way of feeding, clothing and keeping their families safe and healthy to the best of their abilities. I attended the St Mathews Infants School near York Street, which was very close to our home, so we all walked to and from school as just about every child did. I came home for lunch (we called it dinner time) and maybe had soup or jam sandwiches, or whatever mother had got me, usually something substantial to keep me going.
Later schools started to supply dinner to pupils so we would then stay at school until going home time. Guess this pleased mum as we would not be under her feet and she would have more time to do her chores about the home. We always went to school with a breakfast inside our tummy it was usually porridge covered in Golden Syrup (treacle) or sugar, topped with milk and again if you were lucky it would be a new bottle of milk on the table with the cream at the top, if you were first down for breakfast you got the cream and that would cause resentment amongst the rest of the family because the milk left was rather like cloudy water. School days seemed to go very well and I do believe I enjoyed my days there although the teachers insisted on discipline we accepted that as part of schooling as discipline was taught at home and what dad or mum said went, no arguing. I believe that mum was the real disciplinarian as she had the brunt of our tantrums and any misbehaving and if a heavy hand was needed she knew how to dish out punishment, she would not hit for the sake of hitting but if any of us needed to be put in order she would not hesitate in letting us know who was boss.
Dad was at work for long hours and like all children if dad was about we would be on our best behaviour. I had many friends and there was plenty of children round about my age plus I had my own brothers and sisters to play with. It was also about this time that our cousin from Dagenham came to live with because of the bombing in London, so another body in our house making our home rather more overcrowded. He was family and so as like everyone at this time people put up with what had to be under such conditions. Like most youngsters we would have played in the street, I only know of one person having a car in the street, so rather than being under our parent’s feet we played safely in the road. This man who owned the car in Gwydir Street was a baker and from his home to he used to make meat pies and sell them to local residents and he also made many pastry pies. One thing that still haunts me today is that mother gave me three pennies to buy a meat pie from the baker for dads dinner, on calling round to buy the pie one was cooling on the bakers window sill, why I don’t know but I quickly pinched the pie and ran back home, gave mum the pie, kept the money. I spent the three pennies next day, what on who knows. It still hurts to remember that incident as he was a good man and some Sundays he would take most of us children from Gwydir Street for a ride in his car as a treat, not far, sometimes just to Norfolk Street and back. He also entertained us with a piano type musical instrument that had a big brass disc and as it rotated it would make contact with pins set within the body of the piano and out came music.
While on the subject of being naughty and misbehaving there was the time when a policeman caught us for scrumping, pinching apples and plums from St Mathews Church garden the policeman took our names and address’s and said that he would be going to see our parents. I gave the policeman a false name but like an idiot gave my real address. On getting home my father gave me a real dressing down for pinching but also for being daft enough to give a false name yet daft enough to give my correct address. One would have thought that I should have learnt my lesson and to keep on the straight and narrow and out of trouble. Not me, many months later I was with some friends in the town centre and we went into Woolworth’s, we had no money and went to look around, what did I do? I took a water pistol off the counter, put it in my pocket and smartly was apprehended by a store assistant, she (rightly) accused me of stealing the water pistol, I started to cry, another shop worker came to see what the problem was and she must have taken pity and a shine to me as she managed to convince the lady holding me that I did not steal the toy as when she pressed the trigger of the pistol, water came out so it could not be a new one (obviously tested at the factory) and I was allowed to keep the water pistol and go on my way, no one in my family ever knew of this episode in my life and I don’t remember going into Woolworth’s again without mum or dad.
Many friends parents kept chickens in their back gardens and those who had bigger gardens kept pigs and ducks as the garden was really a rearing place to feed the family, if there were any scraps of food left over it was taken to the house with the pigs, the left over food was known as pigs swill, cooked and prepared for the pigs to eat. The garden was for growing of vegetables, as my parents did not have a garden they had to buy most of their food from the local shop in the street and maybe scrounge from who ever had access to needed food commodities. My mother always managed to feed us all very well and I cannot remember not having a proper meal. I think my favourite meal anyway was jam sandwiches. I liked the end crust of the bread which we used to call the Nobby, why I don’t know but all of us liked to have the Nobby of the bread so I guess there must have been a few choice words as there were only two Nobby’s to each loaf, but if the top of the bread was crusty then mum would take the top off and then most of the family got crusty bread, mind you mum used to go through at least two loaves a sitting with nine of us to feed.
On the rare and I mean very rare occasions we had fish and chips from the fish shop in Gwydir Street and they were very good, if there was any fish left over mum always kept it to eat the next day as nothing was thrown away. I would go to the fish shop with friends and ask for fritters, these were the pieces of batter that had come off the fish during cooking and were normally sold for a penny a bag, but sometimes the fish man would take pity on us and give a few, not every time but sometimes, “if you don’t ask you don’t get”, that was one of my mums favourite sayings, mind you if we asked mum nine times out of ten we would not get. There was a greengrocers shop close to were we lived and recall seeing in their window potatoes at one penny a lb, to me this was good value. As dad came home from work that evening I went to him and asked for a penny to buy something, unusually he gave the penny to me, without wanting to know why I wanted the penny. Off I went to the greengrocers and I bought a pound of potatoes and proudly went home and said to mum look what I’ve bought you. Well my mum went completely off the deep end and was so angry with me and she was so concerned that the man who served me in the shop would tell other local shoppers that our family only bought only a pound of potatoes to feed nine people, and what would they say behind our backs. So my lovely surprise for my mum turned into a nightmare and I don’t think I ever done that sort of thing again.
We also took empty jam jars to the shop and we were paid one penny for four jars so we used to go round to find as many as possible to earn a few pennies and go to neighbours hoping to get some more. I think just about everything was recycled during the war years. As there was no electric in the house our wireless (radio) was powered by a accumulator (Battery) which had to be recharged every so often, this meant taking it to a shop in Newmarket Road, carrying it either in a cycle basket or walking with a babies push chair as they were very heavy. Coal for the fire was delivered by coal merchants but on some occasions when we had run low we would then have to get the cycle and go to the Gas Works on Newmarket Road and collect a bag of coke, then try to balance it on the cycle frame to get it home. As time went on school children had to have their own spoon with identification (cotton wrapped round the handle) and we were given a spoon of malt a day at school as a supplement for lack of vitamins and essentials to keep the body going, I can say that I did enjoy malt. Only trouble with the spoons was that most had black cotton tied to them so it was difficult to know whose was who's spoon.
We would also get a third of a pint of ordinary milk daily at school. Later the milk tops were to be of value as they started having slogans printed on them and us children would play “Knock Down” to get as many tops as we could, ”Knock Down” was leaning one milk top up against a wall and we would flick or scale other tops at the one against the wall if you knocked it down you kept all those that had missed and were on the floor, just one of the older games at that time. We also played this type of game with cigarettes cards, the cards used to have celebrity and sports printed on them and they were very popular, as dad smoked we would have his cards and he would get them for us from his workmates, most children had access to these cards from one source or another, it was good fun. Very popular at this time was “hopscotch” which entailed chalking on the roads or pavements alternating the numbers then having to throw a stone on to what ever number was required to get to the end, hopping on one leg. I do believe this game is still played today but not on the roads, mainly in school playgrounds. We also played a game called jinx (five stones) this was played using your palm of hand by flipping stone’s in the air and catching stones on your knuckles, those that stayed on your hand were put to one side then those still on your knuckles had to be flip into the palms of your hand, this game went on and on with many variations. Marbles was of course the king pin of games at that time, we would play in the road side gutters, trying to hit your opponents marble to win, they were a source of wealth as marbles were truly treasured game, but many arguments came from this game. Mainly the girls played the traditional game of skipping with a rope all the time.
Another memory of this time was to take empty tins or jam jars to school and we would have them filled with powered chocolate, this was real luxury, we would dip our fingers in it on the way home and hope that we had not eaten it all by the time we got home. I believe the powder came from Canada, and most welcome to, as chocolate of any sort was a real treat. Because of the very small gardens there was a big brick built air-shelter in the street for all the residents to use when the siren went to alert of an air raid.
Part of our family at air raid shelter in Gwydir Street
I know that Cambridge had it its fair share of bombs and aircraft crashing all about and mum used to say, “the bombs will get us one day”. But thank God they never did. As far back as I can remember my mother always had grey hair, what with the bombs and nine in the family to care for no wonder she was grey and yet my father had real black hair and few grey ones, so guess poor old mum done most of the worrying while dad was at work. One of the good things to come from the end of the second world war was the celebration street party in which the whole of Gwydir Street attended, rows and rows of residents tables were lined along the street, table cloths covered them and all the goodies there to be eaten by one and all, how I loved jelly, there were loads of union jacks and star and stripe flags, people wearing funny hats and clothes and a wonderful time had by all.
My other worst memory was the day that I was on my way home from school and getting bitten by a rather large Alsatian dog, the bite was on my left shoulder and I can recall that very clearly and the panic of mother trying to console me and some people saying he should go to hospital others saying its only a scratch. Don’t know to this day if I went to hospital for the dog bite. This experience put me off dogs and I had such a fear of them in the coming years.
Talking of fears my next real fear started with having to go to a school dentist at a clinic in Auckland Road, it had a dismal waiting room, the dentist was a large woman in white overall and did not make me feel relaxed at all and she had far from the whitest teeth and not a good advert for looking after teeth one bit. The dentist chair was much as they are today, but the drilling machine, was a foot pedal operated contraption in which the harder the dentist leg pressure was applied the faster the drill went, so a lot depended on how fit the dentist was and how tired her legs were at the time of day and treatment administered, all this added to whether you felt the drilling on your teeth or not. But very fortunately I had gone there to have a brace fitted to help straighten my front top teeth. Hardly wore them, but they did help and my teeth seemed to be okay later. The fear of the dentist is still with me today and I put it down to this very first encounter. Another thing we all had to do, as a family was to go to the Auckland Road every so often to have a bath in some sort of disinfectant. This entailed attending the baths, undressing and again a large women in a white overall would usher us into a cubical in which there was a large bath full of horribly smelling white fluid, the female attendant would watch over us a make sure that we got into the bath and that our whole bodies were submerged and that we ducked our heads under the contents, making sure we were well and truly covered top to tail. I believe we had to spend ten minutes in the bath we were then allowed to get out, dry ourselves and go off home. I was told that the baths were to get rid of all types of lice and to prevent scabies. One thing for sure it was horrible and not recommended.
Saturdays was our family bath night, the tin bath would be put in front of the fire, dad would be in charge of this operation, and he would keep topping up the bath with hot water from a kettle off the fire. Our sisters always went first, we boys were to dirty so we would be waiting our turn, as soon as the girls were bathed we would then get into the bath and try to get clean, there was always a scum around the bath as by now it had five or six of us in the same water. After the bathing of us all we would sit in front of the fire to dry out and mum would then go through our hair on our heads to check for hair lice (fleas or nits). Saturdays was also known as “nit night” when a flea was found in our hair mum would lay it on her left thumb nail and press her right thumb nail on top of the flea and click it was dead. Dad would empty the tin bath with a saucepan; this took some time to complete and was the worst job of bath night. Mind you we always had Donald Peers singing on the wireless and his opening tune was “In a shady nook by a babbling nook” and we listened with a cup of warm drink, so that’s how Saturday nights bathing would end, this happened week in and week out. If it was winter time and the house was very cold and damp, at bedtime we would collect from dad a hot brick (ordinary builders brick) wrapped in brown paper to take to bed as we did not own any hot water bottles, this worked very well and as said before us brothers shared the same bed so it would be all feet on the brick. I guess Saturdays were the best night for bathing as we would then be clean for Sunday and also for going to Sunday school. We always had clean clothes on Sundays and we had to keep clean, so some Sunday afternoons in summer time we would all go to midsummer common to have a picnic, also maybe once or twice a year a real treat was to go from Victoria Avenue bridge on a mini cruise to the Plough Pub at Fen Ditton, the boat would leave Victoria Avenue and motor along the river cam, it took about an hour or so, at the Plough Pub we would leave the boat and it went on to Ely, we would cross the river by a small hand operated chain ferry to the garden of the pub. Dad would treat us to a glass of lemonade, packet of crisps and this was heaven, and we would stay in the pubs garden until the boat returned from its trip to Ely, maybe two to three hours. One of the many scams that we as children got up to was with church Sunday Schools. Although most of our family attended the Salvation Army regularly in Tension Road there was time’s when we used to go to the Zion Church on East Road and the Methodist Church on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street (now a restaurant at the Grafton Centre) the main reason for this was that most church’s had annual trips to various place’s of interest, most popular was Wicksteed Park in Kettering, soon as friends knew of the church’s calendar for these trips they would inform their mates and as long as you had attended at least six weeks prior to going to the outings, then you got invited to go on the trip, this way we would move maybe two to three times a year and our religious commitments never really went beyond the free trips. This freebee of church’s also extended to Christmas time, as again good attendance got you entitled to the church Christmas Parties and also a prize, which was usually a book relating to the bible in one way or another, so they got you in the end with their teachings. My mother and father did not attend church and it was not until many years later that I found out the reason we had to go to church was to give mum and dad some privacy and some hours of blessed peace on their own. One treat was that we would go regularly to the Kinema Cinema on Mill Road, we went here many times and it was known as the flea pit around Cambridge, we used to go mainly on a Saturday morning and I guess it kept us off the streets and out of mischief, plus Saturdays mornings was children’s cinema time and cheaper to attend, again all good fun and at the end of performances we would exit by side door into Dales Brewery Yard, the dust bins for the cinema were kept in the yard and we would rummage through the bins looking for parts of film reels that had been thrown out by the cinema and always getting something of interest from the bins. Dales Brewery was well known around Cambridge for its good ales, all that I remember is the smells what came from their factory when they were brewing, told it was the smell of yeast and hops and their delivery horses. Sadly this is no longer part of Cambridge but the main building is still there today in Gwydir Street. Apparently there were six public houses in Gwydir Street at this time and I know that dad liked a pint and one or two of the pubs had him as a customer. Mother did not drink so she stayed home with us. Only remember dad being drunk once and that was to celebrate my eldest sister getting engaged to her GI serviceman, whom she later married.
Sisters American boyfriend, brother and me.
A tale about my sisters American boyfriend was that he used to bring candy (sweets) for the family and mum used to keep them in a high cupboard, one type of candy was a honeycombed bar (much like today’s Crunchy Bar) after a while someone in the family started to pinch lumps of the bar, naturally no one owned up to stealing, so unknown to any one the candy bar was some how hollowed out and good old English mustard was put into the bar, hopping to catch the culprit who was stealing it. Needless to say the culprit soon gave himself away as he took a bite of the doctored candy. I am pleased to say it was not me. Although I cannot recall my mother or father arguing I can recall my mother on hearing a song on the wireless crying and I remember the song going “Don’t sell daddy anymore whiskey, it’ll drive you crazy it’ll drive you insane” why it effected mum so much I don’t know, asking if she was okay after the song had ended she replied “yes” dried her eyes and got on with her work. She was also very touched by the film “No Room At The Inn” this was a tale of very poor people and their struggle to find a home and survive, again it made mum shed a few tears.
Mum had a heart of gold and she used to help anyone in strife, some better off than us some even worse off than us but if help were needed she would do her best. With rationing and ours being a large family there were some things that mum had a surplus off or possibly could not afford at the time and she would always get her rationing allowances and let someone else have the benefit, like rashers of bacon and she never ever made a profit from this dealing. I have said that I enjoyed school and in 1947 the whole of the country had one of its worst winters and one day we woke up to find that snow was about two foot high around all the house, I still went to school, feeling good that I had made the effort and struggled in the snow to attended, on arriving at school I was told to go home because of the bad weather, don’t think mother approved of the teachers decision, so we were under her feet for the rest of the day. I’m sure that we had a good time with the day off and played outside in the snow and them coming home crying with hot aches on our fingers, of which mothers reply would be “serves you right, you won’t learn will you”. This meant that she had warned us that the likelihood of getting cold and wet would affect our well being and as we had no gloves it was obvious that hot aches was due to us all.
Happy memories of Gwydir Street were our family Christmas’s and the build up to that day of days. It would start about three weeks before Christmas with mother making the Christmas pudding and all of us children having a stir of the mix and as you stirred, making a wish, always told to keep your wish to yourself, as if you told anyone about you wish it would not come true. Then a silver sixpenny piece was wrapped in aluminium foil and stirred into the pudding mix and one hoped that when it was served that you would be the lucky one to get the silver treasured coin. We also wished when mother made the Christmas cake, as we would again take turns to stir the mix, no sixpence were put in the cake. Its sort of funny but we seemed to be eating from the time we got up to the time we went to bed on Christmas Day, oranges, nuts, mince tarts and lovely chicken sandwiches at night time before going to bed. How did mum and dad manage it at times of great shortages? They have done us proud. Great Days.
We as a family are now on our third house move since arriving in Cambridge, we are off to Kings Hedges Road in Chesterton. My eldest sister at 16 had now married her GI and she had moved to the USA, so it came that eight of us moved from Gwydir Street to our now home. ld be attending St Georges at East Road. I was allowed to attend St Georges because of the past history of my brothers and sister going there, this meant a long cycle ride to school each day but I was prepared for this and pleased that I was given permission to go to St Georges and team up with all the lads I knew. Our new home in Kings Hedges Road was much bigger and it had a front garden and a very large back garden. The house itself was much bigger although it still only had three bedrooms, but it had a bathroom, for us luxury, the toilet undercover outside, and a hot water system from the open coal fire. The house looked like a two story pre-fab house made of sheets of asbestos.
Our sleeping arrangements stayed much the same as Gwydir Street, mum and dad had their own room, my two sisters shared their own bedroom and we four brothers still had to share a bedroom with two beds, so we never had our own bed. I can remember our first bath night in the new house as usual it was a Saturday and as we had a fire all day and with the fire we should have had hot water. We got into the bathroom, undressed as mum ran the bath for us all and guess what! The water was stone cold and poor mum had to put up with us moaning about the cold water but needless to say we still had to have a bath and get on with it. The hot water system never worked in all the years we lived in this house. So dad had to purchase a gas boiler to heat the water and then it had to be carried up the stairs in buckets. After a few days of arriving in our new home we were allowed out to play and hopefully find some new friends, my first encounter with local children was of total disbelief as one girl who lived a couple of doors away came to say hello, same sort of age as ourselves, no sooner had we smiled at each other when a bigger girl shouted at her to leave us alone as her mum had said that they were not allowed to play with us as we had come from London and Londoners were nothing but trouble. Feeling very hurt I went home told mum about us Londoners being trouble and she dashed out of the house to confront them, but no one was about and we had to wonder why we had this sort of reputation. God the war had only be over a few years and we (Londoners) were the enemy in the eyes of these Cambridge people. Mum next day made us go out and play and she was ready for some sort of encounter with our new neighbours but nothing came from it and we children all seemed to get on very well from then on as most children do.
We children became very close as the weeks and months went by, as did my parents to all the neighbours and also their children. While on the subject of Londoners this did crop up again much later when playing as boys do, I can recall playing golf with a walking stick as the club, it was my turn and I swung the stick missed the ball, hit a friend on the side of his head. He cried, his mum shouted at me “you bloody Londoners are nothing but trouble” she stopped him playing, I went home again asking mum why us “Londoners are so much trouble”, mum assured me that we were not any different from them and don’t take any notice, they had a problem, not us Londoners. As the years went on we were very good friends and the boys mum also was a good person, we all got to know one and other and are still very good friends today. We really had some good times and we had to make our own entertainment and we always seemed to have plenty to do and we did enjoy our younger lives very much.
In the late forties and early fifties Kings Hedges Road was very country like as two thirds was open fields all the way across to Arbury Road. At the end of the road was a very large wooded area, which went all the way to Impington. We spent many years playing in those woods doing daft things like, war games, collecting bird’s eggs from their nests, making a hole at both ends of the egg and blowing out the inners then keeping the egg shell in one piece to take home, some broke before getting home so they were disregarded and we would do the same thing next time we were in the woods. There was always wild fruit to gather we would all try and pick eatable berries but sometimes go it wrong and had to spit a nasty tasting berry out of our mouth, touch wood we never poisoned ourselves. But the real pleasure of the woods was a massive store of army tanks that were parked in an old army camp on the edge of Cambridge with the entrance on Milton Road. This camp backed on to the wooded area so we would scale the fence and climb onto the tanks to play but keeping an eye out for guards, as we were trespassing but it was an adventure to explore and if we were seen the guards would shout at us and we ran like rabbits back into the woods. This camp was also were the dead American servicemen bodies would be prepared for return to the USA for burial, sad times for many families. There was also a rail siding into the camp were all sorts of goods would be delivered and moved out, this was also a past time to watch with interest all sorts of military hardware movements.
Our leisure pursuits still carried on with a new game coming along this time it was with a air rifle and it belonged to one of our friends and we had many good times with this, taking turns to shoot tin cans, sometimes shot at birds (now regret deeply) it bought a new excitement to our pass time in the woods. One memory of dads work was that he would bring home every so often a large Madeira cake, which was issued to the staff at one of the colleges he worked at as a thank you; this was a real treat for all the family. Going back to our days in the woods we had many happy years mucking about in them and this went on well into our teens, so we had all we needed to have some fun. Life was good on Kings Hedges Road and I had many friends and we all were keen fans of football, cricket.
From G Dethridge.
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