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My Memories of My Childhood in South London

by A_Brixton_Lass

Contributed by 
A_Brixton_Lass
People in story: 
Elsie Turner
Location of story: 
Brixton - South London
Article ID: 
A2074277
Contributed on: 
24 November 2003

MY MEMORIES

BY

ELSIE TURNER

MEMORIES OF MY CHILDHOOD IN SOUTH LONDON IN THE 1930’s AND 1940’s

FOR MY GRANDCHILDREN

I was born in London on 29th May 1927 and as a child I lived in Brixton, South London.

These are some memories of my childhood in London in the 1930s and 1940s
And
Growing up in Post War London

MY CHILDHOOD
I remember, when I was a small child, playing with my two sisters, Esme and Lily. Esme was four years older than me, and Lily was six years older.

We used to play with Lily’s friend Masie Gee; she lived down the bottom end of our street, Doverfield Road (Brixton). We used to dress up in the old clothes that her mother gave us and I felt very grand with high heeled shoes and a chiffon scarf tied around my waist! Trouble was, when we played ‘mothers and fathers’, because I was the youngest I was always made to be the baby and had to lie on the couch and pretend to be asleep.

We were invited by Masie’s mother to her birthday party, and when we arrived there were two little boys and two little girls. We all sat around the table and were given ‘seed cake’ and a cup of tea, but we didn’t like the black seeds in the cake and thought it was a rotten party! We were expecting jelly and cream and iced cakes.

We played games after tea and there was one game that I remember quite well. Masie’s mum put some things in a line on the floor; a vase, an ashtray, a book and a bag. We were taken out of the room and a scarf was put around our eyes. We ere then to be led back into the room and told to carefully step over the objects; if we could do so without knocking any over we would win a prize!

Of course, unknown to the person blindfolded, the objects had been taken away leaving the blindfolded victim wobbling and stepping over nothing at all, much to the amusement of those watching!

We became excited as we waited blindfolded outside, wondering what was happening’ and more excited still as the first little boy was taken in. Suddenly, there was a scream and the sound of loud crying from inside. We snatched off our blindfolds and looked at each other with scared faces. Whatever was going on in there we were not going to wait to find out, and we went running out of the front door and down the road.

Our mother was surprised to see us back so quickly as the party was supposed to last from three to six o clock and we were home at four! Of course, Masie and her mother couldn’t make out where all the children had got to. When she came to our house a little later on to find out what had happened, she and my mother laughed fit to bust. The little boy had only fallen over and hurt his knee!

I’m sad to say that in the 1939 – 1945 war, Masie Gee was blinded by window glass shattering in her face from the blast from a bomb which fell at the end of our road. She was only sixteen.

I remember next door to us lived a widow called Mrs Hardbattle. She had two daughters about thirty and thirty five, neither of whom were married. Their house inside was kept very tidy; not a cushion out of place, and the floors and tables were highly polished.

She used to get me to do her errands for her. I wanted to just hand the shopping over and be off with my friends to play, but she would always make me go in and sit down while she put all the things in her cupboard. She took ages it seemed to me! I would be sitting on the edge of her chair so that I wouldn’t crumple her cushion.

Then she would come in holding a penny and tell me “to be a good girl and help my mother”. She would hold the penny out but not let got of it. So there we were, me holding half of the penny and she the other half; and all the time I had to keep saying “thank you very much, yes, I do help my mummy, thank you”.

Looking at her pictures and photos hanging on the walls while she talked, I saw they were all of old people and her two daughters looking very stern. It seemed such a relief to me when she finally gave me the penny and I walked out as quickly as I could.

When I was younger – not yet old enough to run errands, my sister and I would play in our garden with a ball, bouncing it up the wall. Often it would go over the top into Mrs Hardbattle’s garden. I could never get her name right; I would yell out “Mrs Handbottle, can we have our ball back?”.

My father had a fish pond in the back garden and he was very proud of his garden was my dad. We had a nice lawn and flower beds, a rockery and a lovely arch of roses over the path leading to the back gate.

Anyway, to return to the fishpond. Dad spent quite a bit of money on his fish and one day he found them floating dead on the surface. He soon discovered the reason; Mrs Hardbattle had been spraying her roses and the spray had drifted over and settled on the pond! When dad complained to her she became cross too. “Picking on an old widow woman”, she said.

I remember we had a cat called ‘Tiddles’. She had four kittens and one day they fell into the fishpond. My mother got them out and wrapped them in a towel and then put them in front of the coal fire. When they dried out they were like little balls of fluff, there were so sweet!

The night before Tiddles was expecting her kittens, my mother shut her in the cupboard under the stairs with an old blanket to keep her warm and cosy, and a saucer of milk. When she started to give birth of course she cried a lot. Esme and I thought mother was very cruel and nasty shutting Tiddles up in the cupboard! When everyone had gone to bed we crept downstairs and let her out.

You can imagine the mess the next morning when mother came downstairs; there on her best armchair was Tiddles with her four little kittens and all of the mess that came with them.

As well as Tiddles we had two budgies. Dad used to let them fly around the room; my sister couldn’t bear it and she would hide under the table. One day one of the budgies landed on her head and she had a screaming fit!

Esme was the sister I played with the most. We used to sit in the evening around the table; my mother with her sewing machine making a patchwork quilt, or making a nightdress for us, or clothes for our dolls. My sister Lily would read a book while Esme was knitting and my father and I played cards. Dad used to put his records on; it was so nice and cosy in the winter with the big lights turned off.

My dad had a wind-up gramophone record player and a big collection of records, mostly classical, but a few he had bought for us children. I remember ‘Play Fiddle Play’, ‘The Good Ship Nancy Lee’, ‘ A Couple of Soldiers My Baby And Me’, ‘The Floral Dance’ and ‘Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?’. The records were not like the ones you buy today, they were made of black acetate (a bit like plastic) and were big, about 12 inches across. The gramophone was quite loud and didn’t need electricity to make it work. But you had to keep winding it up after every record.

My sisters and I used to have a lot of fun dancing to records. We would push the table back and pretend that we were on stage. My mother would sit in her chair and watch us and laugh.

My dad’s older brother and all of our cousins lived right next door to us. Uncle Fred and Auntie Maude had three girls and one boy; all of them quite a lot older than us girls. I remember one day I went to play next door with my youngest cousin. I was three or four and she was ten years old. She sat me down and we played hairdressers. She cut a lot of my hair off! I didn’t mind and was eating some sweets she had given me. When my mother saw me she was hopping mad. “All your lovely curls gone!” Mum gave next door a good telling off!

My dad had three more brothers; one was called Jack, he was single and always in hospital. He had brain damage from the army; his friends (so called) were playing about and threw him up in a blanket and he came down on his head. He had, so I was told, a bit of bone pressing against his brain. I suppose in this day and age the doctors would be able to do something for him. He was the youngest.

The next brother was called Walter, Wall for short. He lived down the end of our road and had one son. The next was Will and he lived at Morden and had a son and daughter. He was the show-off of the family, the one always playing the fool. Then came my dad, George and then Fred who lived next door. They were all taxi drivers.

Dad always took us out on Sundays for a run in the country. People in the small villages ere not used to seeing a London taxi cab and used to stare at us.

I remember dad taking us to Oxford and Cambridge and seeing quite young boys of eight or ten all dressed up in top hats and striped trousers. My sisters and I giggled at them, they looked so funny to us! My father was a good family man; didn’t drink, maybe sometimes just one when we went for a drive out somewhere on a Sunday.

Mum and us children would sit in the pub garden and dad would bring us some drinks and crisps. He never smoked either, but he did like a drink called ‘Tizer’. He had quite a passion for that and another drink called ‘Zesto’ which he also used to like.

I remember we went to a place called Whitstable and on the way we had a picnic just by the taxi, sitting on the grass. My sisters and I went running into a field to pick some flowers and I trod in a cow’s pancake! I went crying back to mum and she cleared it up. What a thing to be a mother, the things they do for their children.

Later on when I went to work as a helper at a children’s nursery, I was combing a little girl’s hair; I didn’t realize that some of the little ones had nits! Of course I caught them too and my poor mother had to clean my hair for two weeks before I got rid of them. She wouldn’t let me go back to work at the nursery after all that trouble. But the time that I did work there was a very happy time for me; I loved it.
SECONDARY SCHOOL
When I was eleven, I was sent to Lyam Road Secondary School. My first teacher there was called Miss Groves; when she asked my name she said “oh yes, your sister Esme Jones was in my class. Well, I hope you are better at spelling”, but I wasn’t!

When we were older we were sent to cookery classes. We were not taught the basic things such as good egg dishes or how to cook potatoes in different ways, or how to make neat dishes or salads; it was all silly things like coconut cake or jellies.

We also had Domestic Science (housework!) classes. It was ridiculous really. The teacher would say, “Now girls, I want you to bring some dirty aprons and handkerchiefs in and we will teach you how to wash them.” Well of course most of the mums were far too proud to send dirty washing to the school and would send clean and neatly ironed aprons, towels and hankies ……… so we didn’t learn much in that class either.

I’m sure that if my schools had had much smaller classes we could have learnt more and I would have more knowledge that I have now. My sister Lily’s spelling was good, but Esme’s and mine was and still is terrible!

My sister Lily was very good at spelling, English and lots of other things, but Esme and I were not. Lily was the clever one at school. She went to night school and was taught typing and shorthand and when she left school, she got a job over in the West End with a firm called Jaegar. They had a chain of clothes shops and were famous for their skirts.

Now, I am the only sister left as Esme passed away in September 1994 and Lilly died eight years earlier.

OUR HOUSE
I remember my father and mother’s house, 39 Doverfield Road, Brixton Hill, London, SW2. It was a terraced house, quite big inside.

My bedroom, which I shared with my sister Esme, was quite a good size and looked out onto my father’s well-kept garden. Under the big sash windows was a dressing table with a large oval looking glass and little drawers either side and three larger drawers underneath for clothes. We had a big double bed with brass knobs at each corner. Sometimes they would glow in the dark, and we would imagine that they were eyes looking at us and hide under the bed clothes.

Along the wall facing the bed was a marble top table with pretty green tiles and pink roses along the back. On this table was a lovely big water bow, a washing basin and soap dish. Underneath the marble top was a cupboard to keep towels in. We never actually used the marble top wash table because we had a bathroom.

Next to the marble top table was the fireplace which was only used if we had colds or were ill. On the other side of the fireplace was a big cupboard where my mother kept her cleaning brushes and dusters; then came a large wardrobe with a full length mirror on the outside of the door. There were two or three chairs around the room, and lino (linoleum) on the floor with big rugs on either side of the bed and in front of the fireplace.

We had very long, thick curtains with small lace curtains covering the lower half of the windows.
On the wall at the back of our bed there was a lovely picture of Lady Hamilton (Lord Nelson’s lover) cuddling her small daughter. On the wall above the marble top table was a picture of a woman in a light, long flowing dress, standing on a balcony looking out at the Adriatic Sea.

In our bathroom there was a big white bath, a white wash basin and a toilet; a high wall cistern with a long chain which had a small rubber ball on the end. One wall was completely covered with a mirror; about four feet high and four feet wide. We had a big airing cupboard and the bathroom floor was covered in lino with a rug by the bath. I think we had a copper boiler over the sink which gave luke warm water.

The little bedroom which looked out onto the street belonged to my sister Lily. The furniture was all wicker: dressing table, small table and chair. Her single bed was made of wood of course. I remember that her wallpaper was delightful; very small birds of different species and peacocks here and there.

I must have been a little nuisance because when Lily was out I would go into her room and look at and touch her things. She had wonderful things like cut glass scent sprays, little pots of mysterious powders, sweet little dolls and lots of pictures and books to look at. She would complain to our mum; “That Elsie’s been at my things again”. Poor Lily!

I remember mum and dad had some nice pictures in their bedroom; one was of Romeo and Juliet and another of two unknown lovers.

In our front room was a beautiful mahogany sideboard with an oval mirror. There was a mahogany table, a soft couch with a drop end, mahogany armchairs and a big wide fireplace with two mantle shelves; one high up near the ceiling and one lower down. The fireplace incorporated a half oval mirror and had holly leaves and buds carved in white columns at either side. There were green ceramic tiles on the inner side of the white wood columns and also on the hearth floor. The fireplace was quite lovely, but instead of a coal fire it had a big electric fire with imitation coals on top.

The ceiling had a plaster frieze around the edge and a rose in the middle around the electric light. The room had a large bay of six windows, one of which looked out onto the porch. The windows had long, white lace curtains and inside the bay were two lovely pale blue lace curtains draped back.

We had a large glass bookcase with some really beautiful books in them and a mahogany standard lamp. On the sideboard were two cut glass sherry or wine decanters, really quite beautiful. Also a Royal Doulton vase and pot for flowers and a pretty white marble figure of a lady doctor. There was also a lovely wooden pedestal, always with a vase of flowers on top. It was a beautiful room, but always so cold! We had no central heating radiators or any other form of heating except for a coal fire. We always wore lots of clothes inside the house except in summer.

Our staircase was nice too. You walked along from the front door to about the middle of the hall and then turned to walk upstairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a polished wood balustrade with a flat top on which was another white marble figure of a woman reading a book. In the hall I remember a mahogany coat stand with a mirror, a glove box and wooden umbrella stand. There pictures of Scotland with cattle grazing in the heather and hills in the background.
THE 1939 – 1945 WAR AND EVACUATION
During the first year of the 1939 – 1945 war, when I was eleven years old, the government decided that London was too dangerous for children and that they were all to be evacuated to the countryside. I wasn’t a bit upset; I thought it was a holiday that I was going on.

I said goodbye to mum and dad and went to school with my clothes in a case, my gasmask and a label on a string round my neck with my name and address on it. We all got on a bus outside of the school and off we went. Some children were crying but I thought they were silly.

We arrived at a place called Crawley and six of us went with our teacher to a big house; we ere to sleep all in one big room and the teacher in her own room. The house was the Vicarage and the Vicar lived there with his wife and daughter, who was about seventeen.

When we had sorted out which bed we were to have and had had a wash, we all went downstairs into a big room. The only furniture was a big table in the middle with chairs around it, a few pictures on the wall, and some toys sitting on shelves; there was a carpet on the floor.

We all sat round the table with our teacher and had spam and lettuce and weak tea, but no bread. In place of bread we were given what looked to me like dog biscuits with butter! They were very, very hard and came in squares of five; it would have taken dog’s teeth to eat them! No one ate the biscuits.

One of the girls had gum in her mouth and trying to chew and eat at the same time; the teacher told her to take it out and behave herself. I think our teacher was really mad at the food we were given, because we were only in that house for two days before we were split up into twos and billeted out to other places.

The girl I was with was an orphan and had been passed from one place to another in London, so she was used to going to different people’s houses.

Anyway, we were sent to a really nice young couple, Mr and Mrs Comfort who had not been married long. She was tall and thin with glasses, about twenty one, and he was short with sandy coloured hair, a little older. They had a nice ‘two up, two down’ house with a toilet at the end of the garden. At the bottom of the garden on the other side of the hedge was a railway line, and at night the trains would make a din. When we were first there we couldn’t sleep, but after a few nights we were OK.

They were nice people and looked after us really well. Mrs Comfort was a good cook, and we had delicious fish cakes for breakfast with bread and butter. We used to have some really nice, homemade dinners.

Meanwhile we went to school (ha ha!). Well I laugh because we didn’t do any work at all at school, just played games. The teacher used to bang out tunes on the piano and would ask us what tunes we would like to sing. I asked for ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’, so she banged away and we all shouted it.

We also played a lot of running races in the field and I remember winning a bar of chocolate; but I don’t remember doing any reading or writing or sums or anything like that. The Crawley children were with us evacuees as well, so they must have had a job to fit us all in.
My dad came to visit me twice. Mum couldn’t come, either because she had to look after Esme and Lily or because she was full of pain from her arthritis. Anyway, dad came and I took him out for a walk around Crawley. I remember we walked down a road called ‘Gossip’s Green’ and dad and I laughed. The other time we walked down the High Street and watched Mr Comfort play in the town band; I forget which instrument he played.

My sister Esme told me years later that our mum used to sit and cry for me. Me -- well I didn’t miss mum and dad or my sisters at all! It was all new and different and the days and weeks went by quickly.

We had been at the Comforts’ about three or four months when Mrs Comfort had to go into hospital for an operation. Arrangements were made for my friend and I to live with his brother and his wife about two miles away, right down the High Street just out of town; it was a very long way to walk to school.

This little cottage had a very long, thin front garden. It was a ‘two up, two down’ with very low ceilings and the toilet out in the back garden. She was a short, blond fluffy little woman about twenty-eight; he was tall with glasses and dark hair. They were kind to us. He had a harp which he would let us play on; he didn’t use it himself. We would twang away on it and try to get a tune out of it.

Sometimes he would make us do sums, but it didn’t last long as he soon get fed up! I think he was a farm worker.

One morning when we came downstairs no one could get our of the front or back door due to the snow, it was three quarters of the way up the doors! After a lot of shoveling we were able to get out and get to the toilet, but we didn’t go to school that day.

When my dad came to see me one day he banged his head on the low doorway....poor dad, what a welcome for him.

When I was with the first Mr and Mrs Comfort they took me to see a film called ‘The Man In The Iron Mask’; that night in bed I was so frightened and scared that I nearly suffocated!!

EVACUATION TO BRIDGEWATER
We stayed at that little cottage for about four or five months and then the government decided that we were to be evacuated again farther out from London, as Crawley was not considered to be safe any longer.

So once again we were put on a train with our clothes packed, our gasmasks, and tickets around our necks with our names and addresses on. We were taken to a place called Bridgewater (in Somerset).

This time we were taken to the High Street and stood around in a group while some women came and looked at us and picked out the children they fancied; two each. They didn’t like the look of me and my friend, perhaps because we were too loud, because we were the only ones left at the end. Anyway it turned out to be lucky because the billeting officer and his wife took us home and they had a lovely house. They were kind to us and we had a big bedroom.

He was a big fat man with a big nose and a red face, and she was a tall, plump woman with glasses; they were about fifty or fifty-five. They had no children of their own, so I think that they didn’t really know a lot about young people, but they meant well.

The only thing was she gave us this licourice medicine every week ‘to flush you out’ as she would say; and flush us out it did! We were forever on the toilet! I think my teacher had a word with her, because she stopped doing it after a few weeks.

One weekend a social worker from London came and took my friend back; so I was on my own in that great big bed at night. I didn’t like to be the only child in the house, I was getting lonely. I told my teacher that, although I liked Mr and Mrs Gates, I didn’t want to be there on my own, so I was moved to another house down the road.

This house was very modern, with a large front garden with a wide path up to the house. It had four bedrooms, a large kitchen and a dining room. A Mr and Mrs Bath lived there with their daughter of about twenty.

Another girl and I were given the small bedroom with a big bed and dressing table; it was at the front of the house and looked out onto the street. We were only allowed in the kitchen and the dining room; we would have our meals in the kitchen and in the evening sit around the table in the dining room.

Mr and Mrs Bath were never in; I don’t know where they went in the evening but their daughter and her boyfriend would sit with us. Sometimes we played cards, but most of the time they would be kissing, with my friend and I trying not to look and playing cards by ourselves.

We went to the pictures and saw Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in one of the ’On The Road To….’ Comedy series. In the film they were cornered by some bad guys and to escape, they faced each other and played a game of ‘Pat A Cake’. On the last word of the rhyme, they both swiveled around and punched the bad guy on the nose and ran away. We thought it was very funny.

In the summer when the evenings were light, we would go to the park and play on the swings. One evening a little local lad came and stood by us as we were playing. He was only about eight or nine and he just stood there. I expect that he wanted to play with us.

My friend and I wanted to show off; I don’t know why, but we started the game of ‘Pat A Cake’. The little lad stood there and was watching us, and when we came to the last word we both turned and thumped him in the head, just like we had seen in the film. He ran away crying, poor thing.

The next time we went to the park we were playing away, when suddenly I got whacked around the head! Of course it was the little boy’s mother. She just walked away without saying anything; looking back I don’t blame her at all.

We were sent to the church three times on Sunday. Morning Service, Catechism and Evensong. We didn’t mind because we used to make fun of the choirboys and giggle and make eyes at them. After church we would wait for them and walk with them.

I got smacked around the head once in church by a woman who was sitting behind us. I suppose we must have been giggling. They didn’t like us London children.

I remember the first day at Bridgewater this kind couple took my friend and I to the seaside, it couldn’t have been far away. Anyway, there was a dead body washed up on the beach. They were saying, “Come here, come away”, but we were too curious and went to have a look. We didn’t see anything much, thank goodness, because the police waved us away. I expect that the kind couple that took us thought we were horrible little things!

Mrs Bath owned property around the town and she would send us children to collect her rent. Some people didn’t like to have children asking them for the rent, and wouldn’t pay. I don’t blame them.

The whole thing was beginning to get out of hand when our teacher found out and had it out with Mrs Bath. We were taken away and were about to be put with someone else, but by then the blitz was over and the London children began to go back to their homes. They drifted back home in twos and threes until it was my turn.

RETURN TO LONDON
My dad came and met me at St Pancras station and we went home by bus. I remember looking out of the windows and seeing the streets in a terrible state: buildings down, rubble everywhere, wide open spaces where there used to be houses, it was terrible to see.

When I got home, and having kissed my mum and had a big hug, I cried because I was so pleased to be home again with my sisters and mum and dad. It’s funny because all the time I was evacuated I never missed them; I suppose it must have seemed like a big holiday to me.

It was just before Christmas, and dad had put up all the Christmas lights around the mirrors and pictures. It looked so pretty with the paper chains and all the decorations; it felt so good to be home in our lovely house with my family once again.

After Christmas the schools got sorted out and we went back, but only for a short time because I left school at fourteen.

We had an ‘Anderson’ bomb shelter at the bottom of our garden. This was a hole dug down in the earth, which was then covered with corrugated iron and reinforced with earth and sand. Inside were four bunk beds with an old box for a table, over the entrance was draped an old curtain.

There were still air raids, but not so often as in the first years of the war. During the final year there were ‘Buzz Bombs’ and rockets, which were shot across the sea from France (V1 pilotless planes and V2 missiles). These were awful because you could hear the Buzz Bombs buzzing along. While you could hear them you were safe, but when the buzzing stopped you know that they were coming down. The rockets made no noise at all; there was just a sudden huge explosion.

Now my dad worked at night with his taxi, and how he got around the West End and all over London in the blackout I’ll never know! No lights at all were allowed because the German planes might see the lights and drop their bombs, so how he missed the craters and bomb holes in the road, and the other cars is a mystery.

About two years later when I was around sixteen years old (I’m not sure of the exact dates), we lost our dad from a stroke. Mum had got dad’s tea ready and he had sat down to eat it when he had this massive stroke. The perspiration was dripping from him, and I remember mother saying “Please don’t leave me George, don’t leave me.”

Anyway the ambulance came and I went with dad to the hospital. Mum couldn’t go as she was crippled with arthritis and couldn’t walk. At the hospital I waited in a room there and the doctor come and said, “Sit down” so I did. He said, “your father has passed away, we could do nothing to help him. Would you like to see him?” So they took me to see dad. I kissed him; he looked so peaceful. Then they took me back to the room I had been in before and I cried and cried.

Dad’s brother Fred came to get me at the hospital and took me home. I tried not to show him up, but I couldn’t stop the tears running down my face on the bus ride home.

I remember there was a big red ball of a sun that evening, and it didn’t seem right that everything was going on around me just the same, and that it was a beautiful evening and that my beloved dad had died.

I remember the siren went one night for an air raid, so we had to go out to the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. Our mum was washing her feet in a bowl of water when it happened. “Come on mum!” we shouted, so poor mum had to go hobbling up the garden with bare, wet feet.

Before we had the Anderson shelter, before dad died, we used to have to all go under the stairs during the air raids. Dad used to put a saucepan on his head to make us laugh and relieve the tension.

A few months later a bomb fell onto Brixton Prison about two streets away from the bottom of our road. I remember that I was dancing to the gramophone at the time, the record was ‘Blueberry Hill’. Anyway, the blast from the bomb swung my neck around and I had a stiff neck for a week. It blew all of our front windows in, and smashed all of our lovely big flowerpots and ornaments. The knob flew off the gas stove and hit my mum in the eye!

But we were very lucky that day; down at the end of the street they were laying out the dead people on the pavement, bringing them out of the rubble. Mrs Hardbattle, the lady from next door said “Never you mind going down there, you look after your poor old mum.” She was right, mum was very shaken.

RATIONING
During the war, and for quite a few years after, you could not buy much in the shops, even if you had money. You could only buy a certain amount of each commodity. For example each adult was allowed to buy 170 grammes of butter each week. You were given a book of coupons and when you wanted to buy butter or eggs or anything else you had to hand over a coupon you were not allowed to buy with cash. Of course, people used to try to find ways around the system. If you worked in a shop, or had a friend who worked in a shop then you were able to get a bit more of certain things. Farmers and people who lived in the countryside were luckier because they produced their own butter, eggs, milk, cheese and meat. It was more difficult for us people who lived in London and the big cities.

Special arrangements were made for expectant mothers; extra milk, cod liver oil, orange juice. The period between September 1939 and May 1940 was called the ‘Phoney War’, it might have been to the people in Britain, but ships bringing food were already being attacked by German submarines.

During the worst time in 1942, one in every three or four ships bringing food, oil and weapons was sunk, most of these in the Atlantic Ocean.

America sent dried eggs and spam to us. I suppose that they took up less space in the ships and they didn’t go bad.. The London docks were badly bombed too. We were lucky if we ate one egg a week!.

ADULTS WEEKLY RATION (MAY 1941)
3 pints of milk
55g of tea
One shilling’s worth of meat
55g of cooking fat (animal fat)
30g of cheese
170g butter or margarine
225g sugar
115g bacon
225g jam

The slogan was ‘Dig For Victory!’ and everyone grew vegetables in their gardens. Even parks such as Hyde Park were given over to growing food.

ALL THE PLACES I HAVE WORKED

I started work at Sainsburys and I hated it! All I had to do was sit behind a desk and count ration coupons all day. It was so boring. Each person had weekly food ration coupons; tow ounces of bacon, two ounces of cheese, one pound of sugar, two ounces of tea, two ounces of butter or margarine and one coupon for a quarter of a pound of sweets. I was the person who had to sort and count the coupons, but I didn’t stay there long, about four weeks, as it was so boring. I remember my mum saying, “That girl is not happy”, and my dad declaring, “Right, I’ll go and sort it out.”

When I left school at fourteen, I wanted to be a hairdresser very much. I even went on my own to the hairdresser’s shop at the Co-op.

The woman there said yes, she would be able to take me on for a year without pay, and she would teach me everything; I was over the moon with happiness!

I went back and told mum and dad, but my dad said “oh you can’t do that, it’s not good, all that hair floating about, it will get on your chest, it’s not good for you.” So my dream was crushed, and I had to start work at Sainsburys, which I hated.

My dad was getting me in the food shop to get extra food, I can see that now. We did get extra food, fiddled of course.

The next job I had was at the Co-op (The Co-operative Wholesale Society). I really loved it there, I couldn’t wait to go off to work in the mornings. I enjoyed it because I was doing lots of different things.

I was put on the grocery counter and I had to weight up the tea, coffee, rice, prunes, sultanas and all sorts of other foods. You would have to be careful about weighing as the ‘Weights Inspector’ could come and check all the packets and weights; if it was too heavy and not right you could get the sack…. They were very keen as the war was on, so I was always careful and got them just right.

I also had to serve the customers which was fun because I could talk to them and have a laugh with them. I liked the job because I was always doing something different.

Another place I enjoyed working was the provisions counter. I loved cutting up the big round cheeses with the cheese wire after I had ‘skinned’ them first. I also had fun with the butter pats. I used to pat and shape the slabs of butter with wooden pats. Then chop it, weigh it into half and quarter pound blocks, and buffet it into a proper shape before it was ready to wrap and be sold..

I was also allowed to operate the bacon-slicing machine; the side of bacon was put onto the machine and the spinning blade would cut the slices thick or thin, according to what the customer wanted.

The cheese came in huge blocks and was cut with a wire cutter. The sugar came in sacks and had to be weighed into one and two pound bags. I enjoyed serving and chatting to the customers.

After a while I was put on the cash desk. In those days the Co-op used little metal cups to transfer the money to the cash desk.

Anyway, these little metal cups that we had to put the money in ran on wires across the ceiling of the shop. You would put the customer’s money into the cup, pull a cord, and send the cup with the money inside running along the wires to the cash desk. The woman at the cash desk would take the cup down, put the change into it and send the cup whizzing back to the assistant, who then handed it over to the customer.

When it was my turn on the cash desk, I used to send love notes in the metal cups to the ‘Bacon Bonce’, the boy on the bacon counter.

Every customer had a ‘Dividend Number’, and the more they spent, the more dividend points they would get. Every half-year the points were exchanged for a sum of money which was then taken off your next purchase. I still remember my mum’s number, it was 93581.

If the air-raid siren went all the staff and customers were supposed to go out the back of the shop and into the warehouse, which was thought to be the safest place, I can’t think why.

Well, one day the siren went while I was serving a lady. She dropped down on her hands and knees and I did the same on the other side of the counter. We both crawled along and met head to head at the end of the counter; then we jumped up and fled out the back of the shop. I have to laugh now to think of it, we were so scared that we didn’t realize what we were doing.

My sister Esme worked at the Co-op too, and as she was older she had to take her turn to go back in the evening to firewatch. Because of the risk of fire bombs, most employees had to spend one or two nights a week at their place of work to be ready to put out any fires.

The Co-op provided bunk beds for this, and all the older ones had to take turns. They had fire extinguishers and buckets of water in case an incendiary bomb fell on the roof or came through a window.

They had to sign on when they went fire watching and I used to tag along. I thought it was exciting to go out in the blackout!

One evening, Esme and I were walking to the Co-op to firewatch. It was pitch dark, and all of a sudden we heard someone walking behind us. Suddenly Esme felt a hand on her leg! She shouted out, “Get away from me your swine!” and lashed out with her handbag. “Sod off!!” we said, and then we heard the footsteps going away.

We ran to get into the Co-op and as we got there we heard footsteps again. Esme could hardly get the key in the door; we were so frightened. She got the door open, and we fell through it and slammed it shut behind us.

After that we got a friend’s dad, who was a policeman, to call for us and walk us to the Co-op. We went twice a week to firewatch.

One night we were fed up and bored with the firewatch, so after we had signed in we took ourselves off to the pictures to see ‘Gone With The Wind’. We enjoyed it so much, it was so good we were mesmerized by it.

I don’t know what would have happened if a fire bomb had fallen on the Co-op; the whole place would have burnt down I suppose, because the firewatchers were all at the pictures watching ‘Gone With The Wind’ and imagining themselves as Miss Scarlett O’Hara!

I loved every minute I was there and the people were so nice that I worked with.

Going back to when I was sixteen, my sister Esme who you remember was working with me in the Co-op; she was made to leave and go into a munitions factory. My other sister Lily, who was in a very good job over the West End, was made to work in the Woman’s Land Army. Well Lily never liked anything physical, and she was no use whatsoever to the farmer working in the fields, so she ended up doing all his books and accounts and bills etc.

Then she was drafted into the A.T.S. (Air Training Service). Dad was very proud of Lily in her uniform, she looked very smart.

I don’t remember exactly how long I worked at the Co-op, about three years I think, but when dad died I had to look for a better paid job to help mum. I got a job at the Decca Records factory in Stockwell. I had to put screws in the top of record players; they were in big wooden cabinets.

I used to chat up a young man there and make out that I didn’t know where the parts went, so he had to come close to me to show me what to do! I remember one song in particular that they used to play over the tannoy ‘Dom Pedro the Green Cockatoo’ it was called, it was a Cha Cha. Anyway, I soon got fed up with that..
My next job was at Freemans in the Clapham Road. First they put me in the office. I had to send out all different sorts of forms to people who were owing money. I found it boring so I asked to be moved down to the packing department where they prepared all the orders. It was more my line, I was walking around, not sitting down all day.

After dad died, some time later I went to work in a nursery. I had to help look after the little children from one to five years old. I really loved it there. I was one of the helpers who helped the trained staff.

About half past eight the young mums would bring in the little ones, leave them and then go to work. Then they would pick them up again at six o’clock.

First of all I would take off their coats and put them all on potties. After that I would wash them and give them orange juice. Then we would sit them down around little tables ready for breakfast. After that the trained staff would take over. Sometimes, if it were a nice day, we would take them to the park to play on the swings. I used to think myself lucky to be out in the fresh air and getting paid for it. Other times we would play with the children in the big nursery garden, or put on records and dance with them. I really loved that job!

Then I went back to the Co-op until I got married and moved to Cricklewood to Eric’s parents house.

The first two months that I was in Cricklewood, I worked in a biscuit factory. I had to climb up a few small steps and stand at the top in front of what was called a ‘hopper’, which was a hole with three iron bars across it.

What I had to do was push the biscuit dough through the bars and it would come out on a long rubber belt and move along to be cut into biscuit shapes. Then it would pass through the ovens and on to the other side where some more girls would pack the biscuits into boxes.

Well, all went well for a while until I got talking to a young man. When I looked back along the belt all of the biscuit pastry was going along in bits and pieces, so I got told off, and I deserved to be, but looking back I have to laugh…

I soon left the biscuit factory because I was pregnant with Ann. After Ann was born we lived for a few months in my mother’s house and then we moved to Bedford where Eric had got a job. We were in Bedford for four years and I had my son Christopher there, then we moved on again to Market Harborough because Eric had got a new job at Mawer & Saunders ironmongers.

Before my son Alan was born I had a part time job at Emersons bakers; it was a nice job selling bread and cakes. After Alan was born I didn’t work again until my youngest daughter, Lyn, started school at five. It was an evening job at Tescos supermarket filling the shelves.

After that I worked at the cinema as an usherette, ice-cream lady, behind the snack bar, Bingo lady and behind the cash desk. I used to take Alan and Lyn with me and they enjoyed running around and watching the films.

Then I worked in Freeman Hardy Willis shoe shop, part time of course, I was always there for the children when they come home from school.

I also worked as a home help and went around to a lot of houses in Market Harborough. Some were very nice and some were very helpless old folk, but I got on well with them all. I got their places tidy up to my liking, and then I was happy for them.

One old lady thought her husband was upstairs, but he had died three months earlier, poor old girl. Another used to have money laying around all over the place; good thing I was honest! I could write a book about my home help job!

BOYFRIENDS
I remember my first boyfriend was called Geoffrey. He worked at the Co-op and so did I, we were both fifteen. On our first date we went to a variety show in Brixton, at a theatre called the ‘Old Vic’. We went up in the very cheapest seats on the highest balcony; these were called ‘The Gods’ (because you were so high up you were near to the gods I suppose).

We saw ‘Big Bill Campbell And His Rocky Mountain Rhythm’. We paid one shilling to get in, and these were the cheapest seats, right up near the ceiling. When you looked down at the stage the people looked tiny! Geoffrey and I went out together on and off for about two years.

Next I went out with John. He was my first passion! We used to kiss and cuddle, but never went too far. Well, I went off him because when I first met him he was dressed in the uniform of the Scots Regiment; but it turned out that he wasn’t in the army, he was too young. He had picked the uniform up somewhere, probably from the Army and Navy surplus shop. Anyway, I thought he was very handsome in the uniform and took him for a real soldier.

Then one day I saw him going down the street dressed in old clothes, pushing a handcart and calling “Any old clothes any old clothes?” I was mortified. I thought, “My God, I’ve been going out with a barrow-boy!”

I must have been a stuck-up little miss, because the next time he came knocking on our front door I was ready for him. I opened the door and said, “I won’t be coming out with you anymore, as I have another boy I’m going out with now.” I didn’t have another boy, so I went back out with Geoffrey for a while.

I never forgot John though, and for along time after I would keep my eyes looking everywhere in the hope of seeing him again, but I never did.

After that I met and went out with different boys until I met Eric; I was about twenty-one and a few months when we first met.

PLACES I REMEMBER
I was very lucky as a teenager, because I had lots and lots of places to visit.

First of all there were the parks. As small children our favourite place was Brockwell Park in Lambeth. It had everything, including a paddling pool, where my big sister Lilly and her friends took us. We would take a big bottle of lemonade and crisps. There were also birds in cages, and ducks and swans on the lake.

There were also tearooms, tennis courts and a lovely swimming pool open to the sky. In the pool there was a snack bar, and we used to lay on our towels by the edge of the pool or sit at one of the tables.

In the swimming pool they had a big thing shaped like a jelly with water cascading down, which you could climb on. Also there were slides and diving boards at the deep end. I spent a lot of my childhood days at Brockwell Park.

I remember one day I was walking to Brockwell Park to go swimming when a Buzz Bomb came flying overhead. All of a sudden the buzzing stopped, which meant that it would start to fall.

I was really frightened so I dashed into the nearest front garden and banged on the door – I was terrified! I felt that the Buzz Bomb was going to land right on top of me. The door opened on its own without anyone answering, so I shot inside. I ran down a passage and into a room where an old lady was sitting up in bed.

I could hardly speak with fright, and the old lady was very deaf, so I did a pantomime pointing at the sky trying to tell her there was a flying bomb overhead, and that it was going to fall nearby. “That’s all right dear”, she said, and went under her blankets for protection (some protection!!). I lay down on the floor and waited, but the bomb fell far away. Looking back, I suppose the old dear had left her door open so that her neighbours could get in to help her.

The Buzz Bombs caused a lot of fear and panic; especially when the engine stopped because you knew then it was going to fall down out of the sky. During one raid there was a stampede to get down the stairs at Clapham Tube Station. Someone tripped over and many people were crushed to death trying to get to shelter, it was terrible.

I remember once, after the war was over, I was walking along when a plane went overhead. It was just an ordinary plane, but without thinking I shot into a shop for shelter. It was just a case of bad nerves I suppose. Well, the woman in the shop said “Yes Madam, can I help you?” I felt such a fool, I bought a pot of jam and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.

A lot of people were affected by the bombing during and after the war, but in those days it was considered wrong to make a fuss and complain about, even if you felt really bad.

Another place we went to often was Tooting Bec Common, which had good swings, slides and roundabouts. There was brick a railway bridge with arches, and we used to take tennis rackets and balls and play tennis against the walls. Tooting Bec Common had a lovely boating lake, and we used to go out in a boat and paddle or row around.

When your time was up they would shout, “Come in number three”, or whatever number you were, then we would walk all the way home. It was about two miles from our home.

Less often we went to Clapham Common. We would watch the men and boys sailing their model boats on the boating lake, some had motors in them, which I found very interesting.

There were many Picture Houses (cinemas) in those days. The Gaumont, The Astoria, The Regal, were the three big picture houses in Streatham. In Brixton there was another Gaumont and Regal.

Often you had to queue up to get in, and we would be entertained while we waited. There would be buskers playing and sometimes there was an ‘Escape Artist’, a man tying himself up in chains and then escaping as if by magic.
When you got in, there was entertainment while you waited, usually a man playing the organ. He would begin below the stage, and then the lights would go down and up would come this chap from below the stage pounding away at the organ; all the latest songs.

There were usually two films, the main feature and the ‘B’ film. In the interval between the films they would sell ice cream and popcorn and the organ man would rise up and play again. It wasn’t expensive, and looking back I think that we really got our money’s worth.

At the side of all the big picture houses was a sweet shop called ‘Bendels’. They sold an assortment of chocolate and sweets. I don’t know if they are still there in London.

We also had a lovely roller skating rink in Brixton. It was a big place inside, you could hire skates and roll around to the music (played by a band). There would be an interval, during which professional skaters would demonstrate their skill.

After the interval everyone got back onto the rink and tried to emulate what the professionals had just done.

Then there was Hyde Park, over west of London way. I used to go there with my friend Masie Little who was eight years older than me. We used to go and listen to the speakers at Speaker’s Corner or walk through the park. Sometimes we would get talking to a couple of lads and have a laugh; at the end of the day we would get the bus back over the river back to south London.

Sometimes we would go to Oxford Street in the West End for a walk and a look around the shops, although we would never buy anything as those shops were too expensive.

Other places to visit were Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and London Zoo, where my dad let me ride on an elephant. I always wanted to go to Crystal Place; my aunt Amy took my older sister Lily once, but Esme and I never got to see it.

At Streatham Vale there was very bit ice-skating rink where I used to go with my boyfriend to watch the ice hockey. The men on the ice moved so fast chasing the puck; it was a very exciting, fast moving game.

The most exciting place of all was Steatham Locarno dance hall. It was very plush inside with a large dance floor surrounded on three sides by chairs. At the far end was a revolving stage where bands would play the latest songs.

Each band played for about an hour, then the stage would rotate and another band would appear. Upstairs was a balcony overlooking the dance floor that went all around the room. It had tables and chairs and snack bar which sold soft drinks.

As well as dancing by the public they also had professional dancers and often a singer. There were ‘spotlight dances’ where the spotlight would pick out a couple dancing at random and they would win a prize. People generally dressed very smartly, the women in dresses and high heels, and the men in jacket and tie.

Another place where we could go was the ‘Milk Bar’. There were many in London and they were like a small restaurant except that they only sold milkshakes, soft drinks and cakes. They also sold ‘Knickerbocker Glories’ which was a big glass of ice cream with strawberries, bananas, grapes and thick, whipped cream on top.

Of course there were the pubs as well but most women didn’t go into them; they were mainly for men.

The first time I went into a pub I was nearly eighteen, with a group of friends. I felt very daring. My young man asked me what I would like to drink, and as I didn’t know what to say I asked my girlfriend what she was having. She said “What about a whisky?” And as I didn’t know any better I said that I’d have one too. Well it was horrible! (I had never tasted whiskey before). When my boyfriend asked me if I had liked it, I said “Oh yes, it was lovely!” because he had paid and I didn’t want to upset him, but I was very disappointed because I had seen people drink in films and they seemed to really enjoy them. I was under the impression that all alcoholic drinks would be lovely!

We thought we were so very daring! A young person of eighteen today would think nothing of it, but I was always wary of pubs and was taught that they were awful places to go into. Of course I sometimes go into them now with my friends and I must say that I do like a glass of ginger wine.

We also used to go to Richmond and Teddington dock. It was lovely by the river there. Also Streatham Vale gardens which were high on a hill overlooking a valley; oh happy days……

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