My father died last week and in his memory I’ve decided to publish the only part of his autobiography that he got around to writing. It covers the period from June 1927 to September 1945. Apart from my emotional involvement, I feel his account is interesting because it describes a world that feels so different to the present day.
The class A stork delivered me to my parents during the early hours of the 4th. June 1927. It was not a good time to disturb the rest of the house. My Grandfather went down stairs with a quilt wrapped round his shoulders to resume his rest. Grandmother is reputed to have remarked " Look Moses has taken up his bed and walked". It was later realised that she had got the Biblical characters mixed.
So I entered into the world of 37, Century Road, Walthamstow, E17. It was a small three bed roomed house, rented by my paternal Grandparents Sarah and James(called George) Snowdon who shared it with their unmarried daughter Ivy, (my father’s younger sister), my parents, James William and Elizabeth Alma Snowdon, plus my brother Henry James, who had arrived 25 months earlier. It would appear that James was a favourite name, as I was christened James Henry. Brother Albert arrived on the 19th. November 1929 to join us at Century Road. He must have sneaked in as I do not remember his coming.
My grandparents had the back bedroom, and Ivy had to pass through it to get to her own. The front bedroom was home for my parents and all their sons. Down stairs was a scullery (now known as a Kitchen), living room and the Parlour, a room used for special occasions only. The toilet was outside next to the house in a small garden about 15 x 20 feet. Next to the toilet granddad had a shed 4 x 6 feet.
Gran was called Sarah by her equals and her maiden name was Coggins. She called granddad "JUMBO" possibly because he was the opposite in build, but almost six foot in height. He was a gentleman and I never heard his voice raised in anger.
Gran was the ruler of the house, and what she said went in regards to the running of the household. In other ways she was kind and generous and always found time to help others. Gran is credited with saving my life as a baby when I had croup, by holding me over a steaming kettle, and completing the cure by holding me over the fumes of the road menders cauldron of hot tar. Maybe that is why, even today, I like the smell of hot tar.
My father’s older sister was Lilian who married Sid Judd and they had four children, Albert, Philip, Joyce and Betty.
Granddad was a craftsman, but like other craftsmen did not carry on his trade in his own home. They had a dresser that Gran had asked him many times to alter it by cutting off the bottom shelf. After a while she got so fed with asking she took one of his saws and did it herself, and made a neat job of it. This dresser had three shelves to start; with, over a period of time Gran cut off the other two at different intervals. It finished up as a sideboard.
As for the maternal grandparents I only remember Grandfather Bird who lived in an upstairs flat in Selbourne Avenue, a turning off Walthamstow High St. Mum’s youngest sister (Aunt Nell) lived with him and kept house, and also worked at Holmes Brothers, furniture makers in Billet Road. I never knew Grand mother Bird whose maiden name was Fowkes. Granddad Bird was a retired butcher. He had a large family, six daughters and two sons. He appeared a bit grumpy when ever mum took me there.On one occasion however he seemed jovial and jokingly threatened me with his big leather belt. He dozed off and I took the belt and put it in a saucepan under the sink, and then forgot all about it. Late that night he sent Aunt Nell round to us in Warwick Road to find out what had happened to his belt. Mum woke me to ask where I had put it and, much relieved, Aunt Nell, went home.
Of my mother’s brothers, Albert and Jack I remember nothing. Her sisters were Martha, Rose, Lou, and Nell and another who was only heard of after Mum had died. Even though she lived in Priors Croft, the road adjoining Warwick Road. Mum never spoke of her. It is believed that she had badly upset their mother, and Mum who had a very good nature never forgave her.
Martha wed Tom Nash a butcher of whom I will tell later. Rose wed Victor Hunt, and they lived in Erskine Road (a childless marriage). I’m not sure what he did except make sweets for a local High St. stall. If Mum finished her shopping early on a Saturday, we would call on them. There on their kitchen table were "Coconut Candy" and similar mouth watering kinds of goodies, but we were never offered even the broken pieces, so we disliked going there.
Lou married a Mr. Stapleton. They had a son and a daughter (the first names are forgotten). The son was captured at Singapore by the Japanese and never returned home. Nell married late in life and had one daughter. We lost contact after Nell died after about 16 years of marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison lived in the flat under Granddad Bird with their son Gordon who died a young man. His parents later moved to Erskine Road on the other side of the High St. There they took in performers from the Palace Theatre in the High St. The Palace was demolished (I believe in the late fifties) after the audiences declined because of the growing number of people owning television sets.
The Palace Theatre put on all kinds of shows; Dramas, Varieties, Circuses and pantomimes. "Dante" the magician and "Harry Parry" with his band,"Carl Barrateau"(don’t think I have spelt it right) a clarinet player, also "Jane" of the Daily Mirror, "Phyllis Dixey" were some of the performers that I saw in my teens seated in the pit. As times improved for our parents, they took us occasionally to the gala night and we sat in the Gods, the name for the gallery, and during the interval balloons were released from nets in the ceiling and, attendants would walk down the aisles and throw wrapped gifts to the audience. Once I caught one, which turned out to be a wallet which I gave to Dad. The entrance to the gallery was round the side, not in the foyer. Tickets were not issued for the gallery. Theatre goers were given a white metal disc about 2 inches in diameter. After climbing the spiral stairs an attendant took it and threaded it on a string. You could then sit where you liked so the front seats went to the first arrivals. The seats were hard and backless.
As a toddler I had an operation for Double Mastoids on both ears at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Tottenham. 30 years later when having a medical at Enfield Cables the doctor examining me looked behind my ears and told me the name of the surgeon who performed the operation, " I would recognise those stitches anywhere" he said.
The only other link with those days at Century Road was forty years later at Reliance Cords & Cables, Leyton, where the canteen manageress turned out to be Molly Weston (who lived near us in Century Road). She had watched over Harry for mum when he was playing outside. It was not onerous as the only traffic to worry about then was the occasional horse drawn cart, usually the baker, milkman or coal man. Cars were a rare sight.
"Richs" at the top of the road was a double fronted, Newsagents, Tobacconists and Sweetshop, It was preferred to Froes by children as the sweet selection was greater. Choosing took time as it was an occasion to be enjoyed, since it was not very often one had the chance to buy sweets, money being in short supply.
At the bottom of the road was a grocers shop named Froes which also sold sweets, and for a penny (1/240th.of a pound) you could get a lucky dip, and whatever we got, we never felt cheated. It was always good value for money. Harry once got a kipper made of a sweet substance like seaside rock, worth more than the penny he paid.
Times were hard but without a radio many families entertained themselves with indoor games, such as Cards, Dominoes Darts, Shove halfpenny, cinema and theatres were too expensive for most people.
Granddad kept his garden neat and tidy with roses and other flowers, but the Elderberry Tree belonging to his neighbours the "Mitchells" stands out in my memory for its flowering followed by the masses black berries each year. I found it hard to understand how such lovely flowers could produce such bitter fruit.
The neighbours on the other side were the Corduroys, remembered for their son William, who was to be my music teacher at the William Morris Central School (that I went to after the summer holiday in 1938) and for obvious reasons was nick named Billy Baggs.
Mother was probably working at "Flateauxs" a shoe manufacturer in Tottenham as a machinist, because it was Gran who took me to school on my first day, accompanied by Harry who tried hard to look as though the brat who bawled his head off all the way to Blackhorse Road School was nothing to do with him.
My Great Grandfather Snowdon had a small Cabinet Making business in Mare Street, Hackney, and with his sons (I am not sure how many) made various items of furniture. Each son was also taught an extra skill, French Polishing or Wood Carving, etc. My Grandfather was a wood carver and when ever he worked at home for himself, I would sit and watch him for as long as I could. My father told me that my great Grandfather went blind in his later years, but no article left his workshop until he had approved it by touch.
I now own my grandfathers wood carving tools and they will stay in the family in the hope a new craftsman will be born.
In the early 1930s Dad was unemployed for a while. He did start work as an apprentice with his Grandfather learning the trade of Cabinet Making, but he could not get on with him, so he left and took various jobs until he finished up as a Porter in Cresham House in the city where he stayed till he retired, except for the 2nd. World War when he served with the Royal Engineers on a search light battery near Ipswich. Mum told us that while unemployed he walked thirty miles one day looking for work.
During the time Dad was out of work he received Â£2 from the London Co-op for stopping a run away horse belonging to them. MUM showed me the letter from them, but it did not mention that he stopped the horse before it ran into some children playing in the road, or that he got a kick from the horse in the process of stopping it.
Year 1933 arrived and we were allocated a council house, 6, Warwick Road, E.17. It contained 7 rooms three bed rooms, a bathroom/toilet, a parlour (it was a few years before it was furnished), a dining room, and a scullery,. we three boys shared a double bed in the front bed room. Later when a single bed was obtained I had the small box room to myself. Not only were there 7 rooms but we had our own garden, (much bigger than our grandparents). At the bottom of the garden was a piece of waste land known locally as "The Priory" where we and our friends played football and cricket according to the season. If there were not enough boys for teams, then the girls were allowed to play rounders with us. At one time I was often asked to play cricket, not because I was any good at it but simply because I had a real cricket bat and ball ( given to me by one of dad’s friends).
Gypsies grazed their horses on this ground also. That pleased the keen gardeners whose gardens backed onto "The Priory" and who collected the manure. It was not unusual to see one of these horses roaming round the streets with a broken tether hanging from its neck. These ropes were quite often simply made up of two or more old pieces joined together.
Other memories were of the rag and bone man, who offered a few pence or, a goldfish to the children for a bundle of rags, but it was the women who used to haggle over the price offered as each penny counted at that time. There was also a man who had a horse and a cart with a small roundabout mounted on it. In exchange for rags or jam jars he would give children a ride of a reasonable duration. It was mostly rags he got as the local grocer "Hammond" gave a farthing for 1lb. jar and halfpenny for a 2lb jar. Housewives could be seen exchanging jam jars as part of their bill, or children swopping their jars for sweets, or even broken biscuits which contained pieces of the more expensive kind. The tins of biscuit were open so you could see what could be expected. Customers had to provide their own carrier bags, or buy one from the shop keeper.
Although we had the Priory to play on and Lloyds Park a short distance away, the streets were also our playground, because they were virtually free of traffic. Knock Down Weasel was one of the games we played in the street if one the group had a ball. Three pebbles were placed one on top of another in the middle of the street and standing on the kerb the first member of on side would try to knock the pebbles over with the ball, if successful that team would scatter and the other team would try and get them out by hitting them with the ball. The members still free would attempt to rebuild the pile of pebbles, if they succeeded they had another go, if not the team roles would be reversed. Normally there were 3 to 6 to a side, but two smaller children counted as one.
The following games were played only by boys with up to eight a side. "Release" was one of these team games. One side would scatter and the opposing team after a short interval would chase after and try to capture them. Captives would be taken back to base and left under a guard of 2. The captive’s side would try to free them by tapping one of the guards on the head and shout "Release" 3 times. The game finished when all the hunted had been captured and the change over would take place.
Another was "Jimmy Jimmy Knacker". One member of a team would stand with back to a wall or fence. Another would bend and put his shoulder into the other’s stomach, and then the rest of that team would put their heads between the legs of the one in front. The other team one by one would jump on their bent backs, when all were on would then bounce up and down shouting "Jimmy Jimmy Knacker 1. 2, 3. three times, should the team collapse the winners took another turn. If not sides changed over.
On dark evenings one game was played that was unpopular with adults, it was "Knock Down Ginger", though never in our own area. It was a prank rather than a game. We would either knock at a door and run away,or the safer way was to tie a piece of cotton to the door knocker, and then tie the other to a tree or lamp post, and wait for a passer-by to break the cotton causing the knocker to rise and fall bringing a member of the household to the door who would gaze around to see who had knocked.
On Albert’s first day of school in 1934, mum was working and it was her youngest sister (our aunt Nell) and myself who dragged him screaming all the way to "Roger Ascham Infant School". I knew then how Harry felt on my first day. He soon got used to it, probably because they spent most of the day resting on little camp beds. In the summer the beds were put out in the playground. Although I was at the same school, I never saw much of him during the day, but took him home when school was over until he knew his own way. Then he went home with the friends he had made.
My teacher was Mr. Harris. He was still teaching in 1958 when my daughter Jennifer joined "Roger Ascham". Although he was strict he was fair, and gave lifts to and from the playing fields to some of his pupils in his little MORRIS 8. I can recall some faces from my infant and junior schools. His was the only name I remember. A face from the infants I recall very clearly, she was a pleasant woman. She had her black hair in two plaits coiled up with one over each ear. Another is of the junior school music teacher (older than Mr. Harris) a Miss, she kept a large tin of sweets in her desk, and during singing lessons she would walk around the classroom listening to the children. At the end of the lesson she called out those children she thought had done well to stand in front facing the remainder of the class. Then with her tin of sweets she would walk along the row popping a boiled sweet in each child’s mouth, occasionally I got one. At other times wrapped sweets were handed out for special individual efforts. When things did not please her she would tear the class off a strip, but for all her funny ways she was kind hearted.
In the lunch time a man with a small barrow load of sweets would wait outside the school gates. Children would window shop mostly. My favourite was a stick of toffee called a Golli bar and cost one farthing (1/960. Of a pound) If it was my turn to return a jam jar I always got one.
A year or so after we had moved to our council house our grandparents moved to 266, Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow. They occupied the upstairs and Aunt Ivy and Uncle Fred had the downstairs Ivy had married Fred Simmons sometime after we had moved out of Century Road.
Uncle Fred Simmons was in the building trade and lost one eye due to getting lime in it. He then joined his brother Bob in the green grocery trade with a stall in the High St. Later they had a shop each. Then Fred changed to a Grocer’s shop in Fulham. Ivy and Fred with their daughter Jean and her husband Charles Pritchard retired to " Blackford" a little village in Somerset.
Apart from cards, dominoes and darts, one of the pastimes we enjoyed when visiting them was sitting in Gran’s front window and watching people getting off the trams (later the trollybuses) returning from the High street shopping or other travels. Comments would be passed on the people, their companions or parcels, It may appear dull by today’s standards, but without TV or radio it amused us at that time. The group became known as the " Dossers Club.
We liked going round there on Sunday mornings as there were fresh baked Fairy cakes, and if they were having a beef joint for dinner, we could be sure of a "dip" that was a slice of bread dipped into the juices of the meat and hot fat. It was very tasty.
As walking was our usual means of travel, it was a exciting whenever as children we did travel on a tram. The backs of the seats were reversible so we were able to face which way we wanted. Unlike present times children were only allowed a seat if it was not wanted by an adult, they were made to give up their seat and stand or sit on their parents laps, Also no man would sit and leave a lady (even a young lady) standing.
Transfer tickets could be bought on the trams if the journey required a change of tram. These were discontinued with the introduction of the Trollybuses.
In fine weather we ( Grandfather, Dad, Harry, Albert and I) would go for walks along the River Lea tow path towards Enfield, and into fields at the side of the river where ever it was possible. The river in those days was a recreation area for many people, fishing, rowing, swimming, and the water was so clear fish could be seen in it.
As Dad was paid on a Saturday, mum had to wait until he came home in the late afternoon, before she could do the shopping for the weekend. The stalls and shops stayed open until 10 o/clock and the later one went the more chance there was of a bargains from the butchers shops and greengrocers’ stalls. Either Harry, Albert or I went with her to help with carrying the goods home. As a treat we sometimes got a penny saveloy from Smith’s the butchers, or roast chestnuts from a street vendor. If we ever had the occasion to go with her in the morning there was always the chance of liquor and mashed potato from "Manzes" the Eel and Pie shop (Manzes is still there today (August 2002). Sometimes, though rarely a whole or shared part of a meat pie was managed if there was cash to spare.
During the summer holidays of 1938 when I was eleven I stayed with my mother’s sister Martha and her husband Tom. They owned a butchers cum cook shop in Octagon Road, Bethnal Green, they never had any children of their own, and for some reason I was their favourite nephew.
We never thought we were well off, but the differences between Walthamstow and Bethnal Green areas were very noticeable. The houses were of the back to back type, front doors opening on to the street, and the toilet was in a small yard at the rear. There was not a garden. All the buildings and streets I remembered have gone since the end of the 1939/45 war, I believe the area was already condemned then in 1939. If the houses were like the shop of my uncle and aunt, they would be 2 small rooms up and down.
In the summer the women would sit outside their front doors talking to each other, and keeping an eye on the children playing. Most of the toddlers wore only a shirt, jersey or just a vest and were barefooted and bare bottomed. They also looked as if soap was a scarce commodity.
Aunt was a cook and she used sell take away dinners on a plate to the workers of the nearby brewery. She never charged a deposit for the plates but they were always returned.
Every Friday and Saturday morning Uncle Tom would go to the Smithfield meat market to buy 30 pigs trotters and 12 sheep’s’ heads, and meat for the coming week. The best quality was never considered as his customers would not be able to afford it. The meat was stored in a ice box and he had a big block of ice delivered to preserve it. When he was alone he would have the meat sent home carrying only the trotters or the heads so he could make a start preparing them. The trotters were cooked in an old boiler in the yard, always cleaned before he began. The sheep’s heads were cooked when the trotters were done. After being skinned, and split in two, the tongues and brains put aside, tongues for my aunt to cook, and the brains for a regular customer. This customer was a big woman twice the size of her husband. After they had cooked the brains, they would go to the local pub and quite often would finish the night by the wife beating her husband. My aunt asked me once to take the brains to her house. I knocked at the door and a bandaged head appeared at the upstairs window to ask what I wanted. I said that I had the brains for them. He called to his wife, who came to the door and paid me and gave me a penny for bringing them. When I told my aunt she laughed and said the husband usually copped it when she got drunk.
The trotters and the halved heads together with bread rolls and gherkins were put in a big bakers basket lined with a clean white cloth. My uncle in the evening would take his basket round the pubs. He always sold out. If my memory is correct trotters sold for 2 pence and the half heads 4 pence. How strange that the people of that area never had any money to clothe or wash the children regularly, or afford the better cuts of meat but would indulge themselves in uncle’s wares.
I was paid half a crown (12 Â½. pence today’s money) a week for my contribution to the work. As I normally got three pence a week, I felt very rich and bought a pocket watch with it. Unfortunately it fell out of my pocket after a few weeks and broke.
At home my pocket money was usually spent on the Saturday morning pictures, known as the tuppenny rush (2d). and a penny for sweets.
The programme consisted of a serial, (Flash Gordon was one of my favourites) a cowboy film (starring either Tom Mix, Gene Autry or Hopaling Cassidy) and perhaps a cartoon.
One Saturday morning when the show was over the manager of the Empire (known as the Bell) announced that as there was a very heavy rainstorm we could stay in the cinema until it was over or were collected by our parents. The storm lasted about half an hour in which time cartoons were shown at no extra cost. The other cinemas were the Dominion and Granada.
The same year I started school at the William Morris Central School, I had won a scholarship somehow, but I was a month late in starting. That month I went to Winns Avenue Senior School. I was sorry to leave that school as we had begun Woodwork lessons, but was cheered up when I saw the Woodwork and new Metal Work rooms at William Morris which we would not use until our second year. As you will learn because of the war I only had one year at William Morris, so I never did woodwork.
What a change from my previous schools, a different teacher for every subject. Mr. Jones was our form and French teacher, we had Mr. Reece for English, I believe he went to Australia the following September, Messrs. Finlay maths, Finch history, Selwyn geography ( poor old chap was nicknamed Rubber Neck because he head kept nodding, I heard it was due to shell shock from the first World War) as already stated Corduroy music, Mountford art, Acres PT, a Mr. Nichols was to be our Crafts teacher ( he was a cripple I never knew the reason possibly another casualty of the 1914-18 War) unfortunately I never stayed there long enough to be taught by him.
One of the friends I Made there was Peter Birch who one occasion took me to his home and showed his rabbits, that got me wanting a pair, somehow I managed to get two and construct a hutch for them. This was in the summer of 1939 and because of the evacuation Mum promised to look after them. Mum wrote to us telling me that the rabbits had managed to get out of the Hutch and run around the Priory field at the bottom of the garden returning later to the hutch. After a while she wrote that she thought they had been killed by a bomb blast as they never came back one day, They had grown to quite a size and I suspect somebody realised what a tasty meal they would make.
In 1938 came the war scare with Germany which blew over after Munich until the summer of 1939 when everybody was issued with Gas Masks and the territorial soldiers were told to report to their units. This included Dad who was in the Royal Engineers and was based near Ipswich.
September 1st evacuation began. Younger brothers sisters were allowed to go with the pupils of William Morris School so Albert came with me to be for evacuated to the country. We all had our Gas Masks spare clothing and each child had a label pinned to their coat with their name and address on it.
From the school we were marched to Blackhorse Road railway station and put on a train for the journey to Ridgemont in Bedfordshire. When we arrived at the village school we were split into small groups and taken round the village to people who had agreed to take in the evacuees, and they chose the children they would care for. Albert and I were picked by a Mrs. Taylor who had a grown up family of two boys Bill and Arthur and one daughter Queenie. Arthur had joined the army; Bill worked at the local brickwork’s until he was called up for the army; Queenie worked for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn House, Mr Taylor also worked for the Duke as a hedge cutter and layer. He had a large garden and an allotment where he grew all the vegetables they needed, plus apples and plums. Mrs. Taylor looked after us fairly well, but we were concerned in the winter as she would suffer with a runny nose. In order to make the meat rations go further, she would make what was known as "Bedfordshire Clanger". This was pieces of meat, bacon or sausages wrapped in dough and boiled in a cloth. The end result was pleasant if one did not think of her runny nose, though we never saw it go into her cooking, we did think it was possible.
The Taylor’s house had four bedrooms but none of the usual conveniences we were used to, like running water and a flush toilet. Drinking water was from a tap across the road, washing water was from a well in the back garden shared with the next door neighbours. It was enclosed by a square metal box with a hinged lid, a long pole with a hook at the end for a bucket was used to get the water, in the dry months the full length of the pole was used to get the water.
The toilet was a earth closet that had to be emptied regularly by Mr Taylor who buried it around his garden. He got some very good crops. As the closet was in an outhouse, there was no lingering in the winter.
Most of the village I believe was owned by the Duke of Bedford. There were three churches, (C of E, Baptist, and a Methodist),three farms and three Pubs, a Post Office with a Postmisstress and Post woman to deliver the mail. There was also a butcher’s shop, grocer’s shop, a petrol station and a cobbler. The cobbler who had lost his left leg during the 1914-18 war one day he showed us his artificial leg with its springs and cords.
We were allowed to wander round the Duke’s walled estate by walking a mile to the next village (Husborne Crawley) to enter through one of the lodge gates. There was a lodge gate at Ridgmont but that was not open. We saw there animals we had only seen in books or at the cinema, bison, deer, and many different kinds of birds, pheasants, partridges and others that were new to us townies. The nearest we got to seeing animals in town (apart from horses) were joints of meat hanging in the butcher’ shops. Seeing these alive for the first time on the farms was very interesting to us.
The Taylors never went to church themselves but insisted that Albert and I went to Sunday school. First we tried the Baptist Church, that was not to our taste.
Then we tried the Church of England and after a few weeks we were persuaded to join the choir. It must have been to make up the numbers not for the quality of our voices.
The Vicar and his wife seemed rather aloof types to us but they always helped with the Sunday school and choir treats.
One of the choir treats was given in the vicarage. We had tea and cakes, and played games. One of the games we played was darts, with the Vicar keeping the scores by the dartboard. Towards the end of one game (I think it was the last) I had thrown two darts when the Vicar pointed out the number I wanted. Unfortunately for him I knew what was wanted and not knowing what he was going to do threw my last dart as he pointed. My dart was right on target and had his finger not been there I would have won, instead it caught his finger, and at that moment he looked more like the devil with his crimson face, than a man of the cloth.
We did not try the Methodist Church as the Taylors neighbours went there who appeared to find smiling a painful experience, their two children a boy and girl were not allowed to play with us townies. All the family were very thin.
The Butcher was very friendly and he let us watch him kill the animals with his Humane gun. It was very quick and caused no unnecessary suffering to the animal. We were also able to watch the skinning and butchering of the carcass.
The petrol pump was tended by an eccentric. He tried to sell children lucky dips. After one boy bought one the word went round and he never sold another. When the boy unwrapped his lucky dip he found a clock spring inside with " Spring has arrived" written on a piece of paper.
At the bottom of the village was a farm (the farmer’s name is beyond recall) that besides having its own cattle and growing cereals also hired out threshing machinery with the driver of a steam traction engine to take it to the farm where it was needed. The machinery would be set up and run under the supervision of the driver. This farm also had a blacksmith for the shoeing horses and the repairing of farm machinery. This was another source of interest for us, watching the horses being shod, all questions being answered by the patient Blacksmith.
In the centre of the village was "Gurney’s" a Dairy and cereal farm. We could watch the cows being milked and the milk being pasteurised. Although the farm produced gallons of milk the villagers were supplied by a man from the next village of Millbrook. He would come in his pony and trap carrying two churns of milk and pour it into his customers containers from his measures.
Threshing time at this farm seemed to be a social event for the local cats and dogs when differences were forgotten. The reason became clear when about a third of the stack had gone into the thresher. Then rats and mice began jumping out most of which were caught and killed by the cats, dogs and anybody not engaged in the threshing. It was surprising how much vermin had nested in the stack.
The third farm was "Hedges" on the opposite side of the village to the first mentioned one. It produced beef cattle and cereal crops. It was at this farm that Albert and I began working on Saturday mornings and school holidays. If I remember correctly we were paid half a crown (12 Â½ p) for Saturday morning and about fifteen shillings for a week (75p); more during hay making and harvesting. Mr. Hedges was a widower with one grown son Robert who appeared simple to us. One day when it was raining we were shredding mangel-wurzels in a barn when we saw him going back to the farmhouse carrying his rain coat over his arm. When asked why he was not wearing it he said "I don’t want to get it wet as it’s my new one".. One threshing time he was on top of the stack feeding the thresher when I was asked to go up and help him, I was half way up the ladder when it began sliding on the cobbled floor. I called out to tell him and he told me to wait a minute! fortunately for me the ladder stopped sliding.
We enjoyed helping with the hay making, harvesting and sheep shearing (we only caught the sheep for the shearers) but got fed up with hoeing rows and rows of Kale and mangel-wurzels especially in winter.
I liked best working with the horses during hay making, and harvesting or taking them to be shod. Peter and Paul were used for ploughing. They knew what was wanted and made Mr. Holland’s job (who was the Ploughman) look very easy, all that was needed was a few soft spoken commands. When he tried out other horses with either Peter or Paul he shouted commands and used the reins to guide them.
The farm had five horses; Bess a black mare; Whitehead named because of the blaze on his head, who was young and skittish; Captain who was being trained for ploughing, and my favourites Peter and Paul lovely chestnut coloured horses with white fetlocks. These Shires were big gentle creatures.
In those days before combine harvesters, the corn was cut and bound in sheaves. These were gathered by hand and placed in groups of about twelve with the ears upwards. These stacks were known as "stooks". When the corn was dry, it was taken by carts to make ricks and then usually covered with a tarpaulin to wait the threshing machine.
Mr. Hedges never recognised the single or double British summer time and always used the Greenwich mean time, so if he asked you to do something at eight o/c. he meant six or seven according to which time was in use. This I found out when he asked me to take a horse to the blacksmith at 8am. and I agreed. Mr Goodman the stockman told me when Mr. Hedges had gone, that the time meant was 7am. As the Taylors were always up early it was not a problem.
The farm’s garden was at the back of the house away to one side. The garden was entered by a gate through a spinney and a short walk brought you to another gate and a walled garden. We were taken by Mr Hedges the first time who told us how to hand weed his asparagus. It was one of his favourite vegetables. When he had gone we had a look around and saw that that it was mainly vegetables with fruit trees along the south wall in various beds.
When summer came we were warned by Mr. Goodman not to touch the fruit on the wall as Mr. Hedges would have counted it. We realised why when the fruits began to ripen and saw the size of them big black Plums the size of apples, Peaches and Figs were left alone because there were so few of each, but we did eat the cherry plums as the tree was loaded and never seemed to be picked.
Another job we were given was cutting down the thistles in the old orchard with a Bagging Hook ( spelling?) which was similar to a sickle. On one occasion I was about to take a swipe at a clump of thistles when I noticed the centre was a different colour and realised it was a rabbit that was rooted to the ground in fear. I grabbed it quick and took it to Mr. Hedges who looked surprised, killed it quickly with a rabbit punch and asked how I had got it. After I had told him he sent me back to catch some more, this was said as a joke as rabbits usually make a bolt for their burrow when people get near them.
Towards the end of the summer of 1941 Albert and I were getting fed up with country life (except for the farming).I did not feel the schooling was doing me much good. Whereas at William Morris School we had a teacher for every subject and the classes advanced each year at Ridgemont School the class was of mixed ages with the village children. I am not being disparaging about them but unlike us they were not streamed. We had two William Morris teachers who came with us a Mr. Mountford (nick named Polly, I am not sure why) who taught art at the home school) and a Mr. Finlay (nick named Shag because of the tobacco he smoked) who normally taught maths. They were expected to teach all subjects to all ages of eleven and above.
Eventually Albert and I persuaded Mum to fetch us home. The bombing had eased off otherwise I don’t think she would have agreed.
Albert resumed school at Winns Avenue where I had spent my first month at senior level before going to William Morris. The starting age for work was fourteen so a job was my first aim and as I still was very interested in wood working, a furniture factory was my choice. Mum knew a foreman at Holmes Brothers and she spoke to him about a job for me. As it was war time factories were on essential war work which meant there were not any jobs going that were concerned with furniture. I was offered a job in the engineering shop. It was not a very big shop and from memory I would say it was 40 feet by 20 feet containing lathes one was an automatic, also emery wheels and emery belts used for example polishing brass castings used on surveyors equipment.
I stuck it for a month then gave in my notice, the work very boring and the air dust laden. We were given a bottle of milk every day to counteract the health hazards. Normally it was not possible to leave a job just like that because of war time restrictions on essential industry but I was exempt through age.
Still in hopes of working with wood I went further up the road to "Wrightons" another furniture factory. They had all the workers they needed to make the "Utility" furniture quota requirement, but they did have a vacancy in the Aircraft stores. It sounded all right and it was £1-5 shillings a week, 5 shillings (25 pence) more than the last job, so I took it. The work consisted of giving out aircraft construction materials, receiving goods made in the fitter’s shop and unloading lorries. At that time tail plane parts for the Spitfire and Seafire were being made, also the Albemarle wing sections sent to another factory to be joined to the fuselage. This was the first I had heard the name, and was told that they were transport planes and being sent to help Russia who were our allies. I got on well with the other workers and knew from memory the part numbers of the various items, and where they were on the shelves. Then the Mosquito contract came and the factory had to make the two bare halves of the fuselage and the wing fitted with its petrol tanks and tank doors, wing tips, all painted and wired up. That caused quite a bit of reorganisation in the factory.
Then also came the order for the "Hamilcar Glider cockpit, which was made of very thin plywood and spruce ribs fitted with Direction Indicators and Horizontal Horizon instruments plus other fittings whose names are now beyond recall. I did most of the work for this project so when it was decided to move the Hamilcar part nearer to the workshop I was put in charge with an elder person under me. I must have been about fifteen then. I should have known better. The person under me had been classed as in an essential occupation, and when he was familiar with all aspects of the job, the store manager told me I was no longer in charge and to report back to the main store.
In the main store I told the manager to sack me if I was not good enough to run the Hamilcar store, and not to make excuses designed to keep the friends of the management out of the forces by classing them as essential ( people engaged in work for the war effort were not allowed to change jobs without a good reason). I knew they could not sack me without a good reason in case I told the labour exchange my version of the facts and I was now too old to leave when I wanted to. I absolutely refused to work in any of the stores and asked for a transfer to another department. The stores manager realising I would not change my mind said he would arrange for a transfer.
After a couple of weeks I was transferred to the Mosquito wing shop, I was at last working with wood though not in the way I wanted. The front and back of the wings together with the ribs and the wing top panels were sent in by another manufacturer. These were assembled in my new workplace. Very large jigs were used to assemble the prefabricated parts. First the front, back and ribs were assembled, and then inner Ply skins which had 1 x 1 inch pieces of spruce running length ways about one inch and a half apart. The next stage was to put on the top skin fixed by glue and numerous wood screws. When this stage was reached workers from other jigs came over with their Yankee Screwdrivers and Pneumatic Screwdrivers. Almost shoulder to shoulder the wood screws were put in, and then an inspector did his final check and made sure all screws were properly home. The screw holes were filled and the wing sand papered, and then passed to the paint shop. After camouflage painting it was sent to the final assembly shop.
The manager of the Wing shop was a friend of the store manager who apparently wanted me back in the stores and had arranged for the Wing manager to send me back to the stores at the first opportunity. It happened after a few weeks. At the end of the lunch period a bell would sound and all would start work. On this particular day I happened to be smoking when the bell went. I put the cigarette out and before I could get to the bench to start work the manager came over and said I had broken the rules smoking after the Bell, I pointed out that I had extinguished the cigarette as the Bell went, He was adamant and said I was to go back to the stores. He should sack me I said if I was in the wrong but he insisted, so collecting my few tools I went back to the stores and sat near the manager’s office. He expressed surprise when he came out and saw me asking what I was doing there. I told him not to be two faced as he had arranged it with his friend. That he denied. Since they had made no complaints about my work what other reason could they have had? Again I refused to work in the store and wanted to be sacked. Eventually I was found another job in the final assembly Mosquito wing shop. The store manager said that as I had my tools with me, while I was waiting to start would I put a roof over his office. It was a small one about six by eight feet. Fancy I thought asking me to do that after what had happened. Using plywood from the aircraft supplies, I thought was very wrong. It was a heavy plywood and I was told by one of my friends the cover had collapsed on top of the manager after a couple months, but nothing more was heard about it, because I was not a qualified craftsman and the ply wood was intended for aircraft use only. I was pleased that I had not tried to make it a work of art.
So I started another phase in my career, The manager Fred Loveday was a decent sort. The rest of the people in the shop were friendly and as an added delight I would be on a bonus when I worked on my own. An adult fitter taught me how to fit the Petrol tanks and doors into the wing, and afterwards I was to fit the 1000lb bomb winches. I was happy in that department till I joined the forces 6th. Dec. 1944.
I had worked in that factory just over three years.
One of the fitters called Taffy for obvious reasons, had frequent loud arguments about his work with an inspector named Frank Potter. Now Frank was partially deaf, but everybody else managed to talk with him in just a loud voice, but Taffy had to shout. The entire shop was highly amused the day Taffy lost his voice and all waited for Frank to inspect Taffy’s work. It was very funny, Frank could not hear a word Taffy said in way of explanations for the criticisms of his work, so Taffy had no option but to make his work up to the prescribed standard as he always had to. I really think Frank enjoyed the period of quiet. Later I was to Meet Frank’s brother who was a sergeant in the Rifle Brigade when I was called up for the army.
Dennis Haines was a friend I made at Wrightons. We would cycle together mostly round Hollow Pond (at Whipps Cross) and Highams Park or Connaught Waters and then have boats out when we got there. Once we went on a weekend camping trip in the Amersham area and it rained the first night, so we got shelter in a farmer’s barn and woke next morning to the sound of milk being squirted into a pail. Opening my eyes I saw a Milkmaid at work! The ground was so wet, we had decided not to use the tent. If the weather was bad we would possibly go to the pictures. Two young men going about together could raise eyebrows today but not then. Feeling ambitious one Saturday we decided to ride to Southend, approximately 32 miles. It was harder than we bargained for, and after something to eat and drink we took our cycles back home by train. We lost contact when we were called up for the army.
The bike was given to me by The Brown’s son (our Warwick Road neighbours)when he was called up for the army. Because of its age and having been repainted several times I never knew the its make. It had drop handlebars and a fixed wheel. Having a bike meant that I could get up at 7.45am, have a quick wash, a cup of tea and a piece of toast, jump on the bike and clock in for work at 8.03am and not be stopped a ¼ hours pay. Workers were allowed 4 minutes before being stopped pay.
The neighbours on the other side were the Wildmans He had a small foundery of St. Andrews Road until it was bombed one night. Brother Harry worked there when he left school.
I was too young join the army, so I thought I would go into the Homeguard. By adding 18 months to my age I was accepted, not much of a feat as they took all who could walk and breathe at regular intervals. "D" company of the 53rd. Essex was made up of men of all ages and was based at Penrhyn Hall in Walthamstow. The officers and NCOs were usually survivers of World War 1. The uniform I was issued with fitted rather well, some had uniforms that looked as they had been made for much larger people. We had a knapsack, webbing equipment to carry ammunition and a rifle. Most of our training took place in the evening, mainly drill, instructions on the use of the rifle, Lewis gun and grenades. Once we went to Rainham, Essex rifle range and fired a few rounds each. One weekend we had manoeuvres with the army as the enemy. It was not very exciting. The army had to infiltrate our position, without us being aware of it. As the area was very small and there were 30 of us they did not manage it.
Another night we had an exercise at the end of Folly Lane. There was a small triangle of grass that our section had to defend against another section of our company acting as the enemy. The officer leading the attack on us was not very popular with the ranks. He was the "Gung Ho" type known to us as two gun Pete. Besides his regulation issue revolver, he also carried a Luger automatic. Two of our section with me were lying down on one side of the triangle. When the attack began the supposed enemy did not see us and ran past. So the three of us attacked them from behind. I found I had the officer on the ground much to my surprise as I always thought they should lead any assault. As I was sitting on his back he could not do much but shout. As I did not like his language, I rubbed his face in the mud and then hurriedly ran to help the rest of the section. Back at company’s headquarters, to the amusement of our section, he was saying what he was going to do to the men who had assaulted him, an exaggeration on numbers! As I was the one who did it, the other two having gone past me thought I was with them, I kept quiet so nobody knew who the culprit was.
We had to mount a four man guard at nights at Penrhyn Hal. A sentry stood by the door until 11 p.m. after which leaving one awake the others retired to their bunks. One night instead of going to sleep someone suggested playing cards and we played Pontoon and I was doing very well until the game was changed to nine card brag when I lost all my winnings and lot more besides. Eventually it was decided to go to sleep, so we settled down in our bunks. One of the guards, young like myself was a joker and started talking about a guard duty of a previous evening. He asked if we had heard of the problem they had? The rest of us said no, and he started to tell us. Having experienced his humour before I was ready for whatever came. He said how the guard had found Bedbugs in the blankets then I guessed what he was up to and started scratching, and very soon all were out of the bunks shaking the blankets like mad. It was not long before they realised they had been had. All the excitement woke us up and we resumed playing Pontoon which pleased me as I recouped my losses and more. Since it was my pay packet I was gambling with and how close I had come to losing it, I gave up high stakes of over a penny and played cards only with family and friends.
Woman’s Home Guard when it was first formed was known as Nominated Women, It caused a lot of resentment and soon all mention of it was dropped. They were trained in Semaphore signalling. Two were assigned to our company. They assisted with clerical duties and looked after the refreshments, one worked for the Walthamstow Central Library and was named Iris Howes and when we met face to face there was a mutual attraction and a date soon followed to the Granada Cinema. We arranged that I would collect her from her parent’ upstairs flat and when I knocked her parents looked out of the upstairs flat window no doubt to see what I was like, They both looked very nice and jolly, he was a Painter and Decorator Foreman working for the Walthamstow Borough Council, the Mother (Marie) ran the canteen for a Furniture Factory in the North Circular Road, not an easy task in wartime with the rationing problems. Mr. William Howes (known as Bill) embarrassed Iris and me straight away by saying "Let me look at my future son-in- law" but as I got to know them better, they both proved they were as nice as they looked and little did her father know he foretold the future. Iris and I discussed our future when I joined the "King’s Royal Rifle Corp" at Fulford in York and decided we would get married when I was 18 and Iris would save the marriage allowance until I was demobbed for our home together, so the date was set for 29th.September 1945. We both thought that I would be posted abroad soon after. A 48 hour leave was arranged, I travelled on a Friday night, got married on the Saturday, we spent the night at Margate, home on Sunday afternoon and I went back to join my unit soon after.
When I got to my quarters I found all of my platoon had been sent on embarkation leave and I never saw any of them again until we were all demobilised, and I was never sent overseas, the nearest I got to that was when we had to staff with a group of Paratroopers a cadet camp at Stone Point on the coast near Beaulieu for two weeks. The Paras’ regularly rowed across the Solent to Ryde for an evening out, and rowed back again late at night; their mates had a lorry with its Headlights on to guide them back.
We spent six weeks in Fulford Barracks basic training for the KRRC. We were allowed to go into the city of YorK after being inspected by the Regimental Police who ensured that we were correctly dressed, i.e. Uniform in order, all buttons fastened, boots cleaned and polished. York I found a very interesting City. There was a Salvation Army Canteen on the side of the river Ouse that was popular with all the troops. The Castle Museum was also very handy and service men were only charged a Penny entrance fee (1/240th.of a pound) and I spent many a visit there. Clifford’s Tower was opposite where Dick Turpin was reputed to have been hung and where a massacre of Jews took place. There was much to see and do in York, the Minster, the Shambles, walk round the walled City were some of the things to do.
We had a parade on the square every Saturday Mornings with the General Service Corp (G.S.C), after the Drill exercises the Band struck up and the G.S.C. Platoons would march off first at 130 paces a minutes then when they were well clear of the square the K.R.R.C.s and Rifle Brigade would follow at 180 paces a minute and would catch up with G.S.C. as they were just being dismissed. We did a five mile march in Gym Kit in a Blizzard and a two mile run in Gym Kit near the end of our training.
One amusing incident occurred during a Bren Gun training session when a man asked the corporal what happens when we retreat "You fool the British Amy never retreats it makes a tactical withdrawal" was his response.
After six weeks training at Fulford Barracks we were sent to The K.O.Y.L.I. (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) camp at Strensall. The first thing we saw was a group of men staggering in with frost on their eyebrows and hair showing beneath the tin hats, they were just finishing their 10 mile Forced March on their way to the firing range to get five rounds on target as a completion of the test. We saw from this what was in store for us but we would be doing our turn in the hot summer. But until then our time was spent drilling on the square, practising on the firing range, rope climbing, manoeuvres and assault courses. My first time on the assault course I was chosen to start off over the first obstacle a barbed wire fence, I was told to hold my rifle above my head and fall flat over the wire and the rest of the Platoon would run over me the last two would assist me over. Strangely enough I never felt any of the barbs nor did my uniform get any tears. As we were dressed in Battle Order all who went over me trod on my backpack so it was not as bad as expected. On the rest of the course was more barbed wire to be to crawled under, water ditch to be crossed, occasionally Amatol was exploded to make it more realistic. As we crossed one ditch the man on my left who was not as tall as I was suddenly vanished, apparently he had gone down a hole caused by this Amatol, I put my hand down and pulled him up spluttering. Also we spent time on the rifle range and I won the right to wear the marksman badges on my sleeve (Crossed Rifles and one for the Bren Gun). We were taught to drive Bedford 15cwt trucks, I failed the driving test on that. We had our own regimental police. One of those whose name would be remembered by all who were at that camp was Lance Corporal Silver who used his position to book any one who committed the least offence in the book. He was so detested that he was confined to the guard house for his own protection when ever a draft was going overseas. His brother who a Bugle Major could not have been a nicer chap and played the bugle brilliantly. One Bugler had a fright when blowing reveille one day. Recently a lot of our regiment had returned from Africa who were Bomb Happy (being under heavy fire played havoc with their nerves) and the bugler was too much for one who took a shot at him. Fortunately it was a miss, and the bugler took cover half way through Reveille.