1940s Childhood Memories
World War Two Baby
I was born in 1942 and so do not remember that much about the London air raids. I do however remember seeing a "Doodlebug" or flying bomb going over in Downsell Road Leyton where I lived. I also remember my mum used to say "There's one a-coming", a signal to go into the air raid shelter. My mum said how she would lie on me to protect me from the bombs. My father was in the Home Guard and used to go on his bike to West Ham where he worked on the Anti Aircraft guns. My mum was very worried about him travelling about during the blackout. I remember once looking out of the landing window and seeing the searchlights brightening up the sky and I believe this particular occasion was to mark the end of the war. I was given a toy searchlight which ran on batteries and turned around and up and down, just like the real thing, which brought me a lot of pleasure.
One feature of a street party in Stewart Road after the end of the war stuck vividly in my young mind. Among other things there was a group of about 4 men with garlands of flowers round their necks playing Hawaiian guitar music. One of the guitars was made entirely of metal. I have always since loved Hawaiian music.
(There is below this paragraph a map of the area where I lived and went to junior school. This is a modern map so there are differences from the way it was in my young days)..
Junior School Memories.
I remember clearly the day I started at Downsell Junior School in Leyton. My mother took me along, although it was only 8 houses away from where we lived in Downsell Road. After my mother had gone home I started crying because “I wanted my mum!”. I was glad to get home when school was over. As the school was so close to our house I always went home to lunch or “dinner”, as we always called the midday meal.
Naturally I made some new friends at the school. One of these was a boy called Brian. He lived in the same direction as me only a bit further so we would walk home together. In our childish way, we pretended that I was Winnie the Pooh and he was Piglet, both being keen on the stories of A A Milne. Another boy was Alan. He had suffered from Polio and limped, having one leg shorter than the other. Consequently, in any chasing games, he was usually the first to be caught. I encountered him later in my teens when my parents and I were part of a concert party that went round entertaining various disabled groups. Alan was part of a Polio group we went to and, by that time, had been confined to a wheelchair.
One piece of school equipment which particularly impressed me was the epidiascope, capable of projecting images of opaque things like a book or newspaper page onto a screen and did not need transparencies. We have much more advanced technology now but I was awed with that at the time.
There were always celebrations at the end of term. Two of the Teachers, Mr Hardy and Mr Harries, were into puppetry, and used to teach us how to make puppets' heads out of papiermâché,and, when term ended, would present Punch and Judy and other puppet shows. Mr Hardy also played the guitar and would sing a song. Then there was Mr Meyers (that’s how it sounded but I’m not sure of the spelling) who would show films, which of course we also enjoyed.
Other teachers that I remember were:
Mr Blake, the music teacher, who I always said had an ear for music since his ears were more prominent than average. As the children sat on the floor singing, he would go round the rows directing the aforesaid dishes at each one in turn to hear who was singing out of tune.
Miss Davis, one of the head mistresses.
Miss Smith, another headmistress, whose pouting jaw reminded me of the revolving part of an air raid siren, still a familiar site so soon after the end of the war.
Miss Cass, who seemed to speak as if she was yawning.
Miss Lynn, who was rather thin. She was the music teacher.
Miss Gallington’ (I think she was sometimes known as “Miss Skeleton” or “Skelington”) who married the vicar of Holy Trinity, which was at the time not in its present site but in North Birkbeck Road, where blocks of flats now stand. She became Mrs Huckett after her marriage.
There was Mr Farr, whose shouting at the class could be heard from our house down the road. He it was who read Dr Dolittle stories to the class. I loved listening to these.
Mr Brown, a geography teacher with a limp and a propensity for mentioning “The great plains of America”.
Then there was Miss Turner (or possibly Miss Sumner) who used to come to the school on a moped. There were teachers with both these names. I believe it was Miss Turner with the moped.
Last but not least, there was Mr Edwards, headmaster, who I believe succeeded Miss Davis. He started a verse speaking group, of which I was a member. We were glad that he was a Christian and always had a Bible in his study.
One of the popular radio programmes of the 1940s was ITMA (short for “It’s That Man Again”), starring Tommy Handley. He died on the 9th of January 1949. I heard the news at school and I remember I was very sad that day. Although I had not yet reached my 7th birthday, I had enjoyed his comedy programme very much and I had difficulty pulling myself together at school because “Tommy Handley’s dead”. As I was so young then, I think I was more affected by that “bereavement” than by subsequent family deaths which occurred when I was much older.
My Childhood Home
I lived as a child with my mum and dad at 146 Downsell Road in Leyton, then a suburb of London and now part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. My maternal grandparents lived next door at 144. (Neither of these addresses exists now, since the row of houses east of the school as it was then was demolished in the 1970s to make space for its expansion. Later still the old school that I attended was demolished leaving only the new part, built where the houses had been. This was itself rebuilt, with the big external clock, previously on the old school, incorporated into it). My grandmother had, in her younger days, been “in service”, i.e. a domestic servant. She told a story of a man in Forest Gate, to whom she was in service,who had a beard and liked gorgonzola. On one occasion, when he was eating this cheese, she saw a maggot crawling on his beard. Rather alarmed, she brought it to his attention and he said “Where, Sarah!” When she showed him he scraped it off with his knife and put it in his mouth, obviously considering it part of the nourishment. An acquired taste evidently!
My grandfather had the claim to fame that he was born in March on the 14th of December. (March, for those who do not know, is a place in Cambridgeshire). He was an engine driver and once, during the Second World War, the train he was driving had been machine gunned by a German plane, I believe without casualties. Also he had received a handshake from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who had been a passenger in another train that he drove. He was always interested to talk about railway matters. He used to take me to the Railway Works at Temple Mills, where he went to collect the privilege ticket to which he was entitled as an employee and, after his retirement, his railway pension.. Both he and my father had allotments. These were also at Temple Mills, today the site of East Village, the renamed Olympic Village. They were at a high level and I used to like looking down on Hackney Dog Track and seeing the dogs chasing the mechanical hare round.
My mother was the leader of the women’s meeting at Newtown Baptist Church in Major Road Stratford. This took place on Mondays. Consequently, on those days, when I came home from school, as my father was at work, I had tea with my grandparents, who looked after me until my mother got home. On Sundays I was taken to church and Sunday School. My mother was one of the organists.
As I said, my grandparents lived on one side of us. On the other side was the Winch family, Fred, Elizabeth and their daughters, Janet and Sylvia. Fred Winch used to ride a mo-ped, which he frequently took apart. Rumour has it that, each time he put it together again, some screw or other part was left out. He was quite a reasonable carpenter though and made, among other things, tap dancing dolls. These were flat wooden dolls with hinged legs which had a handle sticking out the back. There was also a square cornered, spade shaped platform made of plywood. He would sit on the platform handle and, holding the doll handle, dangle its legs on the square platform. He then tapped the platform handle so that the platform hit the doll’s feet, making it tap dance, waving its arms. My father would provide music on his mandolin. One of the dolls was fitted with batteries and bulbs so that its eyes would light up. Once they had an audition for TV at the Nuffield Centre, with the BBC’s Steve Race playing for them but were not given the opportunity to broadcast. However my father had, before I was born, won a radio in a song writing competition.