Thursday, 30 April 2009

Off to Leicestershire - Evacuation!

Gas masks in small cardboard boxes, a few belongings in carrier bags and my younger brother Geoff and I were on a train bound for pastures new. Evacuated to Leicestershire.

And neither of us wanted to go!

For the first time in our young lives we were separated; Geoff went to live with a family about a mile or so away from where I was billeted. Not a good start, and it was to get worse.

We went to the same local school and we stuck together whilst there more firmly than ever. The local kids seemed to have been trained to dislike us. We were mocked as "Evarrrk-u-eeeeees" and they didn't take kindly to our South London dialect. We were treated as aliens or illegal immigrants, and we were threatened with physical violence ... and one day it happened. Some young lad stepped in and threw a punch at Geoff, and it just missed his head. That was it! We both went for this lad with flailing arms and legs and bundled him to the ground. He started to cry. We stood back and let him get to his feet. He turned and ran off.

The few kids who witnessed that attempt to have a go at Geoff and me started to amble away. Nobody seemed anxious to get involved with us after that little episode and it seemed we were to be treated with some caution. In fact, we started to take the mickey out of some of these local kids, mimicking their accent. For example, we used to say to them something like: "You going on't boozz back home?" - stressing the word bus as boozz.

After about a fortnight the police came to my billet, asking me if I knew where Geoff was. I had no idea what they meant; they explained that he was missing from where he was lodged. I knew he was unhappy living with that family. Next day he was found, trying to walk back to Croydon! He was taken back to his billet house, a very unhappy lad. He ran away again a few weeks later and again was caught by the police. The upshot was we were both sent back home to Hathaway Road. A happy ending to our brief encounter with evacuation!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Into the Mayday Road Childrens' Home

I'm seven and a bit; Mum's gone into hospital. We had to go into Mayday Road Homes as Dad had to carry on working as a policeman. Mayday Road Homes would be our home again on future occasions for the same reason: Mum is in dock again.

Actually, I did not mind this move out of our cramped two-bedroom flat at 18 Hathaway Road, Broad Green, Croydon. Mayday would be warmer, bigger and food would not be a problem!

Miss Denyer was head of Mayday Homes for Children. She was a kind and gentle lady and she still holds a fond place in my memory of those days. Couldn't say the same for one or two of the younger "carers", but Miss Denyer was more mature and got on well with all her charges.

The bedrooms, or dormitories, were plainly furnished but more comfortable than our own home. We had a bed each! How great. Six or seven boys to a room and we all seemed happy enough. I made up a bedtime story each night. No idea how this came about but I had to do this otherwise I would be pestered until I did. Cannot remember any of them now; they were probably rubbish but the younger lads seemed to enjoy them.

Bath-time one evening was not always the delight it should have been. One evening I was shoved into this large bath by one of the younger carers and I screamed the place down! It was far too hot! I was scalded quite badly and the careless young woman quickly yanked me out of the hot water and wrapped me in a towel. She was almost as scared as I was, and so she should have been.

The food was good; much better than Mum could afford at home. We had plenty of room to play in one of the large downstairs rooms and the garden was a dream. It was large, mainly grass, with a wonderful summer-house at the end. This summer-house had a cedar smell that lingers in my memory so strongly that I can still smell it!

It was sometimes empty in the summer evening and I would sit in their, totally alone for ten minutes or so, and just enjoyed the smells of the garden and the wood and the quietude.

We always knew when we would be "going home". Our own clothes would be piled on the foot of our bed, ready for us to get dressed in next morning. It was exciting to know we'd soon be back with Mum and Dad but I always felt a little sad to be leaving Miss Denyer's care, the nice beds, the playroom and that lovely garden and summer-house.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Trading Shrapnel and Other Collectibles

OK, we now know the war is for real. Watching the Spits having dog fights in the blue summer skies was fascinating. Loads of white vapour trails swirling around as the pilots swooped and dived engaging the enemy planes.

One of the joys of my young life was finding a shell-case or a jagged piece of shrapnel on my way to Elmwood Road school in Croydon. It's surprising how many kids were into "trading" bits and bobs of the detritus that falls from those blue skies.

Traipsing through the alley-ways on my way to Elmwood Road School when I meet Kevin Philips.

"You wanna have a look at my map of the war?" asks Kevin. "Yes please..." I say, a touch too eagerly I suppose.

"Whatcha got to swop then?" Kevin says. I produce a brass shell case from my pocket. It's about three inches long I guess. "Hmm ... not bad; got anyfink else?" muses Kev. "Nah, sorry - that's all I've got today."

"Okay then" says Kevin, pocketing the shell case; "'Ere's yer map. Ta ta..." and off he scampers.

The map was something cut out of the Daily Express, about 4 inches by 5 inches or so. It had some arrows printed on parts of it pointing to enemy locations I think.

I'd been well and truly had over by this older lad. He certainly saw me coming, but I didn't mind. In trading, you win some you lose some.

Next day I was walking through the alley-ways leading from Hathaway Road into St. James's Road on my way to school. Halfway through the alley-way I met Kevin, going the other way. Obviously bunking off from school I imagine. He was carrying a black, heavy looking book.

He pointed to the writing, gold embossed, on the front cover. "What's this say?" he demanded.

Looking at it carefully, having been reading for a short while I replied: "Er, holly bibble..."

Kevin then slammed the book on top of my head, making me feel quite dizzy. "Holy Bible, you twerp" said Kevin. "It's the Holy bleedin' Bible!" and stalked off towards Hathaway Road. I carried on to school, with a slight headache gathering strength.

Luckily I was not late for school. Not a good thing, being late for school at Elmwood. You put yourself on offer for the cane if you were late now and then. I don't remember a single teacher's name other than the headmaster: Mr. Thatcher. Nobody could possibly ever forget this forceful man. In fact, he's the only teacher I remember out of the two schools I attended. He ruled the school with Churchillian strength and force. He was firm, but very fair. If you got into bother with Mr. Thatcher you can bet your life you deserved it.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Watching the First Air Raid on Croydon Airport

August, 1940, Hathaway Road, Croydon. A nice summery day. A lazy sort of drone sound in the air.

"Ooh look" says Dad "They're dropping leaflets!"

He's pointing to the sky and I see a few blackish spots fluttering downwards. Quite small looking things; nothing special.

Seconds later I hear the thump, crump, crump thump as the "leaflets" hit the ground. Dad yanks my arm almost out of its socket as he whisks me indoors. They're bombing the Airport.

Oh well, no leaflets to read then. Never mind, there's always tomorrow.

This is my very first memory of the Nazi attempts to obliterate my town, my family and the rest of us. I was five-and-a-half at the time. Would I ever have a 6th birthday? Well, yes ... and quite a few more to boot.

Oddly enough, those early years were quite an exciting time for me and my two younger brothers. Eventually I would have two more brothers, but right now there's just me, Philip, Geoffrey, and baby John.

More to follow.....