’Made in Chertsey’, started as a joke. I created a blog with a similar name to ‘Made in Chelsea’, a TV programme about posh people. My blog would be about my working class roots growing up in Chertsey.
As soon as I started to write about this, I remembered things that I had completely forgotten. A child’s mind usually starts to record memories at about the age of four, and even then only happy or sad flashes are stored. So in the stories that follow, there are gaps of months or even years when nothing of note is remembered. The stories are largely true, but there is quite a lot of imagination. I start not at the beginning, but with a story that I remember most vividly—even though there are some things in it that I could not have known. Hence the imagination!
Sometime in the early part of the war.
The war may have been happening some where else, but in our family, things are going from bad to worse.
Things were really looking good just a few months ago. Now the war has turned everything upside down.
Fred, my step father, is in hospital again, David is away in Essex, also in some sort of home, both of them have TB. Little Sylvia, just over a year old, takes up a lot of Mum’s time, so she can’t work up the Golden Grove for Mrs Snelgrove, the pubs owner.
Iris is the only one earning a proper wage—she makes fuel ‘drop tanks’ for Spitfires in the small factory in London Street.
Bernard works at the Airscrew in Weybridge, making propellers for aircraft—but not for much money. Mrs O’Keefe, our evacuee, pays a little towards the cost of things. Don and I do some work on Mr Bentleys farm in New Haw, but earn no money, it’s voluntary, but we love it, better than sitting in a classroom.
For me, an eight year old boy, the excitement of being at war has faded, the air raid sirens sound now and again, but are mostly ignored—there have been so many false alarms. Our gas masks are left at home; no one seems to care about it. Even some of the evacuees, who were rushed out of London are now returning to the city. The war really doe’s seem to be happening somewhere else.
The only clue we have that there is a conflict anywhere in the world is in the Picture Palace, our local cinema, there is one short film and a long feature film, in between these is the Pathe Gazette news reel, this would be all about the war far away, the audience would boo loudly when ever it showed German troops, and cheered even louder when the allies were on the screen
On this day, I had been taken to the pictures by my sister and her boy friend—some films were classed as an ‘A’, children were not allowed in unless with an adult. The film was a bit dull, but the Pathe News was very graphic, it showed people fleeing their towns and villages that were being bombed and burnt to the ground. They were not soldiers but ordinary people and children. Afterwards, as the picture-goers were walking home, hardly a word was spoken, those towns could just as easily have been Chertsey, with the same shops and churches, and with our people running away from the tanks and bombs.
As we turned Bell Corner, we saw in the distance the brightest sky ever, an angry arc of colour, almost like an enormous sun setting on the skyline, once again London has been bombed,
It’s the third night in a row that the sky has been so red, it won’t stop burning until there is nothing left to burn.
I can’t help thinking of those poor people in London. The only bombs that have fallen in our part of Chertsey, were in the fields on the other side of the railway.
Once home, I couldn’t wait to hide under the dresser, this is where I like to sleep in my makeshift bed—we have a Morrison shelter, where the others sleep, but Sylvia, our baby is very noisy, and I only go under it when the siren goes.
I feel safe under the old Army overcoat that I use as a blanket, its my favourite souvenir, and try to think of something else, it’s hard to do.
We are lucky living in the country, there is nothing here of any importance, nothing for the Germans to waste their bombs on.
I kept thinking of those people in London, just twenty miles away, it kept me awake until after midnight.
Two young German airmen, specially chosen to fly a Dornier— one of the fastest German bombers. They are flying low to avoid the British Radar, and then to deliver a surprise attack, just like the bombing of the Vickers Aircraft factory in Weybridge. On the horizon, the pilot sees the same red sky over London, he can’t help thinking of all the terrified people there. He had been on an earlier raid, and saw how incendiary bombs, falling like leaves in Autumn, could burn anything they touched. He quickly looks away—to cast these thoughts from his mind.
The Dornier, ‘Flying pencil’ was the perfect aircraft for this sort of mission, a hit and run raid, its slim fuselage making it hard for anti aircraft shells to hit. Three bombers had left France, with the same intention, they separated over the English coast, a lone plane is hard to see at night.
For maximum speed they are carrying just two high explosive bombs, they also need to be accurate. They are both leaning forward in the cock-pit, straining their eyes to see through the low clouds. They are looking for railway lines; the fires raging in the distance make it hard for them to see anything on the ground. The pilot flies as low as he dares, then, there they are, the railway is beneath him, the rails bright and shiny rails, he follows them across open country until they pass through rows of houses, then he releases his bombs—railways are not the only target, the people of every town—even of no military importance are to be terrorised by these lightning raids. Sometimes in broad daylight for maximum effect.
Not far away our neighbour Mr Mills, our local Air Raid Warden, will soon finish his patrol and hand over to his relief. He turns the corner near Johnson’s wood yard into Chilsey Green, there are no houses on his right, just Stanford’s farm, and on the left, a row of old cottages, the Walden’s live there, and then Mrs Brooks; her husband is away in the army.
He knows everyone in his patrol sector, and probably most people in Chertsey.
A fit young soldier in the First World War, he’s now a bit tubby, and too old for active service. Never the less here he is, once again in uniform; the blue boiler suit of the ARP, he even has an army helmet. There is no mistaking the pride he feels in doing his bit for the war effort, swinging his arms as if he was still a young soldier. Heaven forbid anyone showing the slightest chink of light to aid the enemy planes.
In the distance— just twenty miles away—he can see the crimson glow of the fires in London—incendiary bombs are now the choice of the German air-force. People seem more fearful of these bombs than the big ones, they fall in such great numbers and cover a larger area. Now it seems as if all of London is burning.
He remembers, as a twenty-five-year old soldier in France, seeing the same deadly glow in the sky, and thinking then, of all the people unable to escape.
He quickens his stride as if to shake off these thoughts. After all, it’s been another quiet night, mild with just a light breeze, enough of a breeze to make the leaves of the Aspin trees rustle as he passes the Lasswade House orchard.
The rustling leaves almost mask the sound of an aircraft’s engine’s. No reason for alarm though, it is something that happens about this time most nights; one of the Beau-fighter’s about to land at Chobham aerodrome, two miles away.
But now, as the aircraft flies low over the trees, the sound is not of a Beau-fighter’s quiet radial engines, but the dreaded droning noise of a German bomber, flying just above the trees in Stanford’s Farm, instinctively he starts to run.
He stops to listen, the plane is now directly above him, it is all too sudden to warn anyone, not even time for an air raid siren. He hears the engine noise quicken and then fade into the night, he knows this means the plane has released its load, first he sees the houses in Pyrcroft road light up as by daylight, then comes the incredible noise of the explosion, followed by the blast, he can’t stand, he’s tumbled like a bale of straw in a gale, along with branches of trees and all sorts of things caught up in the violent storm sweeping up the road.
Clinging on to the railings of the bridge at the bottom of Mrs Ballard’s house, all he can see is a high cloud of dust rolling toward him lit up by the flames behind, and the sound of falling masonry. Then the terrible screaming and the shouts of people, some trapped, some injured and some terrified by what must seem like the end of the world—for some poor people it would be, just that.
The bomber crew cheer as they wheel away, their mission accomplished, another blow for The Fatherland, but not quite the success they thought it was, the railway was untouched.
I wake up with a start, thinking I am dreaming, there is a very loud drumming noise.
From under the dresser I can see the kitchen light swinging about like a conker on a piece of string, and strips of the blackout curtains flapping about. There a bright flaring light coming through the front window, bits of glass hanging down on the white tape that had been stuck on to stop the glass from flying about.
We have been bombed out!
The blast must have gone through our house like a whirlwind, taking everything with it including most of the ceiling. Through the dust I can see someone silhouetted against the light of the window, someone is reaching down under the dresser, and is pulling the old army Great-coat off me, it is covered with glass and plaster.
It’s my Mother, she is saying something but I can’t hear anything except the drumming noise.
As she pulls me out from under the dresser, my head hits the woodwork.
There is blood every where—only a small cut on the forehead but that always seems to bleed a lot. She drags me into the scullery at the back of the house, there is no time to put any coats or shoes on, we just want to get out of the house as quickly as we can.
Mrs O’Keefe and Dennis, our evacuees, are already in the back garden, they had run down stairs from their bedroom and out through the front door—or where the front door had been, it has been blown off its hinges and is wedged up the stairs.
They had gone around the side of the house to the back.
Bernard is carrying the baby, and Chris has grabbed blanket from the shelter, we cut across the bottom of our garden into Mrs Phillips, then round to Mrs Salmons house at the top of Cowley Ave.
As we came out of Mrs Phillips’ gate, people from the bottom of Cowley Avenue are running past—some still in their night clothes—to see if they can help, there are already lots of people standing under the big Oak tree on the road island in Pyrcroft Road.
Mr Mill’s, the fire warden is there, his white shirt is red with blood, and he is limping, but he is still in charge and keeps everyone back to the bottom of Lasswade Road. I look up the road past our house, it is all lit up, the road is full of rubble, and some big branches from the tree that is outside Eddie Hatchwells, are hanging down almost to the ground.
There is a lot smoke, and a strong smell of burning, the flames show up the faces of the people who are looking on from near Mrs Cooling’s house at the other end of Pyrcroft Road. Those poor people in the bombed out houses had no chance, their homes are now just a pile of bricks and window frames.
On the other side of the road, Danny Parker’s house has all the beds and furniture hanging out, the front wall of the house has been cut off as if by a knife.
Kenny Edwards, who lives near to the Parker’s, comes over with his Mum, he and my brother Don start looking for shrapnel on the road, they find a large chunk stuck in the tree, it is so far in that they can’t move it. If it had hit someone, Kenny says it would have gone right through them.
All our neighbours are here now, some holding each other, and others, like my Mum were just crying and crying, there is nothing that can be done for our poor friends up the road. The fire engines arrive and we are told to move away, just as another large flare of flame shoots up, they say it is the gas main, even I can hear the roar of it above the noise in my head.
People are just standing around, not knowing what to do, we all go down Cowley Ave and stay with our friends till morning. Mrs Phillips, a St John’s Ambulance nurse, puts a plaster on my forehead, although it has stopped bleeding.
The next morning the council men came to check the damage, they put planks over our front windows and refitted the front door, and said it would be alright for us to live in the back of the house, Bernard, Iris and Chris moved back in, as did Mrs O’Keefe and Dennis. Some neighbours were not allowed to go back into their houses to collect anything, they were so badly damaged they were told the buildings would be likely to fall down.
Mum decided she and we younger ones would all go and stay with our Gran’s, till the house was properly put back together, Granny lived in Addlestone about three miles away.
For the life of me I can’t remember much about that day, except that I still had a very large plaster on my head and of the long walk to her house. The worst bit of the journey was helping Mum and my brother Don, to push the heavy pram over Hatch Hill, the railway bridge.
Luckily, Mum knew the area, and we used a little cinder track that ran from the top of the bridge along the railway track to Addlestone Station, near to Gran’s house.
Her house was very old, she and Grand dad, had lived there for years, it stood next to a little stream and we had to cross a rickety old bridge into her back garden.
It was so nice to see My Gran—I can’t remember ever seeing her before.
She didn’t look very pleased to see us though, and for a moment I thought she wasn’t going to let us in, she just stood in the doorway looking surprised, perhaps she didn’t know we had been bombed out, but then, how could she? It had only happened a few hours ago, and no one had a telephone.
Once indoors it was very different, everyone was crying—and hugging! Something our family never did, Chertsey people were not known for that sort of thing!
Granddad got a big surprise when he came back from the shop’s.
This was the first time I had ever been to Addlestone, I can’t remember meeting him or any of my aunt’s and uncle’s before. A close family we were not!
The next door neighbour came around to hear our story—he had a wooden leg, a real one like a Pirate would have, I couldn’t help looking at it, so shiny, he must have polished it every day.
Mum was still very tearful, and Gran was trying to find a way to cheer her up, what she said was just the job, she knew that Mum liked to have a bet everyday, and said.
‘If you want to put a bet on, Ethel, Mr Seward is our bookies runner’.
For the first time since the bomb, Mum started laughing, Granny looked at her as if she was having a fit, and gave her another hug.
Mr Seward started laughing too, and patted his wooden leg, saying.
‘They all think it’s funny down the Bookies, me a runner with a peg-leg’.
I liked Mr Seward, he would come round every day, and tell us about his time in the last war and how he lost his leg in France.
Although I can’t remember very much else about living there, one thing that stands out was that the front of the house was next to a fish and chip shop—no more having to go all the way up to Mrs Hughes every Saturday morning!
I was the only one who was shaken up, I was still a little deaf, but when my hearing came back a few days later I could hear a pin drop, everything was so much louder than before. The house was old and everything creaked; the floor boards, the doors, and even the window frames.
My sense of smell was also much keener, there was a funny smell, a bit like fresh bread.
I realise now that my senses had been supercharged—but the smell of fresh bread was from the Co-op bakery, just a few yards away in Victory Road, after a while I didn’t even notice it.
Another thing I do remember, was that there were lots of mice in the garden, probably the bakery again. They lived under a large shed at the bottom of the garden, the shed was full of sports gear including a punch bag hanging from the ceiling.
My Grandfather was a school sports trainer for ‘The Gordon boys Home’ in Chobham. He made us do exercises every day, I think he was disappointed that we weren’t very fit or sporty. Two of my uncles were footballers, and played for Weybridge and Walton, a big football club, my uncle Ron was an athlete.
We stayed there for a few weeks until they had mended our house.
We have now been back home in Pyrcroft Road for a few days, our house smells of paint, I have never seen it so clean and tidy. The council workmen had done a very good job. Even the blackout curtains and the strips of paper on the window panes have been replaced. It’s a bit bare though, with no pictures, the big looking glass has gone, broken into smithereens, and the dresser has nothing much on it apart from the alarm clock.
Iris and Bernard have left for work, it is early for me to be up and dressed, Mum, and my brother Don are still fast asleep under the shelter, sadly the bomb caused Mum to have a breakdown, and she is still very unwell.
Our evacuee, Mrs. O’Keefe, had been bombed out in London, and she and Dennis, her son, were sent to the safety of Surrey!
They stayed in our house while all the repairs were being carried out—Londoner’s; they are so tough! She is very short and stocky. My brother Bernard, says all Londoner’s are like that because of all the smoky air.
And talking of smoke, it’s Monday, everyone’s washday. I can smell all the coppers in our road being lit, wood smoke hangs in the still air outside and now drifts into our kitchen, soon our copper will be lit and our smoke will slowly drift into someone else’s kitchen. It will be just like London!
Mrs O’Keefe comes in with a big pile of washing—she never stops talking.
‘Let’s put some music on, I like some music while I work’.
She laughs, thinking she has made a little joke—‘Music while you work’, is a popular programme on the wireless.
The wireless is an ‘Ultra’ it’s very clear, I can hear every little sound, probably because it has no cover, Dad was going to put it into a nice cabinet, but now it just sits on it’s base, I love watching the valves glowing, it’s like magic, I wonder how anyone thought of such a thing.
I hear the old alarm clock, it is starting to whirr, as if it is gathering itself ready to ring the bell, but there is no bell to ring, the poor old clock has never been the same since the bomb.
‘Alan, there goes the Lagonda hooter, it’s eight o’clock already, just look at your mum’s old clock, no bell, no glass and it’s always fast, no one ever knows what the time is’.
The Lagonda factory is in Staines, about four miles away, the hooter should be like the all clear, a continuous note, but it sounds more like the air raid warning, rising and falling.
My brother Don, said we should call Mrs O’Keefe, Mrs ‘O’, I think it’s a bit rude, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so that’s what I do now.
‘Well, Mrs ‘O’, it’s a wonder it works at all, after being blown out of the window with the rest of the stuff on the dresser.
‘Anyway, It’s easy to tell the time, all you have to remember, is that mum puts the clock ten minutes fast at nine every night, because that’s how much it loses every day, do you see what I mean?
She looks over her thick glasses’ with a tired look, I think she knows what’s coming.
‘No, I don’t, and to tell you the truth I don’t want to, I must get this washing done before it’s too late for it to dry. When I get the copper lit we’ll have some toast, shall we? there’s no butter though, only dripping’.
I try to explain how to work it out, but I think I have lost her.
‘Jesus wept, it’s no wonder every-one’s late in this house, if they have to do that all the time’.
‘They never have to do all that because everyone leaves twenty minutes early just in case’.
There are times when you start to say something and then wish you hadn’t, but you can’t stop yourself. This was one such time!
Mrs. ’O’ sighs, she leans forward resting her hands on to the table, she’s now looking very weary, I think she losing the will to live.
‘Ducky, if you carry on this, I will be as mad as the rest of you, wouldn’t it be better if they bought a new clock, they can’t be that expensive.
‘Do you know I really think I would be safer back in London.
The Lagonda hooter fades away, its quiet at last, just the sound of the crackling wood in the copper and the bubbling washing, I like the smell of ‘Sunlight’ soap, washday is one of my favourite days.
‘Thank god that blooming hooters stopped, now I can listen to the wireless, it’s got such a lovely tone, it’s a shame your dad couldn’t finish the cabinet. Bernard might be able to finish it though, when he’s back home.
‘Bugger, its fading, just when I was listening to that Anne Shelton. Now then Alan, that’s something you can do for me, just take the accumulator down to Mr. Hyde, it only costs tuppence to charge it up again, the poor man, he’s got such a bad habit, jerks his head all over the place’.
The wireless is not the only thing that wants fixing, the old clock has not been the same since the bomb, and I’ve got a twitch, a sort of a wink.
Yesterday, I heard Mrs Salmon, and Mum talking about a boy at school who had something called St Vitus Dance, he can’t keep still. Then I heard them talking about me and my ‘habit’, I never knew what a habit was—let alone that I had one.
Mrs Salmon said. ‘He will soon grow out of it, it’s just the shock of the bomb’.
Mrs Salmon isn’t always right though; she was the one who said Mum would be alright.
Since I heard all this, I have been looking in the mirror every few minutes, all I could see was a funny sort of wink in one eye
Now I need to have a another look in the looking glass to see if it is getting worse, but that means passing Mrs ’O’.
As I walk towards her, I watch her face to see if she notices anything, she just smiles as I push past. In the looking glass I can see the twitch, it’s getting worse!
‘Alan! Just be careful in the scullery, the copper’s hot, it’ll scorch your trousers, then you’ll smell just like that dirty old army coat you’re so fond of’
‘Don says, army buttons must never be polished, shiny buttons make’s a target for snipers. I wonder what regiment he was in, and why it smells all burnt and where do you think the soldier is now’?
Mrs. ‘O’ looked over her shoulder at me for what seemed a very long time, her hands still in the sink, but then turned away without saying anything.
‘Just look at you, come away from that looking glass, pulling all those faces, one day you will end up like poor Mr. Hyde’.
‘If you want something to do, work out what the time is…………you’re the only bugger that can’.
She laughs so much at her joke, that her fag fell into the copper.
‘Oh, Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! Now look what you have made me do’.
I walk back into the kitchen, Mrs. ‘O’ has said nothing about my winky eye. I think she is too upset about losing her fag, she swears all the time.
‘Here’s your toast, it’s a bit burnt because of all your chatter’.
I creep back under the dresser, pulling my old army great-coat up round my neck, and eat my toast. You can’t beat toast and dripping on a chilly morning.
I am lying still, and just listening, I can hear so much now, Mrs Wades chickens cackling and the pigs grunting, I could never have heard them before the bomb. I would have thought a bomb landing so close would make you as deaf as a post, but it’s the opposite.
We children have a new playground, the bomb site, where just a few weeks ago families just like ours lived. Now we are building camps with the bricks, without a thought of what had happened, kids always find a way to play, no matter what.
My winky eye only comes back when I am stressed—this has caused all sorts of misunderstandings!! My hearing is back as before. Mum gets better and we all soon get back to normal—or as normal as you can be in a war.
We never thought the war would come so close to us, as it did that night.
It was only a year ago that we had declared war on Germany, and after the first months of getting ready for what ever happens, nothing did happen. There was rationing and the nights were darker with the black-out, otherwise things seemed to be as they were before.
Life of a child growing up in Chertsey, was still what most kids would call perfect. We had the same lovely country side to play in; fields of long grass, the woods of St Anne’s Hill and of course Chertsey bridge. All we needed for a whole day away was pack of sandwiches and a bottle of Tizer—sometimes we didn’t even have that
They are the only memories I have before the war started, just flashes of happy moment’s. Such as my first outing to the seaside, in the back of Jimboy Salmon’s green grocery delivery van.
Several families all sitting on sacks of potato’s or beer crate’s, and all the grown ups a bit drunk and singing on the way back, it was magical.
Or the Coronation of King George, sitting on some one’s shoulders, at Bell Corner as the parade marched by, and then the party up St Anne’s Hill in the Dingle.
The day that the war started, also started my memory in earnest, it was exiting and fearful at the same time, from now on I would remember things happy or sad.
I had spent all day up the Hill with Teddy Bolton, he was one of those boys that always seemed to be in trouble, but he was a very good mate, he shared what ever he had with me, a packet of crisps or sometimes just an apple—the trouble was you never knew where they had come from!
We had been black-berry picking up the ‘Hill’
As we neared the triangle of Cowley Avenue and Pyrcroft road, there was a crowd of people. They were all very excited about something, Teddy pushed me into a hedge.
“Hey, that looks like trouble, lets get out of here”.
We bolted up Lasswade road—life with Teddy was interesting, always avoiding grown-ups for some reason or another.
I don’t know why we were running; I didn’t think we had done anything wrong today—but you never know with Teddy.
Basil Lea, who worked for Mr. Steers, the baker, shouted something as he sped down the road on his delivery bike. Basil was so out of breath. I couldn’t hear what he said.
Some people were just standing at their gates, talking to each other, it was all very odd, we reached the top of the road and once again it was crowded with people, we saw Sykey and his Dad—who had been in the last war, he said we would soon be fighting the ‘Hun’ again. But it would be a really quick war, all over in a couple of months.
Then I saw my mum with Mrs. Edwards, her husband was abroad somewhere in the Royal Navy, they were both very upset.
For the next few weeks we were glued to the wireless every night, the news now was about our war, rather than the one far away.
We heard that Mr Edward’s ship was some-where in the Pacific Ocean, and luckily, far away from the war.
The Play-house started showing films about how to protect ourselves, in case of an air-raid, and posters saying ‘Careless talk costs lives’.
Some more of the young men joined up, including our friends, Pedlar Phillips, who joined the army, and the two Hyde brothers, Glynn and Owen, they all looked very smart in their Navy uniforms.
Deidre’s husband Gordon joined the RAF, and was posted to Scotland straight away, she followed him a couple of months later.