Fish, surprisingly, was off the ration during the war, and this Saturday morning, we heard that they had some fish in Proctors up near St Peters Church. This sort of news goes round Chertsey like a tornado—so here I am at the top of the town, I can already smell the fish and chips before I turn the corner, but then I see the long queue going past Mr Gibbon’s, the butcher. It’s only twelve o’clock and the fish shop is not even open yet but I decide to join the queue. There are a couple of my mates there but mainly women, there is a lot chatter going on—not moaning or anything like that, more remembering things that had happened just a few months ago, I have always been a good listener, some would say I’m just nosey! It is quite surprising what ladies talk about!
I was trying to look disinterested in their conversation—but at same time listening to every word. When the talking suddenly stops, I thought at first that the shop had opened and we would soon be moving along. The lady in front of me started to shake, I could see her dress flapping, I thought she was having some sort of a fit.
Looking up I can see this little MG sports car that is waiting in the road next to the queue, in the passenger seat is an RAF officer, he is very young looking, I should think not much older than my brother Bernard.
He turned to look directly at me, then I see why the ladies have gone quiet, one side of his face is perfectly normal while the other side is hardly recognisable as a face, the skin is distorted and very red, , he has bandages around his neck and on his hands.
They drove off and parked in The Crown Hotel. The ladies start to talk again, they say that he is probably from the special medical unit in Egham. It’s Hospital for treating burns, but they say he may never look the same again.
Up to that moment I thought of the war as if it was exciting or even glamorous just like the films I saw in the Picture Palace. The sight of that young Airman has made it anything but.
The thought of eating fish and chips is the last thing I feel like doing. I leave the ladies still talking about the young Airman and went home. I will tell Mum that they had sold out, which would probably have been true, looking at the length of the queue.
Wounded soldiers are now a regular sight, they are back from the early battles of the war such as Dunkirk. They are kitted out in Royal blue uniforms, with white shirts and red ties, some of them are just about able to walk, but still laughing and joking despite their wounds.
St Peters Hospital, a military hospital, is about a mile away. This must have been a marathon for some of the men, but with the help of their mates and their spirit, they walked in and were met with lots of back slapping and hand shaking, every-one of them a hero to us.
Even now, in war-time, there are still divisions between the more affluent areas of Chertsey and the council house area, which is near Chertsey railway station.
Of course, at my age, I was not really aware of this, but I did notice that most of these soldiers—who were in the main infantrymen—stayed near the station end of town, which is nearest to the hospital.
Anyway, officers preferred The ‘Top of the town’ as we called it, this is where London Street and Windsor Street met, and had hotels rather than pubs. In days gone-by, The Hunt would gather here to begin their—hopefully fruitless—chase for the cunning fox.
The Golden Grove pub, at the bottom of St Ann’s Hill, was a lovely old building, it was also a favourite place for the officers—a place that soon attracted the local girls.
Another place that attracts the ladies was Lasswade House, the house is taken over by an army unit with a searchlight and a Bren gun carrier.
Some of the soldiers were French Canadian, and judging by the many lady’s bikes parked along the hedges most evenings, the ladies came from far and wide.
The grounds of this house is our playground, with a lovely Japanese garden complete with a small stream and bridge, an orchard with fruit of every kind—good for scrumping– and a fine line of big Aspin trees along Chilsey Green Road. I can hear the rustle of the leaves on a windy day from my home more than a hundred yards away.—The house must have been owned by a wealthy family at one time, but had been almost derelict before it was taken over by the Army.
Nearby is another fine building, Pyrcroft House, it is reputed to be where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist—Chertsey is full of such stories, but I am told this one is true.
Private cars are now rarely seen, only doctors or army cars. Sometimes you can see a long convoy of tanks and lorries driving past towards Staines. Children cheering and waving from every vantage point, mine was on top of ‘the green thing’—a large transformer of some sort—six feet tall, and other kids climb the big Oak tree that stands on a raised island outside my home. It is all very exciting!
The news reporter and the announcer’s seemed to give us good news first and then some bad news, like when an allied ship had been lost. The next morning my Mums friend, Mrs Edwards, came round to tell us that her husband was on one of these ships. Everyone one was crying, Mrs Salmon, who just happened to be in our house, said
‘There may be a lot of survivors, because it was in warm waters, and people can keep alive for a long time, especially if they are on a raft or something’.
Mrs Edwards just sat and stared at the floor, she said that the ship had sunk with ‘all hands’ meaning that there would be no survivors. She was the only one not crying, it was the first time that I had known of any family losing someone.
Peggy Edwards, a friend of Chrissy, came round looking for her Mum, as soon as she came through the door Mrs Edwards started really crying, they both just stood holding on each other, it was such a sad thing to see. I really hate this war!
Although the news readers tried to sound optimistic, the words they were saying where anything but. A lift in their voice when an enemy ship had been sunk didn’t make up for all our ships that were being destroyed by the ‘U’ boats.
We are now hearing a lot of German aircraft passing over, but they were on their way to a factory or Aerodrome somewhere. Although we did have a bomb fall near Chertsey bridge, it landed in the drive of a big house. In the lodge of this house was a family of evacuees, the mother gathered her three young daughters and fled. They had lived in London and had come to Chertsey for safety. They were re-housed in a small shop in Windsor Street, less than a mile away, she said she felt safer there, and thought that Chertsey bridge was always a target.