Until I started school, I had hardly ventured into the town beyond Tommy Garretts, about two hundred yards away. Going to his shop instead of nearby Pipp’s, for something for mum was quite an adventure, but now the journey to school and meeting kids from the other side of Chertsey seemed much more exciting.
I would come home after school with one of my brothers and maybe go to the homes of their friends, some of them lived up the top of the town, their homes were so different to ours. The best house though, was Roy Cawley’s, right at the other end of town next to the new bridge over the Bourne. His father had a timber yard with some old sheds that we could play in, one shed had an old car that gave us a lot of fun, it had a hooter which we would honk continuously, it didn’t worry anybody because of all the noise of the sawmills.
The Cawley’s were very good friends of mum’s and I had been taken there before I started school, they must have been well off because Roy had so many toys, my favourite was a pedal car with real pump-up tyres, something that I never knew could exist.
Mr Cawley had made the river Bourne which flowed through his garden, widen out in a sort of pool and above that he had hung a rope swing to an over hanging branch. The river was shallow and safe for us to play, it was very popular as it was so near to us.
About eight years later, at the end of the War, I was playing in the river with Roy, when we saw his brother walking over the bridge with his kitbag on his shoulder, he was home after fighting in the war somewhere. There was lots of shouting from the timber yard, and his father came rushing out and kissed him, I had never one man kiss another before but it seemed so natural. Mr Cawley was what some would call a rough diamond, I have never heard anyone swear as much as he did, it was continuous, with words I had never heard before but knowing that they must have been swear-words because of the way they were shouted.
Another boy that I went home with lived in Grove Road, he was a friend of Don’s, we stayed for tea in the garden, his mother was so nice to us. Afterwards Don’s friend showed us how to play the piano, he was very good at it. From that day I have always thought of Grove Road as the posh end of town.
If Grove Road was the posh bit of Chertsey, then Barker Road must have been the poorest part, there were families down this long road, that were even poorer than we were. My mother told me that some families had no proper cups and would drink from jam jars, she said that the girls in one family had no under clothes, just long vests held together with a safety pin, I later met one of the girls from this family and she said that this was true, but astonishingly, like the boy in posh Grove Road, they also had a piano that all girls could play. I suppose it all depends on your priorities.
Next door was another family of girls, where I was told many years later, that they were often left to fend for themselves, the youngest being just five years old, with their poor mother who found it hard to cope. On more than one occasion the older child scavenged food from their neighbours. Their father would often take his wages and go dancing up the London dance halls for the whole weekend and come back without a penny.
The young girl in this story, was many years later to become my wife,