When I started to write about growing up in Chertsey, I found that there were long periods when nothing seemed to happen, perhaps I was blissfully unaware, just living the life of a Chertsey boy. Even some of the early things that I have remembered, needed a prompt from someone. I can clearly remember the excitement when my brother David was born in December 1937, but nothing registered in my mind again, until the drama in 1939 when we declared war on Germany.
Earlier, in 1937, starting school was very exciting, at least for the first few months. At home, as the youngest child, I was the favourite. In school it came as a shock to me when I saw that some other children were the chosen ones. I was no longer the apple of anyone’s eye, in fact I seemed to be told off more than anyone else.
I now realise that I was looked upon as a backward child, I still had trouble with saying what I wanted to say, and when I did, it was often back to front.
On top of my misery at school, I was told that we were expecting a new baby, I was going to be demoted again. The baby was born, and all eyes were upon it. Up till now, Deirdre and Iris, had always made a fuss of me, but they had already left home and gone into service. Iris told me years later, that they did this because Fred had become mum’s partner, something they found hard to take, even though it was three years since losing our father.
Giving 1938 up as a lost cause as far as my memory is concerned, the following year was a cause that I wished I could lose. I heard the grown-ups talking about the terrible things that were happening in other parts of the world, and I could feel their fear.
The day that the war started, also started my memory in earnest, it was exciting and fearful at the same time, from now on I would remember everything happy or sad. I had spent all day up the Hill with Thunder Bolt. He was one of those boys that always seemed to be in trouble, and that to me was the attraction. 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 were on our way home from the ‘Hill’, after picking the last of the black berries, they are the tastiest ones, although you have to watch out for the odd maggot.
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 Mr. Mills perfectly trimmed privet hedge.
“That looks like trouble, Wegsy, come on, let’s get out of here”.
We bolted up Lasswade road—life with Thunder was what you might call interesting, always avoiding grown-ups for some reason or another. I don’t know why we were running this time though; I didn’t think we had done anything particularly wrong today—but you never know with Thunder.
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 that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. 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 Siki and his dad—also called Siki, it must have been very confusing in their house sometimes. His Dad had been in the last war and said we would soon be fighting the ‘Hun’ again, but it would be a quick war, all over in a couple of months.
I was too young to go to the evening pictures, so I never saw any newsreel about the war in other countries. Now that we were in the war as well, it was exciting but when I saw how upset Mum and Mrs. Edwards were, it didn’t seem that it would be so. Mr Edwards was a sailor and was somewhere far away at sea.
A man came round to our homes to show us how to put up black-out curtains in all our windows, and we were told to stick some gummed paper on all the glass, this was a job for us children, it took ages. All the gas streetlights were put out and any cars that could be used had to have dimmed lights and white stripes on the mudguards. Street signs were taken down so as not to show the enemy where he was. Even the Green Line coaches vanished from the parking place next to The Carpenters Arms and converted to ambulances for London.
After the first months of getting ready for what-ever happens, nothing did happen. The nights were darker with the black-out, otherwise things seemed to be just the same. 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, away from the war. Posters were everywhere, telling us about how to protect ourselves in case of an air-raid, and saying ‘Careless talk costs lives’ and such as that.
Lots of the young men joined up, some even saying they were older than they really were, just to get in the services including the Wade boys, Porky Turner and Pedlar Phillips, they all became soldiers. The two Hyde brothers, Glynn, and Owen joined the Navy. Nearly every family had a young man in the services, they all looked so smart in their uniforms. Some men were disappointed, because they were prevented from joining up as they were vital to the war effort in the factories. Younger men became messengers, the ones who were too old joined the LDV, later to become the Home Guard. Deirdre’s husband, Gordon, joined the RAF, and was posted to Scotland straight away, she followed him a couple of months later.
Air-raid shelters were built into the ground, but some like the one in the Picture Palace car park, were just built of bricks, they looked very flimsy, so no-one used them—except as a lavatory! The one at the beginning of Barker Road was built under-ground and was considered safe to use, although it was right next to the railway, always a target for bombers. At first this one was used mainly by women and children, it seemed that even when the air-raid siren went, mixing unrelated men and women in such a confined space at night was asking for trouble. This modesty was soon abandoned after the first bomb landed in the field on the other side of the railway track,
This shelter was virtually a home to some families, they had installed beds and heaters, much to the annoyance of some other families. I saw all these things happening around me, but thought nothing much of it, it just seemed the sort of thing that would have to be done in a situation like this.
To the Government it must have felt like an epidemic. They had to react so quickly to the threat of immediate invasion, and despite just coming out of a depression, they were able to put all these precautions into effect within a few weeks, it was an amazing feat—something, even with all our experts and government advisers, we seem unable to do now, in twenty-twenty.-one.