Although we had been bombed a couple of years earlier, I was quite unaware of the effect the war was having on anyone beyond our little clump of council houses. At school, prayers would regularly be said for some child who had lost an older brother or even a parent. It had become a normal part of morning assembly. Since our bomb—as we knew it— I still had a keen sense of my immediate surroundings, not afraid exactly, but always expecting something to happen.
The USA had joined the war, and there were troop trains passing through Chertsey full of American soldiers. They threw packets of sweets out of the train as we cheered them from the railway banks in Lyne fields. A young boy climbed the bank to gather the sweets, he went too near the lines and touched the live rail. A man tried to rescue him by pulling him off the rail with his walking stick, but the poor lad died. Now I have become very aware just how fragile life can be.
American soldiers were stationed nearby. They had money to spend, they made the town buzz. The Golden Grove, an old pub near to us was like a magnet to them, Jeeps were parked everywhere, as were lady’s bikes from miles around. They even had their own radio station called AFN. Iris used to listen to it all the time, this was the first time I had ever heard Dixieland music, I loved Benny Goodman playing the Jersey Bounce.
People were living for the moment, and it had an effect on us kids too. At school, girlfriends were becoming a problem. Not for me of course, I never had one, but they began hanging about with my mates. Some of the girls were from London and although we were all a similar age, they were so much more grown up. They were fluent in Anglo Saxon and were able to string together wonderfully long sentences that made your hair stand on end.
In our house, swearing was unheard of, so I never mastered the rhythm that these girls achieved so effortlessly. On the other hand, my friend Danny’s family had no problems with getting a point over with a few well-chosen swear-words. After all, his mum was a railway porter at Chertsey station.
Although these London girls were a bit frightening, I had begun to realise that some of them were very nice to look at. One that caught my eye was a girl called June, but she was in the top class and so I had nothing to do with her. Like a lot of the children from London she had a nickname: Jersey Bounce Hutchinson.
She was a very popular girl, but she had a very odd way of walking, it was as if she had springs on her shoes., and this made her fluffy jumper move about as if she had a little animal up there.
Our dinner table—all boys of course—would go completely silent whenever she bounced past, which she did continually during the dinner break.
I soon realised her nickname; Jersey Bounce Hutchinson, had nothing to do with her love of Dixieland music.