Chapter one, Iris’s Story, 15th April, 1934.

Here are the first few pages of my book. I decided to start with my sister, Iris’s, story. It is of course, not one of my own memories, but sets up how I became a boy, that was Made in Chertsey. It is nearly 3,000 words long!!! 

                                                    Iris’s Story, 15th April 1934.

In 2014, my sister Iris died, she was 92, a year before she passed away, she told me of a family tragedy. A story that I knew very little of. This is that story, or at least as much of it that I can remember. I have tried to write this as an onlooker, also using my own memory of living in Pyrcroft Road as a child, and to imagine, what it would have been like for the family on that day.

                                               75 Pyrcroft Road, April 15th 1934.
The sharp ring-a-ding-ding of a bicycle bell, followed by a shout that is almost drowned by the sound of spoons against the white enamel breakfast bowls. 

At the large kitchen table, are six children noisily eating the very last morsel of their creamy porridge. Ethel, the children’s mother, leans over the gas hob, scraping the last remains of porridge— carefully avoiding the burnt bit’s around the edge of the large cast iron pot—a traditional way of cooking porridge, it is still steaming in the cold air of an April morning.

   Their father, Charlie, is gathering himself together for work, he steals a spoonful of his son’s breakfast—he has had to miss his own breakfast. 
   At the head of the table is Deirdre, a quiet sensitive girl, now thirteen, and on the cusp of womanhood. She looks over to her father as he pulls on his coat and tugs his cap tight over his head. Still doing his coat buttons up, he quickly kiss’s his his wife, and is gone through the door with just a little wave to his adoring daughter. Her gaze lingers on the closed door, she hears another shout—louder this time—his work mates urging him to get a move on.

  St Peters Church bell strikes the half hour; she looks at the clock on the dresser, it is showing five and twenty minutes past eight. Leaning over she moves the big hand over to half past as she had seen it done a hundred times before—the clock loses twenty minutes a day—you would never think, that in his spare time her father is a clock maker!

  He is a few minutes late— the normal routine of a working day has been broken after a fortnight of illness. She hears the sound of his bike clattering down the path, the garden gate first squeaking open then slamming shut, a greeting to his mate and then all is quiet. 

  Her mother opens the curtains to wave him goodbye, she scrapes some ice from the window—it’s been a very clear, cold night. The road is now busy with men on their way to work, some on bikes and others hurriedly walking, like Mr Austin, who can easily walk to the foundry in Gogmore Lane. 
  Ethel turns and wipes the babies face and hurries the other children to dress ready for school. There are three girls and three boys; the youngest, just two years old.
Deirdre and Iris, the two eldest girls, brush the other school children’s hair and smooth their clothes, as they do every morning. It is all like clockwork.
  The Airscrew factory hooter sounds the start of work for Charlie and his mates, it is eight o’clock. The children are ready and will soon be gone through that same door to school.
  Ethel glances at the clock on the dresser, she feels a slight shiver as next to the clock, is the nicely packed sandwiches. Charlie has once again forgotten them, such was his hurry to leave for work—without a wage for the last two weeks, because of the long bout of ‘flu— he needed to earn some money.

  Influenza, the disease that had laid low all the family, and for that matter most of Chertsey for last few weeks, now seemed to have moved on. She smiled, as she put his lunch on the cool marble slab in the scullery.  

‘Charlie! You will forget your head one day’.

 Smiling, she knows he will be back at lunchtime, and hear his bike coming up the garden path, she will see that sheepish grin of his as he passes the kitchen window—this is not the first time that he has done the very same thing, and will probably not be the last.

    The children are all ready to go, each one of them giving their mother a kiss and the boys a cuddle, as they do every morning. She watches them until they out of sight turning the corner near Mrs Parker’s home. Lifting the boys down from the table, she sit’s them on the little seats on the hearth fender, in front of the range to warm them up.

     Monday is washday, Ethel fills the copper in the corner of the scullery with water and a handful of soda. She places some pages of ‘the Daily Herald’ in the fire box, with some sticks of firewood. Striking a match, she sees the headline of the newspaper: ‘More deaths from the ‘flu’. She quickly puts the match to the paper, as if to burn away the words, thinking that this could so easily have been her family. There had been two families in Cowley Avenue, just around the corner, one had lost a child and the other a young mother, in the last few weeks. Another shiver, this time a little more intense, should she have let Bernard start back to school so shortly after his bout of ‘flu? he was the last to recover and still a bit sniffy.
   The school bell rings, easily heard in the still morning air, the children will be safely in school by now. It’s nine o’clock.
There is another bell, this time a muffled tone followed by a hard tone, it is the funeral bell from the cemetery, another poor soul, another poor family. She makes the sign of the cross, something she has never done before; for she and Charlie are free of any religion.

  As if to flush any of these bad thoughts from her mind, she calls out to the boys.

“We’ll have some toast in a minute, shall we?

But first, she fills the copper, in go the bedclothes and towels, a vigorous rub on the wash-board with a bar of ‘Sunlight’ soap, then lifting and plunging the bleached copper stick to stir the washing. Anything to change those thoughts on her mind. The room fills with the sweet smell of freshly washed linen. 

  Back to the table, she cuts a couple of slices of Saturday’s bread, a little stale, but perfect for toasting on the blazing copper fire—nothing in this house is wasted. It’s quickly done and spread with dripping, the boys can smell the treat that is coming their way. They all sit back in the big green armchair, there’s nothing as good as some toast and dripping.

  Through the front window, she sees her friend coming round for a cup of tea and the latest gossip, she’s holding a nice cake.

 Mrs Salmon is a very plump woman, her full face always flushed with the effort of just being so big, her name Rosy, suits her very well.

   Ethel, moves the children and opens the door, just as her neighbour comes bustling through.

 “Hello Effie, is it me or is it very warm already this morning”.

 She almost stumbles into the armchair with a thump, a puff of dust drifts from the cushions and is caught in the sunlight—it really is a warm, sunny day for April.

 They have been friends for years, ever since they moved into the new council house’s in the same week.

 The kettle boils, the tea is made, and left to ’Mash’—it’s never stirred for some reason, it’s the way tea has always been made in our house. 

  Mrs Salmon, has many friends and is kept up to date with just about everything that goes’ on in Chertsey. But the subject for the last week or two, is of the latest ‘flu victim—the last thing that Ethel needs to talk about. Today it is about a widow, who lived alone up Ruxbury Hill. No-one was aware she was ill, and the poor woman had passed away, without anyone knowing.

   “There would be no way, that would happen with us, Effie, we know what goes’ on in every-one’s house, don’t we? She laughs at what she has just said, but it is very true.

  Rosy, pauses for a moment, once again thinking about the unlucky ones, then trying to change the subject, she grasps for something to say.

   Rosy, is aware that her friend’s mind is some-where else.

Ethel, how do you spell your name? we’ve known each other for all these years, but I’ve never seen it written down”.

Ethel, pleased to be able to talk of something else, spells it out:

“W-e-g-u-e-l-i-n, Weguelin, but we are usually called ‘Waglin”, I even sign my name like that now, it saves a lot time”.   

 “Well I never, fancy that, we learn something every day”.

She picks up her tea, the cups look too dainty for Rosie’s big fingers, she holds the cup like a soup bowl, drinking it all down without another word. She twists the empty cup about, to make the tea-leaves settle before looking intently at the pattern of leaves; Reading tea-leaves is her speciality, but it always seems to be bad news for some-one. Today is no different, she shakes her head, Ethel is looking at her, waiting for the inevitable sad news lurking in the tea-cup.

   Before anything could be read, there is a clatter of a bike banging on the fence outside, it startled Ethel at first, and then she thought it was Charlie coming back for his sandwiches, she smiled as she went to the back door. 

  Mrs Salmon leans back in her chair, and through the window she saw the tall figure of Sgt Reynolds, the policeman, more of a friend than a ‘bobby’.

    “He is at the front door Effie, what does Tom want at this time of the day”.

 For once her rosy cheeks drained of their colour, for behind the policeman was Doctor Dudley Ward. A policeman and a Doctor, that can only mean one thing, an accident.

   It was a few years ago now, that a young policeman, had knocked on her own door, holding a telegram saying that her husband was missing, somewhere in France. It is the same man, a bit older, and now a Sergeant,—his normally smiley face is drawn and grey.

 Ethel hurry’s around from the back door, gathering the youngest up in her arms, brushing past her friend.

  “What is he up to, knocking at the front door”. She complained, thinking it was Charlie. 

   The bright sunlight glinted on the policeman’s badge, he was holding his helmet in front of him.   Doctor Ward, was standing beside him. Ethel looked from one to the other searching for an answer to why they were here.

The two sad faced men stood silently for what seemed like ages. The two boys were now hanging on to her apron, Doctor Ward took her hand and guided her back indoors.

   He quietly said. “Sit down, Ethel, there’s been an accident”. Sensing her fear for the children, he quickly said. “The children are safely at school, but I’m so sorry to tell you, there’s been an accident, it’s Charlie”.

  Doctor Ward and Ethel were well known to each other, she is a mid-wife, and has helped him to deliver a few babies in the area, and he had delivered most of her children. She looked into his eyes, wanting to know, and at the same time not wanting to know, what had happened.

  The two men, now both sitting at the table with Ethel, probably thinking, they had seen the last of moments such as this; having to tell a mother of some terrible news, when just a few years ago, during the Great War, it seemed to be a regular task.

  Sgt Reynolds, a big man, now with tears in his eyes, turns away, picking up one of the children he walks into the garden. Here is a woman, just thirty-four years old, with six young children, and everything to look forward to, it is all too much for him.

  She sits very still, thinking this must all be a mistake. Doctor Ward takes some pills from his bag, knowing that no amount of medicine will ever be enough to dull the pain of what he must now tell this poor young woman. Rosy, looks on from her chair, for once there are no words, just freely falling tears.

  Across the road, Mrs Mills, is standing at her gate, drying her hands on her apron, having just hung out a line of washing. She looks and wonders what could be the reason for the Doctors car so early in the morning. She is joined by Mrs Bolton, they whisper to each other, afraid to utter their thoughts aloud.

 Another neighbour, Mrs Edwards crosses the road to join them, soon there is a small crowd, all wondering what could be the reason for a Doctor and a policeman, it must serious, perhaps one of the children— Bernard was a child who always seemed to be in the wars.

  Meanwhile, at Stepgate’s school, another drama is unfolding; the four children are sitting on a bench in Miss Slaughter’s office, all wondering what they have done wrong. The head mistress is a cartoonist’s idea of a teacher, a tall, thin woman with sharp features, some-one to be feared. But in Miss Slaughter’s case this could not be further from the truth, she is the kindest of women.  She is joined by Miss Payne. every child’s favourite, a rather plump young woman in her thirty’s.

   The head teacher, unable to cope with telling these four lovely children the truth, simply said there had been an accident—how could she tell them that they would never see their father again. Deirdre looks from one teacher to the other, she can see the sadness in their eyes, her mind races from one terrible thought to another.

 The head teacher, tells the the children to gather their coats.

“We need to go home to see your mother”.

The little group leave the school, all very quiet, holding hands, knowing something has happened, but what could it be? As they passed Mr Garrett’s shop, in Pyrcroft Road, Deirdre hears Miss Payne say. “That poor Mrs Weguelin, how will she cope”. That’s all she needed to confirm her worst fears.

 “It’s Dad”, she screams, and the children, all in a row, break away shouting for their Mum. They could be heard long before they were seen, running helter-skelter round the bend near the big oak tree.

   The two teacher’s running and calling after them to be careful, but they are no match for these children; the crowd is now more than twenty, one lady cries out. “Look, here come the children, thank god they are alright”. 

Another says. “Oh no! It must be their Dad”.

 The children, still just about holding hands, run past the outstretched arms of their neighbours. Through the open door and onto their mother’s lap, all bewildered— for the awful truth has yet to be told.

Outside the garden gate, the friends were clinging to each other, weeping tears for this poor young family, how could such a thing happen, how could fate be so cruel.

     Rosy Salmon—a natural rock for all around to cling to in the bad times, stands on the steps. The policeman beside her, looking down at so many anxious faces, for a moment cannot find the words.

“I’m very sorry to tell you all of a terrible accident, our friend Charlie”.

He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts, then reading from his note-book, he continues.

“Mr Charles Luz Weguelin, of 75 Pyrcroft road, Chertsey Surrey, died on Woburn Hill, Addlestone, at a quarter past eight this morning”. “It is thought, Mr Weguelin died of a massive heart attack, he passed away almost immediately”.

The sad group linger for a while, Mrs Parker brings a pot of tea and some biscuits for the children, what else can she do? but she feels she must do something.

  The Doctor, seeing that the family are being looked after, leaves to drive back to his surgery, the policeman stays, in case he is needed, he is the only man there. 

The group of sad faced women start to drift home in ones and twos, three other friends stay with the family, doing what they can to help, but what can they do?

   Soon, a sort of calm takes over, the mind in situations such as this, has a way of blocking out things that are too horrible to think about. Tomorrow will be different.

   The two youngest children are taken by Mrs Salmon for the night, they know something is wrong but would not be able to understand, even if they were told.

    There would be very little sleep this night.

Chapter two, Iris’s Story, 16th April, 1934.

Iris’s Story, 16th April 1934.

Tuesday, the day after what would be the most tragic day, that the families who lived in this little group of houses, will remember for years to come.

These are mostly people, who live in council houses for similar reasons, they are mainly large families, such as Ethel and her six children, and others who are families of just two or three children with a man working in what could be called a community job, such as a dust-man or street sweeper, unskilled jobs that were poorly paid but important just the same, so the rents were reasonable, and controlled.

Despite, or maybe because of this variety of neighbours—all just about getting by on their meagre wages—there has always been, what could be called a kinship, after all quite a few were related by marriage or were actual relatives.

In such a community, there would always be a person, who would come forward, not so much as a leader, but as some-one everyone trusted.

 A person like Mrs Salmon: it may have been her large size, or for the fact she lived in the middle of the three streets: Pyrcroft and Lasswade Roads, and Cowley Avenue. Whatever it was, no-one would think of challenging her, she always seemed to have the answer to any problem. 

Iris, continues her story, she has been very tearful as it all comes back to her, she has probably not spoken about that day for years, and now, still so fresh in her mind, every moment remembered, such as the next morning at breakfast.

“Deirdre, was utterly heart-broken, she was always the special one, Daddy doted on her, they had the special love that the first-born has with a parent. At breakfast she talked about the feeling she had yesterday, she kept saying”.

“I just knew there was something wrong with Dad, he looked very sad and tired”. 

  The porridge that morning was hardly touched, everyone was so quiet, with just a burst of sobbing from one, then all the family.

Much of the day followed this pattern, a happy home destroyed in an instant, things could never be the same again.

Once again, the neighbours were at the door.

“Do you want anything up the shops, Ethel”.

Mrs Wade, her very good friend—they were both midwives, and had helped deliver each others children. Mrs Wade was Donald’s God-mother, she was there at the door, with a bowl of eggs, she always had a few eggs for us.

Mrs Salmon came round with the two boys, they were still unaware of what had happened, but wondered why all the tears. She fell into the chair as she always did, the children giggled as she nearly fell out of it, the castors were broken and the chair was very wobbly, the only laugh that would be had today.

  Money was now a very serious problem, the family savings, small as they were, had been spent to keep the family fed, no work for the last few weeks meant no wages.

Mrs Mant, although living a little further away, brought in a few shillings that she and her neighbours had collected. This was to be repeated by some people from the other side of Chertsey, who hardly knew the family, but just needed to share what little they had, this was not a wealthy town, but most people knew what poverty was.

  The ‘Airscrew’ company, and his workmates gave the family money for several weeks, Local shops and business’s, when they heard of the story, were also very supportive, in particular, Miss Chase, the sister of the owner of ‘Chase of Chertsey’, a horticultural firm, with premises a few hundred yards away, in ‘The Grange’. She kept our larder stocked up for over a year, and gave the children rides in her Rolls Royce Shooting Brake, and generally treated us as a good cause, probably thinking of us as ‘The Deserving Poor’ as distinct from a feckless family.

Charlie’s father came over from Shepperton, he was a broken man, he had lost three sons, all under thirty-five, in less than ten years. One a seventeen-year-old, an apparent suicide, although the family disputed this. An ex-sailor aged twenty-nine, who died from an accident while in the Navy, and now his only remaining son had died, he also lost two boys in the first few weeks of their lives.

   Iris, had no time for her Grand-father, she said he was only interested in ‘Wine, women and song’. She smiled as she added, “And not too much of the song bit”.

  She went on to explain this comment.

“George Conrad Luz Weguelin” spelling out his full name as if he was criminal, about to be charged with a terrible crime.

“First of all, coming from a rich family, he lived on ‘private means’ well into his forties; having benefited from money left to him by his father, a retired colonel in the Indian army, and from a wealthy uncle. Living the life of a wealthy man, he played about making model yacht’s, and spending his money on dubious patents, including folding furniture, and rigging equipment for boats”.

“But, the worst thing about him was his total disregard for his wife and family of four children. In the next village, within cycling distance, he had a ‘Paramour’ with another four children”.

  “Eventually, his money ran out, and he had to find work to support his two families”.

   Iris took a sip of her favourite Sherry, she shook her head as she recounted this story.

Here was a man, ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ unable to help his dead son’s family, having fritted away a fortune on his own pleasures, and a family that once was reasonably comfortable, now facing destitution, in just one generation.

 The death certificate, stated that Charles Weguelin died of a heart attack, brought on by his recent influenza. And probably going back to work before he was fit to do so. 

  “After the funeral, Grand-dad, rarely came back to see how we were coping, he died two years later, we had never had anything to do with his other family”.

After the first few weeks, the cash dwindled, Ethel had two children under four years old, no one in the family were old enough to earn a proper wage, although Deidre worked at week-ends in a shop called ‘The White Rabbit’, she was being taught how to be a dress maker, but for very little money.

  Another problem now faced the family, a woman, alone with six children, unable to fend for them or herself, although still supported by some neighbours. The authorities, in the name of the council called, the children would have to be looked after by a home, but not all together, they would have to be seperated. This was too much for anyone to think about.

  Step forward Mrs Salmon, she had a master plan, the two youngest boys were already living with her, but with daily visits, to their mother. She found other neighbours, who could do the same.

Iris and Deirdre, stayed with their own mother and Bernard and Christine, were looked after by their next door neighbour, Mrs Lee, it was almost as if they were living at home.

 This allowed Ethel to work and to earn a living.

The official from the council said this could not happen, but he was dealing with Mrs Salmon, she was very persuasive and he allowed her to put the scheme in place. He obviously thought it would be worth a try, anything would be preferable to splitting this family up.

  At first it was very hard to work it all out, Ethel had to get jobs that allowed her to be flexible, she had to be a cleaner, by just doing a couple hours here and there, she was just able to fit it all in. One of the jobs was cleaning for Mrs Snelgrove, a French lady who was the land lady of ‘The Golden Grove’ a pub a couple hundred yards away, after a few weeks Ethel was employed by this lady for most of the week, allowing her to look after the kids when they came home from school, it was all working out fine.

   Next, a visit from two members of the local ‘Poor aid’ committee, they called to see what they could do to help. The ‘Poor Aid’ was a voluntary organisation, set up by local business people, doctors and some of the wealthy people in Chertsey. They were both ladies who had the best intentions, but their job was to help the poor to help themselves, in Ethel’s case, the only thing that could be done to help, was to see what there was in the home, that in their opinion, was not essential for this family to thrive.

Charlie, was a very industrious man, he was an expert carpenter, he would use the scrap timber, that was left over from his work at the ‘Airscrew’, propeller makers, to make some nice furniture. When the ladies came to see what could fetch some money at auction, they were very fair, and ignored these items, but they really went to town on the rest of Ethel’s home. Some of the furniture, pictures and fine crockery were all taken, these were things that had been handed down to Charlie, from his parents, including a large painting of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’—it was said that one of Charlie’s Uncles was on that charge, they were a very military minded family—all these were more of sentimental value than for the purpose of raising cash. Even some clocks that Charlie had refurbished and were ready for sale were taken. The money raised was pitiful, hardly enough for a few days.

  Iris went on to talk about living on such a diminished family income, before the passing of their father, the family were generally living quite well, compared with some of our neighbours, Charlie was a metal worker, he made the tips of propellers out of copper, a skilled job, with an above average wage. Many of the things that were taken for granted, were now just a memory, as Iris carried on with her tale.  

  “In our house, we had gas lighting through out, in the kitchen and scullery there were also electric lights along side the gas lights. Because of our new situation, the gas lights were always used, simply because the gas meter took pennies and the electric meter needed shillings. Another reason was the poor light that the electric ‘globes’ gave, compared with the very bright gas mantle”.

“The trouble with the gas lighting, was that if it was switched on and off many times, it would damage the fragile mantle, so it was often left on all day, the gas used in this way, was cheaper than replacing the mantle, which could be could be quite costly”.

“There were a couple of young men, in Chertsey, who were always up to no good, mum called them ‘Rascals’, one, Eric Turner, lived in Barker road, the other, Alan Knight, lived in Pyrcroft Road next to Pippernell Izzi’s shop, they took it upon themselves to help Mum—not with stolen goods or anything like that—but they would set snares up St Anne’s Hill and sell the rabbits they caught for a sixpence each, they also sold the large mushrooms that they collected from the fields, early in the morning. They regularly gave us a free rabbit! But Mum still called them both ‘Rascals.

Iris, now that the saddest few days of her life have been told, went on with Ethel’s earlier life.

“Alan, you probably don’t know this. Mum, as a beautiful young girl, had an affair with a soldier and had a child, she was sixteen. The child was adopted’.

“She worked in Bleriot’s factory in Addlestone, next to Lang’s Propeller Works, where she met Charlie.  

Two years later they were married, as you know,they had six children and we were a very happy family living in Chertsey, with lots of friends, until that day in 1934 when everything came crashing down”.

  “Mum was amazing, she worked every hour of the day to keep us all together, something she could not have done without all these friends”.

In 1937, to help things out with the cost of everything, Mum takes in a lodger, he has come down from Yorkshire and works for the council as a painter. His money really helps and at last things are looking up, that is, until the ‘Poor-aid’ ladies found out about Fred, and stopped the little payments they have been making.

Iris looks over her glasses.

“I never really liked Fred, he was very familiar with Mum”.

In this, Iris was right, they become partners.

For my part, he is great, he is very handsome, he has thick, dark curly hair, with grey bits in it and very blue eyes. 

 He must have been some man to have taken on a broken family of six young kids. I never called him Dad—it was always Fred or his nick-name, Yorkie.

 He was a brilliant cook, and knew lots of tricks and jokes, he sometimes made me laugh till I ached. 

I can remember the excitement in December 1937, when my Mum gave birth to a son.

 David Peter Weguelin—despite being Fred’s baby, his legal surname had to be the mothers name Weguelin, he was a true Weguelin as far as we were concerned.

 David’s early childhood was dogged with illness, he spent some time in hospital, it turned out to be TB in his leg, we were all tested and Fred was also found to have the disease.

Both Fred and David were sent to TB hospitals, for several weeks at a time, 

Once again money was becoming a problem.

Fred, although still ill, managed to carry on working, with just a week off now and again for treatment in Milford Hospital.

He was a real tough Yorkshire man.

Chapter Three, Iris’s Story, The war starts.

Our memories begin to merge.

I could see Iris was feeling tired and sad, after bringing all these stories to mind. I suggested we could go out for a coffee or something.
She said. “You could take me to the shops, I need to buy some food for Charlie”.
I am only writing about this because shopping with Iris was an eye-opener.
In the CO-OP, amongst other things, she bought three bottles of their special ‘Sherry’, some cod loins, and several pouches of Charlie’s favourite cat food.
When we arrived home, I put the ‘Sherry’ in her fridge, there was already two bottles there! 
The lovely cod loin, which I thought we may have for our lunch, was cooked and given to the cat!
She said. “He won’t eat any rubbish, and will only have the best cat food”.
She joked about her love of this ‘Sherry’.
“The doctor says my blood is 40% alcohol”.
I very much doubt this, for when I had glass, it was more like non alcoholic ‘Cherryade’!
We settle down again. My memories, for the years leading up to the 1939, were very scant, but I am beginning to remember similar things to her, especially the start of the War.
Iris starts again with her story.
“I have to say that although I never really liked Fred, he did bring us all back together, that is, until I and Deirdre went into service for a lady in Weybridge”.
“Bernard, was working at the Airscrew factory and is at least earning his keep’.
“With Bernard’s wage, and mum’s various jobs, things were working out, until September, 1939’.
Iris smiled, and opened another bottle.
“I had to leave Mrs. Bainbridge, and work in the Vickers factory in London Street, men and women all together, it was such a change, but I loved it’.
“At home, tape had to be stuck on any glass windows or doors, and black out curtains fitted so that no light could be seen from outside’.
“Old Mr. Mills, was made an Air Raid Warden, he would patrol our area at night and if he saw so much as a chink of light he would be knocking at the door. Anyone ignoring his warnings would be summonsed, and face a fine’.
“Farmers and factory workers, stayed in their jobs. Any other men were called up to the armed services. Most young men were eager to volunteer’.
“Women joined the WVS—Women’s Voluntary Service, and took jobs in all sorts of trades, even driving buses and lorries. Girls, 17 and over joined The Land Army to help the farmers”. She took another sip of her ‘Sherry’ and sat. back to listen to my version of that day.
“I was walking home from school, with my friend Teddy Bolton, when we saw a crowd of women all talking excitedly, Teddy took one look at the crowd and said’.
“That looks like trouble, lets run round Mrs Jenkin’s house, to see if Sykey is there’.
“That’s the sort of life Teddy had, he was always avoiding grown-ups. I don’t know why we were running. We hadn’t done anything wrong—but you never know with Teddy’.
“At the top of Sykey’s road was another crowd, 
realising it was not Teddy who they were after, we joined the crowd’.
“Sykey came up and told us that there was a war on with Germany again.
His dad told him it would all be over in a couple months, maybe even before Christmas”.

She took another sip of Sherry and wiped a tear from her eye as it all came back.

“Yes, we all thought that”. She said.

“Iris, do you remember, you and Joe, taking me to the pictures? The queue was all the way round Bell corner to the car park. When we came out, another queue was waiting even longer. It was very dark, no street lights of course, we were all very quiet, we had just seen the Pathe Newsreel about Barcelona; The town had been bombed by the Germans, and lots of people had been killed. I think we all thought this was going to happen to us.

Chapter four, Good Old Stepgate’s

I think my sister, Iris, is quite right about her blood being 4% alcohol! No matter how much she drinks, it has no effect on her. Her memory is just as keen as ever.

But she suddenly changes the subject from the beginning of the war, to a time that I hardly remember at all, she starts talking about Stepgate’s school; we swap story’s, like me, she never liked school; Her dislike was mainly about the discipline, she was a very sharp girl and thought she knew better than the teacher’—She hasn’t changed, for all her 92 years she is as sharp as a pin.

As we talked, I quickly learned not to mention religion, although our family never regarded the Church as being important to us, Iris is now deeply religious, she even has communion in her own front room, I have noted that a lot of elderly people turn to the Church later in life—The Pearly Gate’s are just around the corner. But I was very surprised just how important it now was to her. She had previously been very dismissive of any form of authority. Which was why she never liked school in the first place, I suppose.

Although she had this belief, she was very left wing, she said Jesus was the very first socialist, this must have been a bit of a conundrum, for the Vicar when he came round!

She mentioned all the teacher’s names that she never liked, but they were some of my favourites. Perhaps I didn’t answer back like she did, and accepted everything they said as gospel, although I never really liked the place.

The teacher that I liked and disliked, in equal measure , was a teacher in the Juniors, Miss Williams, I liked her when she was was reading ‘Brer Rabbit’— she was a wonderful story teller. There was never a sound from the class, as we were all in the woods with this little animal. But if you were naughty, out would come her ruler, a quick slap on the back of the hand soon made you sit still and listen—the ruler didn’t really hurt, it just sounded as if it should have.

In our class, we now had some London evacuee’s, they were so funny they kept making the class giggle, they took no notice of Miss Williams., even during Gas mask drill— which we had to do every morning. One of the London boys made a very loud Raspberry noise, when he breathed out, then most of the class started to do it—the rubber mask was very tight on your face and if you breathed out very hard, it made a really loud raspberry. At first the teacher was slapping her ruler on her desk trying to make us stop, but we could see she was beginning to laugh, so we did it all the more.

School day’s, are supposed to be the happiest day’s of your life. I can’t say I was unhappy, but on the other hand, I was so glad to leave Stepgate’s.

The lessons were bad enough, especially English, so many odd rules that made no sense; maths, or sums, as we called them, at least had proper rules—now they are called mathematics, unless you are in America, then it’s called math, how odd, it must be so easy to have just one sum to learn!

It was in my first week at school, that I realised that children from other parts of Chertsey, had a special smell; from then on I seemed to be constantly envious of any other child who was different from me.

First of all, the smell, I was not aware that I had a smell all of my own (I bet others were very much aware) but I noticed that children from ‘the top of the town’ smelled of Lifebuoy soap, and some even, of Wrights Cold Tar Soap—my sister’s soap that I was never allowed to use but liked to smell. 

Shoes or boots were another source of envy, shiny brown shoes were a thing of beauty to me, but fancy being jealous of boots, so heavily encrusted with hobnails that the wearer walked like a zombie, and she was one of the girls! She turned out to be the schools champion sprinter, from all the muscles that the heavy boots developed, I suppose.

I can remember my first day at school very plainly, being passed over by my mother to Miss Payne, a big lady with ginger hair, she had me in one hand and Barbara Ward in the other, we were both crying.

Memories, in the Infant’s and the Junior schools are very vague, I think I was a dreamer, and not engaged with anything. But that day that Iris and I had been talking about, the beginning of the war, was like switch being turned on, I soaked up everything that was happening around me like sponge.

The stories that follow in my blog, are always of something funny or sad, they had a sort of ‘hook’ on my mind, with sometimes the most obscure details, other events are a feeling rather than a memory.

Chapter five, January 1940.

Still nothing happening.

Mum’s worried about Mrs Edwards, her husband is in the Navy and at sea somewhere. Some of our ships have been sunk by U-boats including the Royal Oak, a very big battleship.

The war is very real now, we have our ration cards but even so, some thing’s are hard to get. Mum has to say which butcher she will use to buy our meat, and which grocer to have our groceries from. It’s very slow to do the shopping now, there is always a queue at each shop. Some people don’t understand the rationing system, and there is sometimes a row going on at the counter, which makes it even slower.

Our evacuee’s, Mrs O’Keefe and her son Denis, are living upstairs in the front bedroom. We put all our ration’s together so that we can at least have a nice Sunday dinner. The rations are very small, but if we share them, we seem to have enough. Mrs O’Keefe wonders how a person living alone can manage, they only have one egg a week, 2 ounces of butter and everything else is so small. Lots of people are keeping chicken’s and rabbits in their back gardens. ‘Dig For Victory’ posters are everywhere, no more flower beds, potatoes and carrots instead.

This year is so cold some people are chopping the front garden gates up for fire wood. The council will always put a new gate in, nobody ever goes through their gates though , as all the fences are broken, just a gate standing all on it’s own! Our gate is perfect for a sledge, all you have to do is knock it all loose with a hammer, and make it into a sledge, then when the snows gone, you just put it all back together.

 As usual Mrs. Salmon is having a cup of tea in our kitchen. Now that rationing is on, I keep looking to see if she gets any smaller, but no, she still just about fits our old green chair, when she tries to get out of it, mum has to help her. I wonder how she manages to get off the lavatory.  I try not to think about it, but the thought keeps coming back.

Talking of lavatories, there is something wrong with ours, you have to pull the chain twice to make it flush, sometimes it never works at all. Don says, you have to make out that you are not going to pull the chain. Then you do it suddenly, to catch it out, it always works for him, he’s very good at things like that.

Last week we saw a convoy of little tanks, Bernard said they were Bren-gun carriers, they had about six soldiers in each one, we were all cheering as they clattered by.

In the Picture Palace in Guildford Street, they show the Pathe Gazette news-reel in between the little film and the big one. It’s all about the war, when there are pictures of the enemy tanks going through the towns with the German soldiers on top, every one hisses as loudly as they can. Then we all cheer when we see a Spitfire or Hurricane flying high in the sky. Sometimes the news is better than the films that are shown.

Today is my birthday, we are both in the Saturday Morning Picture Club for children. I have to go up on the stage for a present. Don tells me to pick the football, but I choose a mouth organ, he doesn’t half moan.

 Will Hay is my favourite, he always plays a silly Station Master on the railway and everything goes wrong. The other film was Laurel and Hardy, we are still laughing on the way home, just talking about it.

Don is playing my mouth organ; I wish I had chosen the football now, at least we could both be playing something. My brother is so bossy.

Football is my favourite game. At Stepgate’s, we have two playing fields, one next to our large allotment, where the boy’s have gardening lessons. Another much larger playing field, on the other side of the road. This field was known as Tulk’s Field, after the man who gave it to the school.

The field was big enough for a football and a cricket pitch. It also has a large air-raid shelter in it, this is opposite to the school entrance. The shelter is not really big enough for all the children, fortunately we only ever used it for air-raid practice.

The games we play in the platground, are mainly: marbles, milk-tops, fag-cards and collecting anything from foreign stamps to cigarette cards.

  The card-board milk-tops and fag cards, are flicked at other cards that are stacked against the wall, if you knock one down, you gain that card, marbles are played in a similar way.

  The playground also becomes a market, where a child could swap one marble for three milk-tops, or some other treasured item. This is all done in a fair way— we all know the value of each item.

   Of course, some kids are better than others at playing these games, and have pockets full of their winnings, but now and again, rather than keep them, they will shout ‘scrambles’ and throw all their cards or what-ever, they had, in the air and we all ‘scramble’ for them. This is the natural fairness of children.  This sharing of their good luck or skill at winning the games, allows the games to continue, and we can all still hope to win something.

Unfortunately, we have had to learn the ways of the world, and soon become acquisitive, it is now more natural to hold on to your good luck than to share it. Those children, even at that early age, knew that it’s better all round if everyone has a little bit of good fortune, so that they can continue to play the games.

Look now at our unequal society, where some people go hungry, while others just over-indulge. What a difference it would make, If we shouted ‘Scrambles’ now and again.

  What goes around, comes around. 

Chapter Six, January 1940.

Sweet thing’s are made of this.

Here I am aged eight moaning about the necessities of life. Who ever heard of a vegetable like a swede, being cooked and then flavoured with banana syrup? Well today, that’s what we had for pudding; banana fritters without any banana. What’s the world coming to?

The war really is getting serious. Sweets are vanishing from the shops. My mate Teddy Wade, from Cowley Avenue, gave me some nice sweets yesterday. They are called ‘Zubes’ and were in a little round tin. He said he bought them from the chemists in Guildford Street, near the Station.

“They have lots of this sort of thing, they’re called cough sweets, so as well as tasting nice they are good for you”.

Teddy is the sort of boy who knows a thing or two, he then carried on.

“If you know where to look, you can get anything. In old Mrs. Froud’s shop, you know, next to the ‘The Bell’, she’s got sweets in the back room. She must have had them for months, they are all stuck together, but they will soon be all gone, so if you want some, you had better go now”.

I left it too late, Mrs. Froud’s shop had been cleaned out, all that was left was little square tins of ‘Nippits’. These are tiny bits of liquorice, meant for people who smoke, to clean their breath. Not meant for kids at all, but they were better than nothing, and lasted along time.

Whenever there was a mention of somewhere with a sweets delivery, kids from all over the town would fill the shop. It was becoming a serious problem, even ‘Woolworths’ were selling fake bananas that were really just large dried bean skins. They even had sticks of wood flavoured with aniseed or liquorice—I think they were roots of something or other. Theses had to be sucked to get any flavour from them, then they became very stringy.

Today at dinner time, Miss Slaughter, our head mistress, told us what to do if the siren went off while we were eating our dinner.

“It’s never good to rush your dinner, but this is what we must do now. Instead of putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, keep them in your hand, ready for the next forkful. Then we will all be finished more quickly”.

I looked at Tony Rees, he pointed at his empty plate. Like me, he had finished his dinner as soon as he had sat down. Our knife and fork never left our hands once we got started.

Miss Slaughter—well named as far as I was concerned, she was very handy with the stick—then stood on the platform holding a bag of Horlicks tablets (little squares of compressed Horlicks in paper wrappers).

“All line up here in alphabetical order, there is one tablet for each of you.”

I am never very lucky with this sort of thing, and sure enough, me and my mate, Laury Zubiana, —who was of course at the end of the queue— went without……….Such is life.

For the last few weeks it has been very cold. Me and Don, have been ‘wooding’ up St Anne’s hill, a large woodland park, about a quarter of a mile away, up past the Golden Grove Pub. Most of the fallen branches that are nearest to the town, have already been cleared by other kids. So now, we, and his friend Kenny Edwards, have had to go further up, into Blue Bell Dell.

We are so lucky, lumber jacks have been busy felling trees for the war effort. Lucky? Yes we are, but I am very sad to see theses huge Sweet Chestnut trees chopped down. A whole hill with loads of trees gone in a matter of weeks. The old Nun’s Wishing Well that was pretty much hidden in the dense undergrowth, and only a few of us knew where it was, is now there for all to see.

The lumber-jack’s mainly used enormous axes to fell the trees, this gave us lovely large chips of wood, just right for the fire-place, and easy to fit in the pram. Don looks at our old pram full of these quite heavy chips and then at the buckled wheels. He decides we carry as much as we can, hoping a pram that is only half full, will survive the bumpy track down the hill.

We returned day after day, together with the rest of our mates and cleared the hill of all this wonderful firewood. We gave some to our neighbour, old Mrs. Phillips, ‘Pedlar’ her son was one of the first to join up, leaving her all on her own.

Unfortunately, the Sweet Chestnut wood chips are still very green and are not very good for burning, but at least they were free, and once they dried out a bit they were fine.

The blackout is now in full force, fire wardens would soon shout if they see so much as a glimmer of light from your windows. They would say an enemy plane can see someone smoking a fag from 2,000 ft. We believed everything they told us.

The Local Defence Volunteers were always good for a laugh, which was very unfair as they were so keen to protect us and they took it all so seriously. I think even they thought it was funny though, with their home made white arm bands with LDV hand written on them, and having to practice drill with broomsticks or something similar, they had no rifles. They were men too young or too old for the services and all shapes and sizes.

With only one fire to heat the whole house, we would all crowd round it, with the result we had scorched legs or worse still, chilblains. The wireless was always switched on for the nine o’clock news. With Alvar Liddel, the news reader, often with some bad news, like when one of our ship’s was sunk with many sailors dying. This was followed by ‘Into Battle’, a newsplay about the war in which we seemed to always be winning. We all loved it.

Mum was very upset when we heard that Italy may be joining forces with Germany. We have a lot of Italian friends and neighbours, and we thought they would be sent away to prison camps. I think our Italian neighbours were very unhappy about the war, and we thought it would be very unfair for them to be blamed.

So far the war had been happening somewhere else, and lots of evacuee’s decided to go back to London.

Chapter Seven, My New Walk. February 1940.

Chapter Seven, My New Walk. February 1940.

I was around eight years old when I first saw myself in a full size mirror.

We had looking glasses, as they were called, but these were tiny, like a shaving mirror, only a little part of your reflection could be seen.

  It came as a bit of a shock when I crossed the road at Bell Corner, I saw this rather odd figure reflected in the large glass door of Stott’s, a ladies’ outfitter’s. 

  As if the image wasn’t bad enough, it was further distorted by the gummed paper that was stuck on in a criss-cross pattern—every glass window had this paper stuck on to stop the glass shattering in the event of a bomb blast.

   I stood in front of the door, dumbfounded, I of course recognised my face, but the rest of the body was completely alien to me.

   I moved up and down and from side to side so that I could see the parts of the body that were otherwise hidden by the gummed paper.

   I was fascinated at what was revealed, I had no idea that this is what other folk saw as I walked around Chertsey, I had a totally different image.

   In my minds eye. I was this young Tarzan figure with just a loin cloth, loping through the undergrowth of Pyrcroft road, swinging from hanging vine to hanging vine, at one with nature and all the animals, even giving a Tarzan call now and again.

  Now, instead, I was looking at this lanky, knock -kneed kid with grubby, short grey flannel trousers, that did nothing to enhance the total lack of any muscle on my legs.

  While I taking all this in, with ever increasing dismay, I noticed out of the corner my eye, a pair of super sized ladies’ bloomers twitching in the main window.

   Without moving my head, I managed to swivel my eyes to see what was causing these giant bloomers taking on a life of their own.

  The reason for all this subterfuge was that my mum had told never to look in Miss Stott’s window as there were things on display that were not my eyes.

  Actually, Dave Mawford and I had spent many a wet Sunday afternoon—it always rained on Sunday— trying to fathom out what on earth all the stuff that filled Miss Stott’s window could possibly be used for.

  The Stott’s shop was owned by two sisters, the only one I ever saw was young Miss Stott— she well over eighty.

  Suddenly the bloomers parted and in what seemed a completely unwarranted facial expression—as if she had just chewed a wasp—as my mum would say—I think the gist of what she was saying, was for me to move away from her door-way.

  These few moments were to change my life, no more young Tarzan, instead I set my mind on self improvement, first of all my round shoulders and the nodding walk would have go, plus the knock knees, of course.

 This was surprising easy to to do, I practiced my new walk at night so that I would not look stupid. After a while it became second nature, this became my natural gait, shoulders square, arms swinging, head held high and the most difficult bit, pushing my knees apart to stop them touching..

  I would now proudly stride down the town with a feeling that I had changed my image.

  Or so I thought.

  I was returning from such a walk and was passing Pippernells Izzi’s ice cream parlour in Pyrcroft road, when I spotted Mrs. Mant. She was at her gate talking to a neighbour, they were both wearing identical pinafores and turbans, probably bought from Miss Stott’s—I vaguely wondered about their bloomers as well.

  They were both standing with their arms folded, a fag hanging from their lips, I could see by the the jerky movements of the cigarettes that they were busy putting the world to rights. 

  I thought here was an opportunity to show off my new walk, I straightened up with arms swinging and attempted to push my knees apart as I strode towards them.

  The trouble was that I had not yet perfected the knee thing, and this possibly caused me to walk in a rather odd way.

  Grown-ups are not always aware that kids have very acute hearing, and as I neared the two ladies, I heard one say.

   “Look, what’s coming down the road, that poor Mrs. Waglin, as if she doesn’t have enough to put up with”.

  Mrs. Mant replied “Yes it’s such a shame, isn’t it, they say there is one in every family”.

  They kept stock still as I passed, fags now just hanging motionless, only their eyes followed me as I passed.

   Then there was a burst of laughter as they watched me stride up the road.

But I had the last laugh, my new walk made me keep my shoulders back and the stoop has gone. There is a slight problem though, I am now quite bandy.