False alarms 1942.

Now, as things go into a lull, at least in Chertsey. It’s rare to see any-one carrying a gas mask. Air-raid sirens still go off, but are usually false alarms. That’s not to say that Britain is not being bombed on a daily basis some where. On the news we hear of air-raids happening all over the country.

Some of the shelters in our area, were little more than a brick shed, such as the one in the Picture Palace car park, it was so flimsy, you would have to be very frightened to have used it—it was mainly used as a toilet.

The shelter nearest our house, was at the junction of Pyrcroft and Barker Roads. This one was a proper underground shelter, and built to give good cover. it’s another that was not very popular though. Partly because it also smelled, but mainly as it was just yards from the railway lines and Chertsey station— Several bombs had fallen in the nearby fields, by German bombers returning from a raid, miles away. The shiny lines of the rails, showing where to drop them.

Despite how matter-of fact this may seem. The sound of the siren starting slowly, then going into the rise and fall of an air-raid warning, still made us all run as fast as we could to the nearest shelter, we paid little heed to the smell, we just wanted to get in.

I had just left The Curfew Café, in Pyrcroft Road— not for tea or anything, but Izzi’s, our nearest shop, had run out of Woodbines for mum and the café had them—when off went the siren, I ran across to the nearest one.

Down Barker Road, running as fast as he could was a man, shouting at the top of his voice.

“Everyone quickly into the shelter.”

As if anyone needed telling.

There was crowd further up, gathered round a lady who had fallen over in the panic, she was carrying a tiny baby, I saw it was my friend, Wendy’s mum, Wendy and her other sister, were standing by looking terrified.

Years later, Wendy told me the man shouting, was her dad, he had gone ahead to make sure they would have a place in the shelter, as it quickly filled up.

 

For the whole of the war, I had only used a shelter three or four times, all false alarms.

 

A siren did not sound, the night a British fighter plane crashed into an oak tree, along ‘The Old Coach Road’, in St Anne’s hill, sadly the pilot died.

The army stopped anyone from going anywhere near, until every scrap of the plane was removed.

When the shrapnel hunters arrived, all that could be seen was the damaged tree, with a large cross painted in white on the tree trunk.

 

The lull was temporary; News came that Mrs. Edwards husband was missing at sea.

 

A local Fireman, was killed in an accident, when he lost control of his high pressure hose.

 

The war was still full on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cowley Avenue Posse. 1940/1

Girls were a big problem to me and my mates, particularly the two very forward ones that plagued our lives, Nancy Clark and her friend Pansy.

They were in our class at the school—the Juniors up to age nine—and always hanging around. At first we put up with them. The trouble was, they wanted to be in charge of everything.

We all lived close by, just a few houses away. This made it hard to do anything without the girls seeing us, and then of course taking over.

It was decided that we needed a way of avoiding them. Tony Rees said.

“If we all start walking to the woods one by one, they won’t notice us.

Then we can then all meet under the big tree at the Golden Grove.”

Before we could do this though, the Local Defence Volunteers marched past us on their way to the ‘Dingle’ for rifle drill, or what ever they do.

Then Teddy’s brother, Billy—a bit older than us and a bit slow in his ways, had a brilliant idea.

“I know, why don’t we march along side the men, on the other side of Nancy’s house, then they won’t see us.”

Billy’s plan worked like a charm—although the Sergeant wasn’t too happy.

We arrived at the ‘Dingle’ with the men, and with no sign of any girls.

The ‘Dingle’, was at one time a huge gravel pit, it was dug into one side of St Anne’s Hill.

This formed a horse-shoe, with a stone look-out on the high end overlooking the Dingle lawns below.

We sat in a summer house, built into the hillside, and watched the LDV being put through their paces—not, I think, really the right word.

In front of the summer house was a nice pond with a wooden bridge over it. This was our favourite place.

The drill sergeant was shouting and waving at the Volunteers, they were all shapes and sizes. It must have so hard for them. Most of them had been in the first world war, and very keen, but their bodies just weren’t up to it.

We knew we shouldn’t laugh but it was hard not to.

Then Sykey Balchin, walked over the bridge and said.

“I need a wee.”

He dropped his trousers, to lots of shouts and teasing. Then he shouted back.

“OK, let’s see who’s got the biggest one.

We all pulled our trousers down, with lots of pointing and laughter.

Meanwhile, Billy, was having a lot of trouble with his buttons, but when he finally got his trousers down.  It was almost as if some-one had thrown a switch. The laughter and teasing suddenly stopped, as we all stared open mouthed, at Billy.

Sykey Balchin, pulled up his trousers and said.

“I’m fed up with this game, I’m going up the lookout.”

We all got dressed in silence, leaving Billy still fumbling with his buttons

 

As we crossed the Dingle, we looked up and saw two girls standing on the look-out, they were waving and shouting.

“Billy’s the winner, Billy’s the winner.”

 

It was the first time ever in his life, had Billy come first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 1939.

Teddy Bolton, was one of those boys that always seemed to be in trouble.

I found him 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.

He lived across the road from me, and although mum said he was a bit of a rascal he was always round our house.

Like me, he had lost his father when he was a young boy, may be that was why we were such good friends.

We had been black-berry picking up the hill, not very well though, as most had been picked already.

At the triangle of Cowley Avenue and Pyrcroft road. There was a crowd of people, nearly all our neighbours. And in the middle was Mrs. Salmon. They were all very excited about something.

Teddy took one look and then pushing me up Lasswade Road, he said.

“That looks like trouble, lets go round Sykey Balchins house.”

That’s the sort of life Teddy had, always avoiding grown-ups.

I don’t know why we were running. We hadn’t done anything wrong—but you never know with Teddy.

Basil Leigh, who worked for Mr. Steers, the baker, shouted something as he sped down the road on his delivery bike.

“What did he say, Alan?”

I shrugged, Basil was so out of breath.  I couldn’t hear what he said.

Some ladies were just standing at their gates, talking to each other, it was all very odd.

At the ‘T’ junction of every road, there is a triangle, normally a meeting place for kids under the gas light, in the evening.

Now the one at the top of Lasswade, was once again crowded this time with people, nearly all ladies.

 

I think Teddy realised it was not him that they were after, and we joined the crowd.

Sykey Balchin, was there and told us that there was a war on with Germany again.

His Dad, also called Sykey, had been in the last war with Germany, and he had told young Sykey, ages ago that we would be fighting the ‘Hun’ again, very soon. But it would be a really quick war, all over in a couple of months.

It seemed to be quite exciting, until that is, I saw my mum with Mrs. Edwards, her husband was in the Royal Navy, they were both very upset.

********************

For the next few weeks we listened to the wireless every night, the news now was about our war, rather than the one far away.

Every one was running around, getting ready for the invasion, that we were told we must be ready for at any moment.

Black-out curtains were given to homes that could not afford them, some people were digging air-raid shelters in their gardens.

We heard that Mr Edward’s ship was some-where in the Pacific Ocean, and luckily, far away from the war.

The Play-house started showing films about how to protect ourselves, in case of an air-raid, and posters saying ‘Careless talk costs lives’.

Some of the young men joined up, including our friends, Pedlar Phillips, who joined the army, and the two Hyde brothers, Glynn and Owen, they all looked very smart in their Navy uniforms.

Deidre’s husband Gordon joined the RAF, and was posted to Scotland straight away, she followed him a couple of months later.

This went on for a few months, but then things settled down, we were ready for anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bombers are coming, September 1940.

The Pathe Gazette newsreel, in the Playhouse’ picture palace, was showing our fighter planes shooting down German bombers, we were all cheering and stamping our feet.

But the pictures of hundreds of enemy aircraft filling the sky, was frightening. This made us all go quiet for a minute or so, then someone started booing, and it was deafening.

I think it was Geoffrey Hunt, who’s job it was to cycle back and forth between Chertsey and Addlestone, taking the news reel from one picture palace to the other. The news was always a week old, but we lapped it up.

Saturday morning picture club, at the ‘Playhouse’ never showed the the news-reels. Cowboy films were exciting enough.

But now things were becoming exciting in real life. German bombers, although sometimes invisible above the clouds. Were recognised by their engines, they had a completely different sound to the Allied planes, a sort of rumbling drone, coming and going.

The clearest view I had of a squadron of ‘Gerry’ planes, was as I was near the Carpenters Arms, coming home from the Saturday morning picture club. They just came into view for a second, then were gone, with just that horrible noise they made.

We were told later that Vickers Armstrong had been hit that morning, with many dead.

************

The London Blitz was now on the nine o’clock news every night.

On night, mum called us out after we had gone to bed, to see the huge red glow in the sky above London, just twenty miles away. It was like a red rainbow, reaching high in the sky.

We just watched in horror.

Mr Mills, the Air Raid Warden, told mum that after bombing London or other targets nearby, the bombers would follow the shiny railway lines and try to let any bombs that they had left over, fall on the stations or goods yards.

Chertsey station and railway was very close to being hit on several raids, but fortunately they landed in the fields nearby.

Mr Mills, also told mum of a bomb that did land in Chertsey.

A young mother and her three young children had just been evacuated from Battersea, in London, they were living in the lodge of Abbey Chase, when the bomb fell just yards away in the drive.

The mother, gathered her children and fled, she found another place to stay, but less than a mile away. I think she thought that the boatyards on the river Thames were a prime target.

 

The bombs would soon be coming closer to our end of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horlicks 1940.

Who ever heard of a vegetable like a swede, being cooked and then flavoured with banana?

But at school today, that’s what we got 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.

Teddy Wade, from Cowley Avenue, gave me some nice sweets yesterday though, they were in a little round tin, they were called ‘Zubes’.

He said he bought them from the chemists in Guildford Street.

“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’ pub, she’s got sweets in the back room. They are a bit old and sticky and will soon be all gone, so if you want some, 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.

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 and sticks of thin 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 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 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 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.

 

Horlicks 1940

Who ever heard of a vegetable like a swede, being cooked and then flavoured with banana?

But at school today, that’s what we got 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.

Teddy Wade, from Cowley Avenue, gave me some nice sweets yesterday though, they were in a little round tin, they were called ‘Zubes’.

He said he bought them from the chemists in Guildford Street.

“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’ pub, she’s got sweets in the back room. They are a bit old and sticky and will soon be all gone, so if you want some, 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.

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 and sticks of thin 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 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 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 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.

 

Summer 1940. It’s all gone quiet.

I can’t remember the first time I saw a ‘Dirty old man’. Old men exposing themselves was part of growing up in the Chertsey woods.

Although several evacuees had gone home to London, Chertsey was still over-run with children. The schools were so crowded that huts were built in the playground.

Now, attracted by the number of kids without an adult to look after them. The sight of these men showing themselves off to us, was an every-day thing. We said nothing about it to anyone, in case we were banned from our favourite places.

It is Saturday morning. I have done my jobs, and am doing some modelling on the kitchen table.

Mrs. Salmon, is sitting in the old armchair. They now know I can lip read, so instead of ‘Gum Talk’, she is speaking normally—‘Gum Talk’ is mouthing the words without making a sound.

Mrs. Salmon would even take her teeth out for an exciting bit.

“It never happened before, did it Ethel? All these dirty men up the ‘hill’,

some say it’s the soldiers from Chobham common.”

Mum looked over to me—I could still see her as I kept my head down.

“Alan, could you make us a nice cup of tea?”

And then carried on with the story.

“I don’t think it is soldiers, Rosy, they say that they are all old men.”

Mrs. Salmon heaved forward to hear something new. Usually it was her, that had the gossip. Now it is mum who is the star. They leaned forward until they were almost touching.

And in a whisper mum said.

“Mrs. Snelgrove, up the ‘Golden Grove’, told me that she saw a couple of old men talking to some kids under the big tree outside her pub.”

I now feared for the old green chair. It was creaking like never before.

“Some-one had said that the police knew the men, but would have to catch them doing something, and that one of them is an important person in Chertsey.”

Mrs. Salmon quickly took her teeth out, now the chair was in real danger of falling apart, she was perched right on the edge of it. Rosy, well named as her cheeks were normally like a rosy apple, now looked more like a purple plum. And without her teeth, she  had a lisp.

“Who is it Ethel? They should be locked up even if they are important.” She sprayed.

Mum looked over to see if I was listening, and again in a whisper said.

“The police can’t say who they are until they are arrested.

Mrs. Salmon looked quite disappointed.

Fearing the worst, I watched her as she sat back in her chair with another almighty creak, and then she slipped her teeth back into her mouth with a loud suck.

I wonder what would have happened to the old green chair, and for that matter Mrs. Salmons teeth. If I had told them.

 

That I was one of the kids under the tree that day.

 

One of the men was a local employer, he did a lot for the town, although over-friendly with us kids, he was completely harmless. He formed several football clubs in Chertsey.

The other man was eventually arrested and spent some time in jail.