The story part five.

The story, part five, the following week, April 1934.

Ethel’s life has changed dramatically, one day, living well with a happy family. The next day, God only knows what will happen.

So far, they have been buoyed up by the kindness of her friends and, it must be said, by complete strangers—people were so moved by the situation this young family found itself in.

The ladies from the ‘poor aid’ had also given some cash as an immediate help, and surveyed Ethel’s possessions at the same time for a future auction.

The council official, had called, to assess the situation.

Mrs Salmon was ready with her plan, she had already taken in Don and Alan to live with her.         Bernard and Chris were taken in by our next door neighbour Mrs Leigh. She had two older children, ‘Belvie’ and Basil.

Deirdre and Iris stayed to help their mother.

This would eventually allow Ethel to earn a wage, but not for a little while.

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

Iris lowered her voice as if to stop anyone hearing what she was about to say.

“Looking back at the time, I now think that on top of everything that was happening—there was a lot of whispering and rushing about in the house. I believe Mum had a miscarriage, it must have been very early on. The secrecy of all this was so that the council man never found out.”

I then asked Iris.

“What about our Granddad, I could just about remember him, he must have been devastated with losing a third son.”

She made a funny face.

“Well, he was very fond of ‘Wine, women and song’, but not too much of the song bit.

“He had four children, Dad, Walter, Stella and Christopher—who took his own life at the age of 19—they lived in Chertsey.

“In Shepperton, just a few miles away, he had another illegitimate family of four with his paramour, Septima. One child died soon after birth.

“He was very clever man, with several patents, one is still used today on model yachts, he also made lovely model sailing boats.

Then Iris said with a smile, referring to his womanising.

“He was also a very keen cyclist!

“He was left quite a lot of money by his father, a Colonel in the Indian Army, and J.C Weguelin, a writer and poet—who had a number of flowers named after him, a Peony and a Tradescantia.

“Our Granddad managed to live very well without working for quite a long time.

“By the time Dad had died though, he was just an ordinary working man on a normal wage, he was never able to help Mum at all.

“He died in 1937.

 

 

 

The story, page four.

The story, page four, 2:00 pm, April 1934.

First Sgt Reynolds and then the Doctor left, having made sure the family were being looked after—a neighbour, Mrs Phillips was a St John’s Ambulance Nurse—together with her neighbour also called Phillips and of course Mrs Salmon, were busy doing what they could.

Iris said.

“I can remember, the day after, the house was full of ladies’ doing everything from washing and ironing to cleaning the whole house, they were tripping over themselves.

“Our Granddad came over, he was a broken man, he had now lost three sons aged between 19 and 35, in the space of ten years.”

In the days following, there was an immediate coming together of the neighbours, and even some people who lived just outside of the council houses, toys and treats for the children and even food.

The workers at his factory, the Airscrew, collected money and food parcels for their mate, and this money together with the help from the kind neighbours, helped the family to survive for a few weeks.

Although there was no Social Security as we know it today, there was a sort of ‘poor aid’, this was organised by the Church, local shops, doctors and businesses and meted out by some of the fine ladies of the town.

They would decide, that before any money was passed on, an inspection of the homes and finances of the family would be carried out—a sort of unofficial means test.

The only ‘finances’ to be counted was the money that had been collected for Ethel, but this was all taken into account.

The other operation, these very well-meaning ladies would carry out, was to see if there was anything of value, that a family like this would not need.

Charlie was from a reasonably well-off family, the home had some nice furniture, paintings, china and glass, which had all been passed down to him.

Plus, some furniture that he, as a skilled carpenter, had made himself, he was also a clock repairer in his spare time, and had some refurbished clocks ready for sale.

He was a very industrious man and by his hard work, he had made the home quite comfortable.

All rich pickings for the ‘means test’ ladies, some nice items here for sale, before any of the poor aid could be given.

The home was ransacked, there is no other word for it, all that was left of anything valuable was a glass panelled china cabinet and a medicine chest, both made by himself, even the clocks that he had repaired and were ready for sale were taken and sold.

The money that this raised was pitiful, it lasted less than a couple of weeks, the family home now looked like a shell.

The next hurdle Ethel had to clear was the authorities, they had a duty to make sure this family of six young children could survive with a lone parent, it seemed impossible.

Mrs. Salmon, now took control, a rota was put in place to look after the younger children, and for the older children to be looked after when they returned from school, the idea was to show, that as a community this family could survive.

The man from the council decided to give Mrs Salmon’s plan a trial, anything would be better than placing the children in different children’s homes around the country.

Iris said with a little smile.

‘I think she gave him no choice, he was glad to let her have her way, she was twice as big as he was.”

 

 

Notes about ‘The story’

A note about ‘The story’. !2/03/2019.

The stories of the first five or so years after that day in 1934, are all my sister Iris’s memories.

I had a little idea of what life was like then, but Iris’s story was a shock to me.

That afternoon, I sat and listened to her, she was helped by a bottle of Co-op Sherry, which she managed to empty in just those couple of hours, without any obvious effect on her­—you can’t expect much more for £6.50 a bottle.

Her story was unremittingly sad; I was obviously too young to know anything about it.

My memories of that time, are of a wonderland, I had the happiest of childhoods in Chertsey.

When Iris was telling me of what can only be something like the ‘Blitz Mentality’—long before that phrase was invented—how the people in that little corner of Chertsey gathered round and shared what little they had, plus the ‘Kindness of Strangers’, I decided to write it down, hence my blog, ‘madeinchertsey.com’, and my posts to the brilliant site, ‘Chertsey Chatter’.

Iris would have been so happy that her stories have been so well liked.

Page four, which I will post later, shows the start of these quite poor people, helping one of their kind in trouble.

It makes be proud to be a Chertsey boy.

 

The story, page three,

The story, Page 3, 11:,00, April 1934.

Outside, Mrs. Phillips, standing at her gate, drying her hands on her apron—today is every-one’s washday. Mrs. Hyde joins her, they stand and wonder, first a policeman now a doctor, what could be happening? They are soon joined by three or four more friends, all gathered around Ethel’s gate, with the same question, who could it be?

***********

Iris, now tells me, the moment she was told to go to see Miss Slaughter, the head mistress—it wouldn’t be the first time. I always seemed to be the one who was picked out.

“This time she was almost kind to me, Deirdre was sitting next the Bernard and Chrissy, all looking as if we were in big trouble.

“Miss Payne, Bernard’s teacher, was standing next to us, she told us that there had been an accident, and we all needed to go home.

The two teachers couldn’t bring themselves to tell these four lovely young children, all looking so innocent, the truth, that even they could not believe.

“We all started walking home hand in hand, the two teacher were talking quietly, as we neared Mr Garrett’s shop, I heard Miss Payne say something that terrified me, I said to Deirdre, It’s Dad.

“We all started running as fast as we could, the teacher’s calling for us to stop.

“As we were near our house, we saw this big crowd of people, some of them were crying, they were holding their hands out to stop us falling.

*********

The noise of children running helter-skelter down the road, was heard before they were seen.

Followed by Miss Slaughter, the head mistress and Miss Payne, trying to keep up.

Deirdre, Iris, Bernard and Chrissie, all holding hands to stop them selves stumbling, ran round the corner near Mrs Parker’s, calling for their Mum.

The friends, now more than ten, looked tearfully at each other, it must be Charlie.

Still just about holding hands, the children run through the outstretched arms of the neighbours,

all they want is their Mum.

As if to keep time with these events, St Peter’s rings eleven bells, It’s less than four hours since Ethel waved goodbye to Charlie.

The two teachers followed the children into the house, Miss Slaughter, a strict—some would say hard—woman, trying hard not cry, but never the less failing. The sight of six young children clamouring over their distraught mother is just too much for her.

Sgt Reynolds stood on the steps, he read out a short note.

“This morning our dear friend, Charlie.”

He paused for a moment, Mrs Salmon took the note and finished reading it.

“Mr Charles Luz Weguelin, from this address, passed away this morning, the cause of death is unknown.”

This was the moment Mrs Salmon knew what she had to do, she had seen it all before during the war, a family left without a father. Things had to be organised.

The family were without any money, their meagre savings were long gone—the reason Charlie cycled to work before he was well enough, after two weeks of ‘flu.

Without any further to-do, a jug of hot tea, some cake for the children, Mrs Mant, having a whip round, a few pennies here, soon a shilling or two.

The poor know how to look after poor.

 

 

The story page one, 10:am, April 1934,

April 1934, 75 Pyrcroft Road.

Ethel sighs, as she see’s his sandwiches on the dresser.

“Oh, Charlie! You’ll forget your head one day.” 

He has left in a hurry, after a bout of ‘flu, without a wage for the last two weeks, he needs to earn some money.  

Smiling, she puts his lunch in the larder, he will cycle back the mile or so at midday, she would hear the clatter of his bike against the fence, then see his sheepish grin as he passes the kitchen window.

The school bell rings, the children will be safely filing into school now.

But, there was another bell, the mournful bell of the grave yard, first a muffled tone then a full one, another ‘flu victim, one of many in recent weeks.  

She slowly did the sign of the cross—not a thing that she had ever done before, both she and Charlie had always been free of any religion. 

Pulling herself together, she grabbed the huge pile of washing from the table, today is washday, filling the copper tub that is built into the corner of the scullery, a handful of soda, a stir with the copper stick, then to light the fire. 

First some newspaper—but not before she sees the Head-line; ‘London hit by ‘flu epidemic’. She quickly puts a match to the paper and watches the head-line burn away. 

Working quickly now, as if to change the subject of her thoughts.

The crackle of the wood blazing under the large copper tub and the white bleached copper stick plunging up and down on the washing, all sounding like a machine, anything— anything, to cast away those thoughts of sadness. 

Now best of all, some bread on a long fork, toasting so quickly on the flaming wood, it burns. 

Three-year-old Donald and his little brother Alan, licking their lips at the thought of some dripping on toast. 

Ethel sits back in her favourite armchair, green velvet with lovely curved mahogany wood-work, a hand-me-down from Charlie’s family.

St Peters Church bell chimes, it’s already ten O’clock. 

Through the kitchen window, she sees Mrs. Salmon, as usual she’s coming around for a chat and a cup of tea.  

Rosy Salmon is a very large lady, her full face always blushed with the effort of just being so big. Her name, Rosy, is well chosen.   

They settle down for their tea, and the local gossip. 

Of course, the subject is ‘flu, the very thing Ethel is trying to avoid. 

Then the sound of a bicycle banging against the fence, it must be Charlie. 

She quickly put the kettle back on the hob.  

Rosy leans back to see who it is at this time of the day. 

For once her cheeks lose their blush. 

The story, page 2, 10:45 am, April 1934.

The story, Page 2. 10:45 am, April 1934.

Rosy sees Sgt Reynolds at the front door looking very serious. She hears a car door slam. Dr Dudley Ward is at the garden gate.

Rosy looks again at the tea leaves she has been reading in her cup—it’s always bad luck for someone—but she hopes today, it’s not this house.

She knows though, a policeman and a doctor calling at the same time can only mean one thing, an accident.

Ethel, not knowing what is unfolding at the front door, smiles as she thinks it is Charlie coming home for his sandwiches, she picks up the youngest child, looking a bit confused, why is Charlie at the front door, when he always uses the back door.

She opens the door, looking at the two sad faced men, Dr Ward, the family doctor; She knows him very well, he has delivered all of her six children—apart from Alan, a difficult birth performed in Woking

She thinks. ’Why are they here instead of Charlie.’ They look at each other for what seems an age.

Dr Ward takes the child from her and they step in-doors, still without a word.

Rosy stands up for Ethel to take her seat, young Donald climbs onto his mother’s lap, it’s as if he senses something is wrong.

The doctor takes Ethel’s hand, stumbling, trying to find the words that must be said.

Ethel is the first to speak.

“It’s Bernard, isn’t it? I should have kept at home, he was a bit pale, but he insisted he wanted to go to school, what have I done Rosy, what have I done?”

The Doctor, quickly now needing to put her mind at rest, at least about her children, said.

“Ethel, all your children are safely at school, but I have some very bad news for you.”

She looks at him, trying to make sense of his words and at the same time not wanting to know.

The Doctor takes some pills from his bag, knowing that there is no medicine that will dull the pain of what he is about to tell young woman, just thirty-five and with six children all born within the last twelve years.

He said with a tremor in his voice.

“Ethel there’s been an accident.”

Rosy, for once with nothing to say, and tears falling from her cheeks, fearing what he will say next.

He is finding it hard to say the words but finally blurts them out.

“Ethel, your Charlie is dead.”

Sgt Reynolds, hardened to to hearing the saddest of stories, finds this just too much bear, he lifts baby Alan and walks into the scullery, with smoke and steam drifting across the room from the copper.

The Doctor carried on.

“Charlie would have not suffered; it would have so sudden.”

Meanwhile another drama was unfolding at Stepgates, the older children have been told simply that there has been an accident, nothing more.

 

The story part six.

The story part six.

Iris and I are now comparing our memories, it’s funny how one can remember every moment of a day together and for the other, it’s as if it didn’t happen at all.

Iris sits back in her chair, holding up the empty bottle with a little sigh.

“I have to say that although I never really liked Fred, he did bring us all back together, that is, until I and Deidre went into service for a lady in Weybridge.”

“Bernard, was working at the Airscrew factory and is at least earning his keep.”

“With Fred and Bernard’s wage, and mum’s various jobs, things were working out.”

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

We both remembered the September the 3rd, 1939 though.

I told Iris my version.

               “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 go round Sykey’s 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.

            At the top of Sykey’s road was another crowd.

 Realising it was not Teddy that 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.”

Iris began her story, she opened another bottle, it’s going to be a long one.

“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 between 18 and 41 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 drop of Sherry and wiped a tear from her eye as it all came back.

“Iris do you remember you and Joe, taking me to the pictures.

“The film was ‘Boys Town’ with Micky Rooney, the queue for the early show is over 2 hundred yards long all the way round Bell Corner to the car park.”

“When we came out, another queue was waiting, even longer than before, it was very dark, no street lights now. Can you remember how quiet the crowd going home were, just a murmur, we had seen a silent Pathe Gazette film about Barcelona that was bombed by the German air force, many were killed.”

“I think we all thought the town could have been Chertsey. Is this what will happen to us soon?”

Iris said. “No, I can’t remember any of that.”

I think she was too much in love with Joe to think of anything else.