56, Ash Wednesday.

Every night on the wireless we hear of another city being liberated, the allies are getting closer to the German border. In the picture palace we see the poor people looking from the ruins of their homes. They are cheering our troops driving through the streets, it is a wonder to me how anyone could have lived in such a mess. They had no clean water, and how could they keep warm without gas or electricity, it looked so cold with snow piled up on the sides of the road. How would the towns ever be put back together?

 A few weeks later, on the newsreel, we saw the first German city taken by the allies. There is some cheering from the audience in the cinema as we see a pile bricks and rubble that was once a German town, but then a hush as the film zooms into the faces of some children, they look just the same as our kids when the blitz was in full flow. The commentators voice sounded sad as he said this was the ugly face of any war. I heard someone behind me shout out. “They started it”.

At last, we have a letter from Bernard, it’s a couple of weeks old, he can’t tell us much, but it sounds as if he is somewhere warm, because he says he says he’s getting a tan, that’s better than being in Germany with all the snow. It also means he is fit enough to go back into the war, we never knew why he was in hospital. Mum had hoped he would be sent home, and put in St Peter’s Hospital just up the road.

With all the news about the war, there is some good news. Little David is home with us again. I haven’t seen him for ages, he has changed so much, and mum is having some trouble with him. I saw him tear up a shirt because he didn’t like it, and then he broke a model plane I was making into a hundred pieces. I wasn’t too upset about it though, it was all going wrong, and I would never have finished it.

Our victory bonfire is now out in the road, but it’s not stopping any traffic because it’s next to the triangle at the top, and there’s plenty of room for traffic to pass by, there’s not much of that anyway as it’s no-through road. The worry now is a threat from the Barker Road crowd, who say they are going to set it alight before VE day, but I think they are just saying that for fun. Otherwise, as Arthur Wade said, it would start another war, that’s something we can do without.

The news is now all about a huge, allied bombing raid on an old German town, called Dresden, it is completely burnt to the ground. The news commentator seemed to think it was to avenge the bombing of Coventry, a similar sized city that was burnt so badly that the lead from the roof of Coventry Cathedral flowed like a river down the high street. 

He said the air raid gave a new meaning to Ash Wednesday.

55. Lucky Thirteen.

Our family have never had much time for birthdays, I suppose in big family’s they come round so often it’s no longer a reason for a party—or maybe mum was too busy trying to make ends meet. Whatever it was, I did think becoming a teenager was a bit special. But I have to own up, it was more than a week before even I knew I was thirteen. It gave mum a bit of a surprise too, when I told her.

“Whaaaat!! you can’t be”.

She just looked at me as if I was telling her another of my stories, I started to think that I have got it wrong, so I said.

“Nineteen thirty-two, is the year I was born and now it’s nineteen forty-five, that makes me thirteen, I’m a teenager mum, and in another four years I can join the Royal Navy, like Owen Hyde did”.

This was not the best thing to say by any means, one minute she was laughing about forgetting my birthday, and the next she had a worried look on her face.

“Don’t you joke about such a thing Alan; they are saying it will be all over soon and they won’t want anyone. Anyway, by that time we won’t have a need for a Navy for you to join, so there”.

Mum is probably right, everyone is saying the German’s are being beaten on all fronts, but according to the nine O’clock news, they are killing hundreds of people as they are retreating. The terrible rumours that we heard a few weeks ago about the concentration camps are now to be seen on the newsreel. It showed big bundles of human hair, they weighed more than three tons, how many heads would that amount of hair come from? the Russians were the first to free these poor people, it’s hard to believe such things could happen. I heard Mrs Salmon saying this could have been us if the Germans had invaded, she said.

“We are counting our chickens too early, we are still having doodlebugs and rockets coming over, and you never know what other things they have up their sleeves, there’s always gas, like they used in the last war, and we have still got those Japanese to beat yet”.

 Mrs Salmon may be right, but the kids in Barker Road are starting to build a big bonfire, the council keep taking it away as it’s blocking the road. Deirdre has been given a house very near to were to the bonfire will be, she’s got a little baby and is not very happy about all the noise.

We are having our bonfire at the top of Cowley Avenue and are going up the hill every day to collect as much wood as we can, we put it with all the other stuff in everyone’s front garden, and then it’s going to be made into one big fire, it’s a race to see who will have the biggest fire on the last day of the war. They say Mr Chase who owns a couple of factories in Chertsey is going to have a big party up the ‘rec and anyone can go. There’s going to be all sorts of things happening, it’s going to be amazing, I hope it is very soon.  

Last week the Land Army sent Chrissy to work on a farm in Guildford, she can come home at weekends now. We could all be together if Bernard was in England, it’s been ages since we heard from him, mum says ‘no news is good news’. I’m not so sure, the last letter we had from him was when he was in hospital and about to be sent back to fight somewhere, that was three months ago.

 Although Iris is married, she is very friendly with a man she works with, and he comes round our house before they go up to the Golden Grove. Mum says she got married too quickly, and now regrets it, I don’t know what will happen when her husband comes home. Everyone says there are going to be a lot of upsets when all the soldiers come back, five years apart is a long time for both husband and wife. War is such a monster.

Of all the years that we were being bombed, almost starved, and terrified by Hitlers V 1’s and V 2’s, nineteen forty-five must be the worst of them all. We are so near to the end of the war, could it still go wrong at the last minute. I can’t help thinking about Mrs Salmon’s words.

Is it too early to be counting our chickens?

54. Invisible Me.

In the Picture Palace there was so much news, that the newsreel was longer than the little picture. It showed a mile of German prisoners of war looking very tired and ragged, 80,000 of them. So different from when we saw them goose-stepping through the towns. There was some laughter when the newsreel man called it the battle of the bulge, but it soon died down when he said how many allied soldiers had been killed winning the battle.

      In Stepgates I have been moved up to the middle stream with all my mates again, there are some new girls as well, but they are not for me. There is no getting away from it though, girls can be nice to look at even if they are very annoying. They are always interfering with our games, like that June Moore who lives down Cowley Avenue. We are playing cricket in the road outside her house and she keeps swinging on her gate and asking silly questions.

“Have you got a girl-friend Alan”? 

She keeps this up for ages, it’s one thing after another. June is in my class and all the boys like her, but I think she talks too much. How can anyone concentrate on wicket keeping when someone keeps going on and on. If I don’t stop the ball, it would go all the way down to the end of the road to Tucker Wells house, and the other boys would start shouting at me.  At the age of 13, I have better things to do than to talk to girls. It’s not that I don’t like girls, for instance there is a very pretty girl who lives in Barker Road. Her name is Wendy Hills, she looks like an American child film star, very pretty, but a bit shy. That’s how I like them, nice to look at but not at all talkative. 

Years ago, when I was in the juniors, and Wendy was in the infants, I saw her sitting on the back of Miss Payne’s bike, she looked very upset and crying. She was covered in little red spots and was being taken home as she had German measles. She thought a German bomber had given her the spots. Little did I know at the time how important this spotty girl would be to me in years to come.

In 1950, I saw her standing at her garden gate and told her I was joining the RAF and would she write to me as a pen pal. She didn’t exactly say no, in fact she didn’t say anything, just giving me a look that some people might have thought was a no. But I still wrote to her when I was in Egypt, I never had a reply, so it probably was a no after all.

In 2012 I was invited to an art exhibition in Chichester by my school friend Maureen Toobi. She said we could drop in to see her friend who lived there, and who had lost her husband a few years earlier. As soon as I walked into the room, I thought Maureen’s friend looked a bit familiar, and after a few words I realised it was Wendy. Of course, she couldn’t remember me, but she did remember my handsome brother Don. Every- one knows my brother Donald; I am beginning to think I am invisible.

A few weeks of driving down to Chichester, and 70 years after I thought she was like Shirley Temple when I was a ten-year-old. Wendy finally became my girlfriend. I proposed to her 6 months later—at our age, 78 and 80 you can’t hang around and we married in December. I told everyone we had to get married, and it was a shotgun wedding. This didn’t seem to please her very much though.

We had an 18-month honeymoon and never stopped laughing.

53. Chertsey Boy.

January 1945.

Christmas has been and gone, it was a very quiet affair, Mrs O’Keefe and Dennis had gone back to London a few months ago, we miss her gusty singing, and mum will miss the money she gave us. I will always remember her, she was such a lovely woman with her cockney humour. The good thing about rationing is at least mum can afford to buy the small amounts, and even a bar of blended chocolate now and again, Iris says it’s not as nice as Cadburys full milk, I can’t remember what that tastes like.

Although the Germans must be nearly beaten, the war is still the main feature of the Pathe Newsreel, we also see how nasty they and the Japanese can be. Doodlebugs are now coming over the North Sea and not reaching our part of the country. The V2’s can reach anywhere though, but we only had one that fell in the meads.

 Don is fourteen and has started his first proper job as a carpenter’s mate. By the time he pays a half crown into a tool club and his bus fare to Byfleet, he hardly brings home any more money than he did as a delivery boy at the age of twelve. He has always been good at woodwork and already had some chisels and a Stanley smoothing plane—which I am never allowed to touch. At least he will learn to be a tradesman and earn a good wage. Mr Tarrant, the boss of the firm soon gave Don a rise when he realised, he could do as good a job as any man. Later in life my brother managed Long and Humphrey’s iron mongers in Guildford Street for years, everyone knew Don, he was a real Chertsey boy.

Woodwork seemed to be in our blood—well at least it was in Dons blood—as for me it was more like a twig that floated in Dummies stream, one second making a splash and the next caught up in a dam of twigs. Don could use the tools without thinking, almost as if it was second nature—the mark of a future craftsman. The only time I was allowed to use any of his tools, disaster struck, his little Stanley block plane broke into pieces as I was using it. I thought he would be angry, but he wasn’t.

I am doing more deliveries and I asked for a rise, Mr Perring said he would ask his boss but didn’t think I would be lucky. Last Saturday it poured with rain, and I had so many boxes of spaghetti to drop off, they were piled up on the front basket so high I could hardly see over the top. I got soaked and the boxes started coming undone and the spaghetti got soaked as well. I had to get off the bike to push it over Hatch Hill, but the wet boxes were so heavy that the bike kept tilting forward and some boxes fell off, I was in right state. There are some big families of Italians in Green Lane, they seem to eat a lot of spaghetti. 

This Saturday the weather is quite mild and I can ride the bike to Addlestone as if it was nearly summer. My deliveries take most of the day and for once I got some nice tips. I think the nice weather and the better news is making people look forward to the end of the war, and they are feeling generous. But the next few months are going to be very hard for mum with such a small amount of money coming in, I start to give mum all my Bargain Centre wages, but keeping the tips made up for it.  

52. Greed

December 1944.. Another year is coming to an end, it will soon be Christmas, but it won’t be a merry one for some. The war is even more intense, in the south of England we have doodle bugs and an even more frightening bomb, the V2 rocket—one fell in Chertsey Meads but did little damage. On the wireless we hear about the war in the far east, it seems even more bloody than the war nearer home. The Japanese soldiers are willing to die rather than to give in. 

In the Picture Palace we see scenes of the concentration camps being freed, they are horrendous, how could an educated nation like Germany do such a thing. And now we hear of mass murder committed by the Soviet Union—our allies.

I’m home now and safe, but my stay at St Dominic’s changed my mind about a lot of things, or rather it was changed by the boy in the next bed. He read books, lots of them. I had never read a real book in my life! The boy had haemophilia and had plenty of time to read. He read part of a book to me that caught my interest and I carried on with it myself, I couldn’t put it down. 

The book was about a game played by creatures from another planet, who had control over the lives of the people living on earth. 

What fascinated me was how the game was so like the war that was happening around us. They used nations like children playing with toy soldiers, giving each nation the weapons to wipe out the others in an everlasting war. Or so it seemed to my simple mind.

The boy, whose name I can’t recall but whose words are stuck in my memory, may have been disabled but I now realise he was very intelligent, he told me this.

“Greed was the only weapon needed to create a war”.

I now look at every war that has happened and it nearly always fits, whether it is the greed for wealth, power or even the minds of people.

Today in 2021, I see the terrible events in Afghanistan on TV, all the expensive vehicles and guns, and I wonder who the greedy people are, that supplied them, knowing what they would be used for. Are they controlled by aliens or just plain greedy? 

51. News From The Front.

‘The news from the front’ as it was called on the wireless, was getting better every week. There were long queues at The Picture Palace most days, not for the films so much but for the newsreel. My friend Geoffrey Hunt had the job of taking the can of the latest newsreel from the Addlestone cinema to ours and even to ‘The County’ in Weybridge. He had to wait until the newsreel had finished and then race to the next cinema on his bike in all weathers every day except Sunday. He could tell you all the news if you couldn’t get in the pictures.

1944 was a year I remember most clearly; in St Dominic’s I had found out that my name was a proper name—Don had told me it was probably a Welsh name like Llewyn that was wrongly spelt, but now I found it was an ancient German name that had changed over the century’s, first in France and then when it arrived in England in the 1700’s. 

In that school I had seen with my own eyes, American planes like the Mitchell’s flying every day on their way to their targets, and in June, the D-day invasion. The Dakotas pulling gliders behind, escorted by Spitfires and Mustangs, all with the three white stripes on their wings, that to me was real history, not the stuff we were told at school.

 Then poor Fred had died in the same month, I didn’t realise how important he was to me and the rest of our family until I came home in July and saw how upset my mother was. Little Sylvia who had been in a home for a few months, and David who was away for several years, were already home when I arrived. I think we were all kept away in these homes because Fred who had TB, had to live at home now and again if the hospital became overcrowded with wounded soldiers, and then he would go back for treatment. It also meant there were three more mouths to feed with only Iris earning a proper wage, things are difficult for mum again.

When I returned to Stepgate’s I found the class had some girls from an Addlestone school—Princess Mary Village Homes. We called them PMVH girls, they were mainly from London and looked so clean and tidy in their school uniforms. After the shock of hearing a young girl swearing like a Docker, I found them friendly. During the dinner break one very pretty girl began sitting with me in the playing fields, she shared her biscuits or an apple with me. This was very alarming at first, I have never had anything to do with girls, they may as well have been alien’s that had to be avoided at all costs, but I was secretly very pleased. She called me ‘Blackie’ because of my black hair—my sister was pregnant, and she gave me some of the ‘liquid paraffin’ that she had to rub on her belly for some reason. She said it will make my hair shine just like Brylcreem. It certainly did that, and it made my hair go black as well, hence the nickname, but in the hot sun my new girlfriend said my hair smelled like something was cooking. I have often wondered if this was why she started giving her apple to another boy.

50. Holding on Desperately.

   While in St Peter’s and St Dominic’s Open-Air School, I had no education and lost nine months of learning. So, when I went back to Stepgates I had fallen even further behind the rest of the class, and I was dropped to the lowest stream. This probably helped me though, as I had also lost the distraction of my mates and had to concentrate on my lessons. 

I still had some problems from the football incident and had what my mum called a weak bladder—it turned out later to be a double hernia. I was able to manage the ‘weak bladder’ quite well most of the time considering I was always shy of asking to go to the lavatory during a lesson.

. One day, in the carpentry class, I was looking anxiously at the clock around dinnertime for a chance to rush to the lav’. Then, Mr. Woodhead—a good name for a woodwork teacher—picked me to sweep the floor of shavings and sawdust. Normally I was never asked to do anything such as this. The teacher and all the boys left the classroom, leaving me trying to sweep the floor with my legs crossed.

Of course I could hold out no longer, and I wet myself. I quickly swept all the shavings and dust over the spreading pool of piddle just as Mr. Woodhead came back into the classroom. He looked at the pile shavings in the middle of the pool for quite a time, and then said, well done Alan, that’s the way to keep the dust down. Looking back at that moment I now think he knew what I had done and being the nice teacher that he was, spared my shame.

By the way I came top of the class for the fist time ever, and went up to the middle stream with my mates for the last term at school. Needless to say I was near the bottom of the class again. My previous school reports would all say; Alan is easily led—how right they were.

49. Off the Ration.

Spivs 1944

The pathe gazette newsreel is getting better, we seem to be winning at last, but rationing and shortages of just about everything has become normal. For the first time ever, large families like ours, were better off than smaller ones, at least as far as the rationing was concerned. At one time we had as many as ten people on ‘the ration’ in our house, so we could have a reasonable joint of meat or a nice piece of Cheddar and such as that every week.

Mum started her working life as a kitchen maid and learned to be a very good cook. Sunday dinner in our house was nothing short of a banquet. Although there was no proper tablecloth, we did have covered dishes for the vegetables. The joint —usually mutton—would be on a large oval serving dish with the roast potatoes arranged around it. Our pudding would most often be apple pie and custard, although pineapple rings or chunks, and Libby’s evaporated milk were my favourite.

Rationing was seen by most people to be fair, but there are still some people who always seem to have what-ever they needed. Stories are doing the rounds of someone who has been caught selling meat, butter or anything that should only have been ‘on the ration’.

 Since Bernard, Chris, and Dierdre moved away to do their duty, we are now a small family, with a small family’s rations. I can’t remember ever being hungry before, apart from when I was away in St Dominic’s, even then it was only for the nice things mum would cook—the food there was very plain. She nearly had a fit when she saw the unclaimed tea, sugar, and butter coupons in the ration books I brought home. They were nearly a year old and so couldn’t be used. 

Luckily, back at Stepgate’s, we are given very good school dinners and even a small bottle of milk in the morning break. Another thing that kept us fed was that the dinner ladies came from Barker Road—Mrs. Frost and Mrs. White—they would give us seconds and even some treacle pudding from the back of the canteen after dinner time. 

Another thing that was quite common was ‘ration swapping’, for instance if someone didn’t drink tea, they could swap their tea ration for cheese or something like that, some even sold their points, especially clothing coupons. Most people were very honest, but if you had a bit of money there was always someone who could get you what you wanted, these were called ‘Spivs’. We all knew who they were. 

I was unknowingly a ‘runner’ for some of this law breaking, my sister’s husband Gordon—the bookie—was in the RAF, he came home on leave once and I was given a suitcase full of blankets. I had to take them up to a house in Staines Lane, I never got paid so I was probably not breaking the law. But I don’t know what I would have said if I was stopped by the Police, mind you I was only twelve.

48. The lovely Diana.

Another nice sunny day. I am walking across the level crossings, on my way to the ‘rec, when I met the very lovely Diana Symonds. She lives next to the Gas Works in Pretoria Road and was coming out of the path next to the level crossing. Diana is one of our crowd of kids who hang about up the rec. Normally, she would be with a couple of other girls, like her friend Elsie Lemmin who lives above Chertsey Station, and I would be with a couple of my mates. I really like Diana, but have never been on my own with her, It’s making me nervous.

She said she needed to go into Mrs Russell’s sweet shop just along the road, I waited outside. She was in there a long time, but I thought it would be very rude to just walk away, so I waited. When she came out, she seemed surprised to see me still standing there, and we carried on walking towards the ‘rec, but I have the feeling she would rather be somewhere else, and the conversation soon dried up. 

Now, I should explain, since we were bombed out in Pyrcroft Road, I developed some nervous habits, such as an uncontrolled wink when I am under stress, also I have a habit of counting everything, such as stairs and railings—not out loud, just to myself. I tried to think very hard of something interesting to say, and I could feel a bit of winking coming on, so I said.

 “Diana, do you know there are 280 paving slabs between The Bell and the Station Hotel”

 She stopped walking and just looked at me, I think she thought I was telling her a joke and was waiting for the funny bit. She stood there, with what I now know—but didn’t then, was an expectant look on her face. It slowly changed to the look of panic that I have often noticed whenever I have told someone a joke and forgotten the punchline, then she said. 

“Oh no, I think I’ve left the gas on”. she turned around and ran off up Pretoria Road.

 I see her whenever we meet up the ‘rec’ with the rest of the gang, but I never seem to catch her eye.

47. My Favourite Story.

I enjoyed working at the Bargain Centre, I would get a few tips as well, which mum said I could keep—once I was given nine pence from one house!  On this day I was late getting back to the shop and Mr Perring was waiting to lock up. I thought I would be told off, but instead he said I had worked very hard, and he gave me a pack of dates, they looked like a pack of jelly. These dates were really meant for cooking, the shop had a very large box delivered by mistake, so Mr Perring would just give them away to his regular customers, The ladies who worked for Mr Perring in the shop would eat them like sweets—so did I when no one was looking. 

He said I could take the bike home as he had already locked the shop up. It’s been one of the hottest days of the year and still very warm, so I thought instead of going straight home I would use the delivery bike and ride up to Chertsey Bridge and have a swim to cool down. There were lots of people at the Bathing Pavilion, and because I had no cozzy I went in the river up near the pylon where no-one was about.

  Afterwards as I was riding back along the towpath, and I saw Sheila, a girl from my class. I offered her a lift home in the bike’s basket, she just laughed at the very thought of it. So, I just walked along with her. We stopped and sat on the bank to watch a tugboat go by and were chatting quite nicely. Now, I’m not very good at talking to girls and I was soon wishing we would get up and go home, but then, without any warning she grabbed my arm and said.

 “I bet I can beat you at arm wrestling, I always win with my brother”.

  I have to say this gave me quite a start, and before I could say anything, she was bending my arm back and winning every time. It was really too hot for all this and after a while we just lay back in the long grass, when she got up and said.

” I’m so hot, I’m going in for another swim”.

  Now what can I do, I had no swimming costume, so I just sat still.

“Come on then”, she said.

And started to undress in front of me, I tried to look the other way and although I turned my head away, my eyes stayed where they were. She stood up and luckily, she still had her swimming costume on under her dress, then she ran into the river.

  I waited till she was out of sight and quickly jumped in holding my bits so as not to embarrass her if she looked up, she didn’t worry about me though, she shouted for me to come in. She was a good swimmer and could stay under the water for ages, I never knew where she would come up. Sometimes she nearly lifted me clear out of the water. Finally, we climbed out and lay down again in the long grass. She let me use her towel to wrap round me and to dry myself, but once again I didn’t know what to say.

 Luckily, I remembered Mr. Perring giving me the dates.

  “Would you like a date, Sheila” I said.”

  She smiled in a sort of coy way, which I thought was a bit odd. 

 “That would nice Alan, I would really like that, when are you thinking of”

 “Well… now”. I said— still a bit mystified by the funny way she was looking at me, they are only dates for cooking after all, but still quite nice to eat I suppose, and I started to unwrap the packet of dates, they are a bit sticky though.

  Her mood, which a few moments ago was gay and abandoned, had now turned quite grumpy, and with what I can only say, was a withering look, she stood up and started to get dressed in a very animated way, she grabbed the towel from me and. shoved it violently into her bag and said.

  “Alan Waglin, you are bloody unbelievable, no, I wouldn’t want any of your bloody dates”. 

Then she stomped off without saying goodbye or anything. I just sat there, not believing how quickly her mood had changed, perhaps I’ve said something to irritate her.

 I don’t know what went wrong that afternoon—I thought everybody liked dates.