This is a transcription of cassette tapes recorded by my grandfather John Edward Watson that detailed his family history & his earlier life. I had done a full transciption, but I managed to lose the copy of it I had online. Now I only have the first part of the transciption, which I have reproduced below. [That is why it seems to ‘end’ so abruptly].
Brief Synopsis: John Watson was born & raised in Yorkshire. His father was a police officer (& had been a rear gunsman in WWI). John was apprenticed to his uncle Edgar Cyril, a pork butcher, when he left school. He served in the army for a few years after WWII had finished. Then he worked for Goodyear, the tyre company. John married Carol Pearson & they had three children. They emigrated to New Zealand. when his youngest (my mother) was five. The transcription follows:
My name is John Watson. I’m going to do a tape of the family.
I shall tell you of our family; Ernest Watson my father, Edgar Cyril Senior my uncle, Margaret Watson my mother – she was a Senior of course.
For simplicity’s sake – or for my sake – I’ll start with Edgar so that I can have a pattern to work on when it comes to other people. A pork butcher in
Burley Rd in Leeds, he was very skilled in his trade, one of the better pork butchers in Leeds – and there were about 30 or 40 of them altogether. I was apprenticed to him, and prior to that, to his cousin Harry Morton also a nephew of my uncle’s but from Annie’s side of the family. He was 10 years older than me and was in the army when I joined the shop.
Edgar was the first child and the only boy in a family of five. He was born about 1895-6 as he certainly served in World War I. His father was John Senior, my grandfather. His four sisters in order were Doris, Margaret, Jessie and Gladys. A thumbnail sketch of Edgar – he grew up in the “Kendal’s” district of Leeds, close to the centre, a five-minute walk from the Town Hall and Infirmary. It was an interesting part of the city, Dickensian – cobbled streets tall brick terrace, houses – all gone now.
After council school at age 12, he was apprenticed to a pork butcher and ultimately qualified under a man called Steinmann, of German origin. He learned to make sausages, brawn, pork pies etc.
He left there to join the war, and became a signaller and batman to an officer in the West Yorkshire regiment. That meant seeing the quarters were tidy, and taking messages to Headquarters by working his way through the trenches and back to his dugout. One story he told: ‘there were several Batmen where the officers were, in a house in France. The officers were upstairs, and the six batmen downstairs settling down for the night. The officers wore heavy riding boots, which always took some getting off. One officer, struggling away, suddenly flung it to the end of the room with a bang, and one batman shouted, “Pull the other one off and we can all get to sleep!”’
Edgar was like that, a joking sort of fellow, conscientious but with a humorous side. I can see it coming out in John Allis at times, a bit of mischief coming through.
He was one of the lucky ones who survived the war unscathed, and he met Annie Fothergill and soon married her.
She was energetic and lively and a go-ahead. She soon found a shop in Burley Rd. where she and Edgar set up a butchers shop. Edgar’s father John Senior was a cabinetmaker and fit it out with shelves and counters. It was a busy area, with a post office, Laundry, clothing shop, carpenters, beef butchers shop and a little club called “Westfield”. There was also a tripe shop specializing purely in tripe – huge hooks hanging from the ceiling with great white sheets of stomach linings.
Edgar and Annie lived on the premises and worked all hours, on Saturday nights open till 10 or 11, waiting for people walking home from the pubs and cinemas, Annie and Edgar standing there in striped aprons selling pies.
Uncle told me once about getting a motorbike from Watson-Cairns in Leeds in about 1921. Annie insisted on getting a red “Indian Chief” with sidecar. It was filled up with petrol and Edgar was taught how to ride it. He was shown the levers and how they worked and they were off! She was in the sidecar with a big hat and scarf and on to Burley road in fine style. But! He had to do a right hand turn into Toses’s yard where everyone was out to see them, Annie waving triumphantly. Edgar couldn’t manage the turn – he went up the steps of the butchers shop and came to a rapid stop, catapulting Annie over the top! The bike had to be taken back to the shop for repairs.
After that Edgar mastered it, and they had many happy outings.
In a few years time Annie wanted a car, so bought a Bullnose Morris Oxford from Adams Co. off Stony Rock Rd. They changed the car every two years. I remember the Bullnose. They would drive to their seaside cottage with everything tied onto it but the kitchen sink. It had a dicky seat full of luggage. The coast was only 60 miles away but they needed spare tyres and petrol cans in 1934.
Their last car before the war was a 1939 Morris 12. Stored through the was, as there was no petrol, caused the mileage to be extremely low, and after five years it had only done 2000 miles.
In 1939 Annie decided to buy a new house in a better district – Kreskeld Lane, Bramahope. Their house, “Brookfield” cost 1000 pounds.
Then Annie died of bone cancer, and Edgar brought his sisters to live with them and run his house. Dorris was very capable, having been a WAAC in the First World War, and they ran the house very well – until Edgar began chatting up the ladies over the back next-door fence – a mother and daughter, Mrs Stafford and Marion.
When he finally ‘popped the question,’ much to everyone’s surprise, it was to Marion, and she accepted!
That then displaced the sisters and Barbara. The two Stafford ladies moved in with Edgar and it seemed to work very well for them all. Edgar bought a large boarding house in Harehills for the sisters, so all were satisfied. Mrs Stafford’s husband had been an engineer on Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’ trials in the 30’s. It held the land speed record for a number of years. Campbell’s son, much against his father’s wishes, raced on Lake Windermere, beating all records – but died tragically when his boat flipped.
I joined the pork butchers shop in 1944, while the war was still on. In those very uncertain times, it seemed the best thing to do. I enjoyed working with Edgar but left in 1946 to do my National Service, and when I came out in 1948 I continued with my uncle and became a journeyman. I realised, though, that there was very little future there for me, as with a new young wife who was fairly extravagant, I would only ever be a manager for her. My plans for expansion were too way out for Edgar who was nearing retirement.
So I looked for other work in the transport field. Finally getting a job with Goodyear as an office manager, my pay was exactly twice as much. Business at the shop went quiet as the population had gone with the pulling down of thousands of houses, and the shop was finally sold to a younger man. Edgar retired and after a few years died, and Marion a few years later. Her mother lived on! Edgar was born 6.7.1893 and died 26.1.1969.
The bakehouse had a large gas oven and benches for making pork pies. A storeroom for spices and pickles, big ones for the Christmas period – there was an exotic aroma in that room. Below was the boiling room, with vats for salting pork, pressed meats, gravy, also fat rendering for pie pastry. Pickling the meat to make it nice and pink. Also, machinery for chopping and grinding sausages and polony.
Up front Edgar calling out to passers by to try his goods neatly displayed in the window. Shouting down to the kitchen staff to bring up more goods. His line of patter to the constant queue of women who listened hoping to get extra to their weekly wartime rations for their menfolk, was “have you seen me tap dance?”
We would hear this brilliant footwork from the cellar above us, pop up to have a look and see one hand on the shelf and the other hand on the butcher’s block suspended in air! Another tale he’d tell was that he was descended from the Vikings, telling the girls about marauding and pillaging. Shouting out “Seniors Pork Pies are the best!” in true market fashion.
Mornings for me were largely spent in the cellar and after a marvellous huge dinner of roast meat and veggies cooked by Mrs Sellars, we’d begin the business of making pork pies. 20 dozen would be a normal days supply for two hours work, and listening to ‘Woman’s hour’ or ‘Mrs Dales Diary’ passed the time pleasantly. The price of a small pie was threeha’pence or one shilling and sixpence a dozen. But wages had to be made for four people.
The hardest work was the cleaning up – getting rid of the grease. Here you have a sample of the life of a pork butcher on the 1940’s – hard work but happy.
…………………… Tape 2.
Ernest Warnock Watson
My father was born 29.12.1895 in Whitby; the name Warnock was his mother. His father was Edward Martin Watson, born in 1865, and his father George was born in 1830 and was an Engine driver. My Grandfather Edward Martin was a Station Master at Washington Co. Durham.
Dad’s early life is vague. He was brought up by different people and entered the Butchers trade at the age of 12 in York. He had his great aunts Isabel and Margaret who lived in Elgin Terrace, Whitby. Isabel was a very religious and intelligent woman, buy never said much about Dad’s childhood, except that he was brought up in Hawsker and lived in Ruswerp then in York. He discovered a brother and sister who lived in London when he was 40. He volunteered for the army in WWI South Staffordhouse Regiment. He spent four years in the trenches in terrible conditions – being attacked by gas, sickness and disease, and was wounded three times.
I went before an army board at interview before my commission and five very senior officers asked what my father did. When I said he was only a private soldier and a Lewis Gunner, the General said he was not only a private, he was a very brave man to have survived all those years on a Lewis Gun.
On leaving the army my father joined the police force and lived in Barracks, having no home. He met my mother Margaret Senior at a police ball. They married, and Hilda was born in 1924, and I was born in 1925.
We lived in Miles Hill Mt. A very nice house with a lean to glasshouse and a pleasant garden. Many appointments as it had once been a private home. They rented because police were given a rent subsidy, but no incentive to buy a house.
Dad was on shift work, one week on nights the next week on days. We always had to keep quiet as Dad was sleeping and friends were too noisy.
One day my teacher asked the class who had got a radio. I was the only one not to put up my hand, as we had to be quiet for Dad. We got one shortly after and all enjoyed listening to Tommy Handly and Henry Hall.
Dad was a gardener, liked a beer and went to Church. Once he decided to be confirmed but then realized there was no record of a baptism, so it was all done together much to my embarrassment! He always enjoyed family parties and did conjuring tricks that didn’t work to amuse the children.
He and my mother had lots of laughs, although they were very different. My mother was tidy – he wasn’t. As they got older Dad became nearly blind, which was horrible. He’d had a hard life and was suffering from servile dementia. Mother became very deaf, but they managed to cope. She even took him into the pub, a place she’d never been to, and have a cup of tea while he had a beer.
He was a big man though, and hard to manoeuvre onto a bus. Mother nursed him as long as possible till he went into a Geometric ward at St. James, and then died a few years later of Pneumonia.
I remember lots of stories of him – he used to play in the street and one year we all got skates and we drew a big figure eight on the road with chalk so we could practice our figure skating a ‘la Sonja Hein. Along strolls Dad, hugely tall in his uniform, cape over his shoulder. When he got to us he said, “Do you know it’s illegal to deface the Kings Highway and the adjacent thereof?” I puzzled over that so I went to ask Mum, “What’s an adjacent? Dad says we mustn’t deface it!” It made her laugh so much. She told the tale over and over again.
Dad was in the South Staffordshire regiment, no. 14324 for 30 years in Leeds City Police no. 271. We have his WWI medals, ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ plus a defence medal for WWI of which we are all very proud.
Ernest Watson was a fine swimmer and won many badges and prizes for swimming for the police.
In spite of all his hardships he was jolly and happy with his family and we enjoyed yearly holidays in Whitley. He was known as the Irish policeman because lots of his jokes were Irish humour. One against himself. Giving evidence in court the felon was climbing up a tall pipe that the lawyer got him so confused that he made the statement, “Then the accused was falling off a climb pipe,” to the amusement of the court.
Born 18.3.1876 – Married 1890 – Died in 1940
I remember him at parties, although I don’t remember his wife Ellen, who died 11 years before I was born. She had a nervous condition and was finally put into care until she died, sadly away from the family. Doris and Edgar were away in the war and Margaret at 18 was left to look after the younger sisters Jessie 15 and Gladys 9.
John was a carpenter – known as a joiner and cabinetmaker. He was a real craftsman – all his work was detailed with scrolls and unlaid work. He worked for a firm called ‘Mountains’ in Leeds, for property owners and undertakers, making elaborate coffins. His Cath was steam-driven, powered by coal.
John was a tall handsome man in his mid 60’s, as I knew him. Mam always dropped in for tea on the way home from shopping. He always gave me a sixpence. He would send me to the corner shop when I was about six with a big jug for a quart of beer, me being careful not to spill. When he retired, though, Mam said he could only afford to give me one penny. I was quite pleased to get a bigger coin; it seemed better value.
Theirs was a jolly house, always busy, parties were held there, especially at Christmas. Uncle Frank would play the piano and men smoked fragrant cigars, and we could smell the Christmas dinner cooking – another Dickensian scene!
One occasion I noticed that a cigar was left smouldering so I decided to try it. I became very sick and when Mam noticed and questioned me I threw up, the smell was so vile.
Gladys was engaged to Frank who worked at a music shop selling sheet music – on commission only and at one penny per sheet he didn’t make much. He played in dance bands and Gladys would occasionally sing, too. They couldn’t afford to marry for years, but they were great at parties, always thinking of new games to play as well as the old favourites.
I should say a bit about Ellen Hargreaves. Her brother was Arthur who inherited a farm of milking cows. His daughters Ruth, Cathy and Joyce, delivered milk from a church and ladle pulled by a horse called Peggy.
I used to go up to the farm in Shadwell for holidays, meeting up with my other cousins to play.
I remember that Joyce maimed the manager of the local Pit once, when a bull run amok into the yard, and someone picked me up and threw me into the hen run while the locals chased and caught the bull.
I showed myself up as a city boy and was always in trouble. I used to cycle there and back from home.
The dairy was run by the girls, and butter and cheese was sold locally. Florrie, their mother, had a sister called Laura Wagstaff who’s husband and son’s worked down the coal mine, and when four blackened men came into the back yard four bowls of hot water, soap and towels were ready – they would swill themselves and scrub each other till they were clean, and everything else was black.
Donning clean clothes they were allowed into the house for a hearty meal served by the girls, and all managed by Aunt Laura. The men were treated like Kings, but they were the wage earners.
Probably four times six pounds went into that household per week – compared with my dad on 4½ – 5 pounds weekly. On Friday night payday Aunt Laura would wait at the gate with her pinafore outstretched and each man would drop his pay packet in, and from that Laura would run the household. She gave an allowance to the men (beer money). The girls bought the food, paid the rent, bought clothes, gave the Church money – everything! It was known as clean punny night.
Born Feb 6th 1899
Margaret Watson was Uncle Edgar’s sister. When Doris, Margaret, Jessie and Gladys mother Ellen Hargreaves died, Margaret was left to care for her two younger sisters and father, her brother and the oldest sister being away in WWI in France.
Margaret worked for a firm of Fashion Ravinwear called Healons as a personal secretary to the boss, until she met Ernest Watson at the Police Ball in the Town Hall.
He swept her off her feet – or vice versa – and they married in 1923 and went to live in Armley. Hilda was born in 1924, but they decided to move out to a modern Council Estate where I was born.
It was a good area for me to grow up in, as they were all young families around with lots of friends to play with. I still have friends going back to our preschool days.
Margaret prided herself on being an excellent housewife and mother. She had given up her job as all women did on marrying. She could have had an excellent career, as did one or two of her friends. Gladys Bostwick was one – she rose high in her chosen field and was responsible for the Brook Bond Tea ad with the ‘chimpanzee’s tea party’ advertisements, so popular; the young Princesses were guests there on one occasion.
Margaret had two children, and lost a third in a menstruation cycle accident that ended in a miscarriage.
Dad overturned it on a railway line on the way him from Redear. In those days they had large motorbike combinations, it was probably a BSA 600cc with a Box side ear. He was in hospital with a broken leg, and he lost a finger in the spinning wheel.
Margaret called herself a practical Christian. She worked hard in the Church and the family were regular attendants at communion. She used to get we children dressed in our ‘Sunday Best,’ before she hurried us up the hill to the sound of Church Bells.
She was a busy, active, and kindly woman. She delivered the Church magazines and I went quite often as a young boy with her. She always made the effort to visit and chat and to see if anyone needed anything.
I was intrigued by one old lady. In her youth she had been a maid to Florence Nightingale, who by then was an old lady. She was always pleased to talk about those days when we suggested Florence must have been very clean and fussy. We were told, “Not her! She was a mucky old thing! She had 27 cats making their mess around the place!”
One old lady was so poor and she was concerned that one day the Vicar might call, and although she kept a little store of biscuits at ease they would go stale, so Margaret would replace the biscuits with new ones each time she called. But the Vicar never called! So mam went to see the Vicar Chris Sampson and gently suggested that it would be much appreciated!
Another thing she loved was shopping. Going to the City 1 ½ pound bus, looking at Marshall and Snalgroves, Hitchers, Shofields, Rewiss’, do the rounds.
The ‘Button Shop’ was always interesting as mam did a lot of dressmaking. The ‘shopping’ always ended in a treat – a Sally Lunn or custard slice from Lewis’s to eat when we got home. She liked treats. She’d say, “We’ll listen to the radio, and eat maltesers or current palsy in front of the fire – we always had a little supper before we went to bed.
We used to cycle. Mam wasn’t very keen but they had a Tandem, and as a six year old I had a Raliegh with 20-inch wheels and I could keep up with 10-year-old Hilda and my parents.
We’d go on picnics to Eccup, all well organised as she did everything. We had yearly holidays in Whitley and always stayed at Miss Evans’ Boarding House, where the guests shop for their own meals and Miss Evans would cook it – a good arrangement for mam – if she came back with lamb chops, that’s what they’d have; or a couple of crabs and salad, that would be tea for today. I spent the time happily rowing around the harbour.
The war had a big effect on everyone’s lives. We were evacuated into the country three days before war broke out. We went off to school as normal. My mam said goodbye like an ordinary school day, they were advised that was best. We were herded onto buses at the school and driven out of the city. No one knew what to expect, but the idea was to separate the families to make sure that some people from each family survived, in case of bombing.
I went to Grafton and Yorkshire, and Hilda went to Lincolnshire. Margaret involved herself in First Aid Training.
Dad had a tough time – when the air raid sounded he would set off to walk to the Town Hall. He would get there in time for the all clear and then he’d ‘go back’ home. This could happen three times a night.
Leeds was not bombed but the German planes would pass over on the way to Manchester or Liverpool. As the war settled in it was clear that Leeds was a fairly safe place to be. Hilda came home, but I stayed longer – 18 months altogether – enjoying life on the farm, and I would cycle home to see the family.
One-day mam brought the weeks rations for a family of four. She said, “We can’t complain about the cost of living. This only cost six shillings, sixpence.” At that point she chocked and cried. Dad had an allotment where he grew vegies, which helped.
Margaret was a loving grandmother. She enjoyed taking five year old Charles to the pantomime at Christmas, and they’d tell about the comedians and they would laugh in the telling.
She also loved the other grandchildren, and it must have seemed like the end of the world when we came out to New Zealand. But she did come out to see us, and liked everything she saw. She thought it was like Glasgow and Scotland. We hoped she would stay here but she felt she should go back home.
She was very deaf in later life. We would have to write and warn her if we were going to ring at Christmas time, and though she never heard us she would do all the talking, telling us about her garden and Hilda’s children.
She died at 72, suddenly, while she was staying for Christmas at Hilda’s. She had a very nice little celebration meal, and died in the night. It was a shock for the family, but a great way for her to go. There’s so much to tell about Margaret.
Our kitchen at home always smelled of delicious cooking. It was very small with a gas cooker, and a table that could only just fit four people. It also had a big washing machine, and on washday became a laundry. The hot point was one of the first in the district. During the war Mam became anaemic and couldn’t do it the old manual way. She always had clean washing lines by running them down with a soapy cloth to get rid of the soot caused mainly by coal fires.
She called herself a plain cook, and we’d come home from school in the middle of the day to a two or three course meal – stew rice pudding, nourishing food. We’d go back to school for the afternoon and at four we would come home to new bread and homemade jam, or teacakes.
Sunday tea was held in the dining room and visitors were given “high tea” – meat, salad, fruit and custard.
She was a small lady. She liked good clothes and was rarely to be seen without gloves and handbag and hat, even to wearing the hat to go to the dustbin in the garden, she couldn’t stand the wind blowing her hair around. Mam and Dad did most things together, especially decorating! Dad was tall enough to reach the ceiling and between them they would wallpaper and paint to Margaret’s high standard.
She was always proud that he was such a handsome man – although she didn’t care for his card-playing friends. They would rock back on her chairs and weaken the legs. Dad used to get complimentary tickets at the cinema in the 30’s, and the family would see films like ‘Roberta’ and ‘Rose Marie’. I used to look down when the kissing started!
After retirement from the police dad worked at the Yorkshire Copper works, and one wet night he had a fall on the slippery cobbles. The injury from the fall accelerated his failing eyesight due to hardening of the arteries. It was not considered a work accident, but he became blind before he was sixty, dashing all their hopes of retiring to a cottage in Ruswip.
Mam cared for dad, keeping him tidy and clean, and against her principles she’d take him into a pub and get him a beer. In fact, she became his boozing partner. He was a big man and hard for mam to push onto buses, as the senile dementia advanced, he became awkward and she couldn’t cope. He lived for years in hospital until he died of pneumonia, leaving mam to live her remaining years peacefully.
I’m going to tell you the bits of my life that not many people would know about – up to the time I came to New Zealand.. This is more difficult in that the people I’ve known previously – my mother etc. are dead, and they can’t be cross-examined. I’m still around so I can be, and my inaccuracies can be proven. So lets deal with some facts – I’ll talk about my boyhood – how I grew up through school and church and friends and youth hostelling, the things we did when we were young, up to going in the army, learning the trade, getting married. So we’ll go through those stages of life hoping we’ll put something on record that you don’t really know about. I’d like these to be picked over, corrected and edited. If I give the basic information it can be the story of my family which will be lost if I don’t put it on record.
I am 72 years old and I was born at a very early age – only a small baby at the time -and the date was the 1st of May in 1928, at 24 Marlesborough Crescent, which was a new council house, or corporation house as we called it, which my parents rented in the north-eastern part of Leeds. The greatest influence in my early life was certainly from my mother – a good woman, a good mother – and I guess working from the limited material she had she did as good a job as a mother could in bringing me up. I’ve got school reports which go back to Potneuton School, and I was probably a five or six year old in the infants, and I recall some of the headmistress’s comments which said he is very easily pleased with his own work and attempts to rest on his lorrals. And I’ve looked back on these recently and I recall, how true, I’ve always enjoyed doing whatever it is I am doing, and I’ve never pushed myself to the point that I become an Olympic Champion or a county cricket player or the leader of a sports club – I’m prepared to go so far and say, that’s fine, I’ve had a good shot at that and that’s good enough for me. So those early reports – I find it interesting – sort of showed a character that probably lasted in me all my life.
My mother was very conscientious in bringing us children up and my sister and I had a good childhood.
I went to council school and when evacuated went to Borough bridge. An interesting feature at that school was that it was 50% Jewish – mainly refugees from Germany. It was already a very heavy Jewish population due to the clothing trade so they fitted in well.
Our teacher Mr. Smith was a very strict master – of the old school. Very handy with the cane – it was the old-fashioned sort of swish of the cane, and if anyone stepped out of line you’d get three of the best or six of the best. It wasn’t as brutal as people imagine – it was just their method in those days of keeping everyone’s attention – a simple way of keeping a class of boys controlled, which would got rowdy if we had a teacher who was a softy. It did work – I think I was caned twice over the hand, usually because there was some mischief going on and there were half a dozen culprits and I was one of them – but it was that rare in years to be up the front of the class and given a wack. There were some kids who seemed as if they were always in front of the cane – they were the disruptives, the ones that were always trying to push the boundaries, and upset the class. You would feel sorry for those kids sometimes, but it was – I don’t know – I can’t say it was a good thing, but it was a simple way of keeping a class in check. Mr Thomas was a lovely Welshman - quite soft and gentle – who taught art and Literature, but we did what we wanted to in his class, ran riot, answered him back – but with old Mr. Smith we paid attention, he was a good teacher. At the age of seventy I suppose, he’d been brought back from retirement during the war, because there were a shortage of people for the civilian jobs that had to be done. He taught Science, Chemistry and Maths and held our attention.
It was at Technical School that I really began to understand and wanted to learn. The teachers were qualified tradesmen and gave us an insight into engineering.
I did well at Tech; it made sense to me. It was all practical learning. Most of the kids who came out of tech were not referred to jobs. On leaving I was offered a job at Dorman Longs in Middlesborough, at 16 yr old, as a cadet. Instead, my parents decided I should join my Uncle in his port butchers shop. The Headmaster was disappointed for me, but with the war and bombing, mam preferred me to stay at home. We didn’t know which way the war would go, we didn’t know if we would speak in German in the next month or two or the next year or two, and the idea was that if I got into the pork butchering trade I could be independent in my own account or I could work for someone else as a tradesman in that field. It is just one of those functions that you come to as you go along and you either go left or right and depending which way you go the other alternative is gone and will probably never be seen again.
I was a very good athlete at school, I had the build – the length of leg and the good stamina – but stamina or not I had good physique. I was never very good at distance, or tough games like rugby, I played a bit of soccer but I shone particularly at athletics. Arthur Clarkson and I ran a brilliant relay race - we ran like rockets – and I have a medal to prove it. I was untouchable in the high jump at Tech– being tall I was half way up to start with and I could beat the others. Sprinting was my particular field, which I carried on with through to the army. Later in the army in Vienna I won the high Jump competition against the French, American and Russian armies. Our company also won the tug-of-war.
I had good friends as a boy. I’ve always known Arthur; we went to school together and played in the street with Gerald Green and Tom Philips. There was also Stan or Wilf Hutchins as he now is, living in Canada.
We all used to go cycling – by then we were well into the war, so there were few cars on the road and we were quite safe – joined the YHA and it seemed like we could cover massive distances round the country. A four-day holiday became quite an adventure. We were very fond of Wales. I seemed to be the main organizer of these trips working out the route, accommodation and the food we should take. We also joined the Youth Club at Church. I had always been involved with St. Mathews Church through my mother and after confirmation at about 15-16 I joined the Youth Fellowship. It was expected that we must attend 12 communions, but it meant we couldn’t go on our Sunday tramps, so the Curate have us permission to worship at other Churches. But the curate had to warn the church on our tramp that there would be six extra that day, and then receive feedback that we had turned up tramping boots and all. Arthur and Tom would never come with us!
After Tech I went to work at my uncle Edgar’s pork butchers shop. I enjoyed it – a big advantage for me was that I got a big lunch every day. Being wartime, it was considered a great perk to be able to bring home tasty bits of meat, sausage, and pork pies on my bike.
My apprenticeship was broken by conscription into the army in June 1946 at 18 years, completing the last two years afterwards.
A detailed apprenticeship. The study of animals, diseases and accounting. We used to learn about these conditions that we’d find in an animal, tuberculosis and things like that. It was our job to reject the diseased meat which should have been rejected at the slaughter yard. In each year of exams I came top of the class. I think that was only because I’d learnt a lot in recent years – I’d learnt a lot in the army, I’d learnt the procedures you go through in order to swot up and learn and answer questions precisely. I’d relatively become quite good at that and I found it no trouble at all to pass the examinations that were necessary in that trade – in fact I did my upmost I think to put the other chaps off by suggesting we finished early and have a pint down at the pub or something. Anyway, besides the point, I won’t labour about the apprenticeship side of things.
I must tell you about the army, and again I’ll try to be brief – I’m amazed at how much tape we’re getting through and I’m not getting an awful lot of fact over. I joined the army as an 18 year old in June 1946. I was enlisted – I was called up, it was compulsory military service. I loved the army.
It was hard work working at the pork shop – quite menial, a lot of work – cleaning and scrubbing and degreasing shelves and benches. To me the army was like a holiday after the butchers shop. The basic Infantry training with the Green Howard’s at Richmond in Yorkshire, for six weeks of basic infantry training which everyone goes through before they go out to their different selected jobs in the army. You’re taught all the parade ground stuff, how to shoot your rifle, you get the quick march up and down, and make your bed and get your kit all laid out correctly for inspection, and they give you what everyone believes is a pretty hard time, but I loved it – I thought it was fun, great; got on with it.
Delightful old town – old premises, barracks, parade ground. Friendships were built very, very easily and I enjoyed the activity.
In that period of army training you got the selection officer – we used to joke about him, say it was his job to get square pegs to fit into round holes, because if a chap had been a driver in his previous occupation they’d probably make him into a cook – there was a reason for that. A cook would be made into a driver, because to be a cook in the army is totally different to being a cook in civilian life, so there was a tendency to say well we can’t put this bloke in as a cook because he thinks he knows it all, you’re better to put someone in who knows nothing about cooking and teach him how you make the breakfasts, you make the lunch you make the evening meal the army way rather than having a lot of experts who want to do it as if they’re the chief chef of everything.
I was sent for cor training from infantry to Royal artillery posted to 240th regiment, a light anti-aircraft, which was situated in North Wales.
The officer selection board was in Chester WASB. We walked past an old chap shabbily dressed – a possible gardener – and asked him the way, politely. Thank goodness, because he turned out to be a LT Colonel.
The whole three days turned out to be aptitude tests. Everything we did was observed and given marks for. Dozens of questions to draw you out and classify you. I felt compared to the other cadets who had good schooling and backgrounds, feeling I came out badly. But was I surprised to be chosen to go to OCT 4 at Aldershot under RS M ‘TIBBY’ BRIT. Drill instructor from the Coldstream Guards. I loved the parades – at least two a week with bands playing, 1500 men marching in step was a great feeling. I was relegated and had to do the whole course again – because I decided I didn’t want to be an officer. But they refused to send me back to my unit, and I had to go on – this time RASE Transport. I finally got my commission as 2nd LT and spent a very happy summer in North Wales on Amphibious Ducks. We did gunnery training in the outback of Wales – firing both the guns out to sea and targets towed behind aeroplanes and targets towed behind amphibious ducks out in the ocean ½ mile off shore – and there lies an interesting story that we may get back too.
I was enjoying army life, I thought it was good.
In the 240th regiment I was introduced to boxing as a sport – some sport – anyway it goes with gunnery training this bombarding thing you do with guns is very much like the bombardment thing you do when boxing an opponent. I was selected because of my size to represent the battery as was another close friend then, Colin Atkinson. We were sent down to the gym and told to put these gloves on, and start fighting, and given a few clues as to which glove you held where, and how you ducked and dodged and we entered into the strange world of boxing which didn’t last very long but as a sport I enjoyed it. The fact that as you get higher up in the selections you could get hurt and permanently which means its not a very good sport – but there are other sports you can get hurt in, you can get hurt motorcycling or horse-riding or playing rugby or soccer – but I think in boxing you could get hurt more than most.
While I was doing this 10 or 12 week training in North Wales I went through to Chester where we had to go into this WASB – War Office Selection Board. The address was I think Ivy House, Oxford road, Chester. So you got a bus from the railway station in Chester and you asked the bus driver how you got to Oxford road and he dropped you off at the end of the road, and you walked up the road until you found this address, and I remember there was this gardener fellow just behind the front gate and he was weeding and putting plants in – there on his hands and knees, covered in mud with a straw hat on, and looked a bit of a yellow pup. And I said, “Excuse me,” because there were no notices on the place apart from it said it was Ivy House, I said, “Excuse me, can you tell me if this is the War Office Selection Board, you know the place where officer cadets go?” and he said, “Yes it is, you go round the back and someone will meet you round there”.
We went round the back and sure enough this was the War Office Selection Board and we were shown where our bed would be for the next two or three days and we were got up early in the morning and we were given tasks to do. There was one occasion where a man came into the room and there was probably a group of ten of us sitting round the edges of this room – it was quite a small room – and he threw a smoking pipe and a packet of tobacco, just threw it down on the floor. What was happening was that everything we did was analysed, and watched and recorded so obviously we had to disgust this pipe on the floor. And with different levels of enthusiasm people would dive in and say, “Oh, pipe smoking!” and away they would go – obviously they had had some sort of training in this speech making, and this fellow would be away on the subject of tobacco, pipe smoking, where it came from, and all about it – and then someone would argue with him about the dangers, the medical effects, the effects it could have on your lungs, and some people couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. From this the selection board would sort of say, “Well he’s a pushy sort of fellow, he knows what he’s talking about, he showed initiative because he was the first one in,” and that was followed up and we’d pass onto something else.
There was some interesting little puzzles that they had out in the garden where you were given a piece of rope and two planks and you had to reach an island in the middle of a large goldfish pond. How you did it was up to the person who was given the job of leading his little group of three. From this was decided if you’ve got any brains in your head, whether you’ve got any powers of leadership and whether you got fussed up with a lot of detail that wasn’t necessary.
I found these were fun things. That particular puzzle was in the children’s encyclopaedia and I’d known the answer to that since I’d been a six or seven year old. You lay one plank diagonally across the corner of the pond, which gives you about a two-foot lead in and the other plank can then lead from the middle of the first plank to the corner of the island, in a T-shape. When neither of the planks is long enough to reach the island, in a T you’re able to brace the corner and walk across. The rope had nothing to do with it – people got into a real mess with the rope, which just wasn’t necessary. That was a little test in which I did remarkably well in.
We did another test where we go to use a 44 gallon drum and a plank to get over a barbed wire fence – it was meant to be as if we were escaping from a prison camp, and the fence had bells and cans and things on it so if you touched it your alarm went off and you obviously failed the task. Somehow I got my team of six across this fence without hitting the bell and it was the first time it had been done. So I was doing very, very well in these practical things although academically I was miles behind the other people who were public school or at least Grammar school.
The upper crust of army society – you know, Dad is a brigideer type of a fellow. You sat before boards who asked you stacks and stacks of questions on what sports you’ve played, what newspapers you read, what schools you’ve been to, were you interested in music or theatre. They drew you out to find out what sort of person you were, what you did in civilian life. I felt I hadn’t got a particularly good chance of succeeding through this selection stage, and it was quite some days before the results came back because in our particular patoon in the gunner unit at least half of us were officer cadets with a big white badge behind our gunner badge – a big white background – so we were the selected ones.
And then the results came through like waiting for your school Certificate results, and Colin Atkinson was a pass and I was a pass, but quite a few chaps failed and got almost suicidal about it. This meant we were going to go onto OPTU, a training unit in Aldershot.
Army life was becoming quite exciting for me at this stage – I fired rifles and I fired guns and I’d gone through a funny little three-day course in Chester and I passed. A point in the selection board in Chester which was fun: The man who was in charge of the selection was in the hands of a left-handed Colonel, and that left-handed Colonel was the gardener who was picking around in the weeds just inside the gate, so he was the first person who you approached and he got the first impression of you, and if you called him ‘sir’ and you said, “Excuse me sir, could you please tell me…” you were obviously in for a good high rating. And then there was the other fellow who said, “Er, my man you probably don’t know anything about anything, but I’m going to be an officer and I want to know where to go.” So he was in a position where he was able to get an initial assessment of everyone who came into the place because he was the gardener; he was also the left-handed Colonel and the boss. I thought that was rather funny and a little bit crafty.
So from there next posting was down to Aldershot under the loving care of one regimental sergeant major, Tibby Britain, who was nationally famous and probably internationally famous for his skills, and his skills were the precise drilling of people who think cold stream guards, RSM, he spent all his time as a drill instructor and he drilled and again most people saw that as an invasion of their privacy – a horrible military thing they had to go through; and I loved it. There were two major parades we had to go through in a week on Tuesday and Thursday and the course was an eight-week course. Once a fortnight an intake passed out so you had three passing out parades before you actually came to your own passing out parade. You’d have good military bands there – either the Grenadiers or the Coldstream military bands would be there for the big parade. Everything was precise – the inspecting officer was either the CIGS, which in our case was C Marshal Montgomery. We once had the commandeering chief of the French forces there, General Delac Detashinae.
I loved it, because it was all done with a flare that was appropriate to the day. For instance when the French Chief was the inspecting officer there was some 1500 men on parade so it was a large and accurate parade, but the music which the band was playing as the inspecting officer approached and the officers mess and as they said their good mornings to each other, and we’re standing smartly in the parade grounds waiting for the first commands and for the whole thing to begin, and if you like, the prelude music that they were playing was “La Lasium Sweep” from Farndal from the La Lasium Sweep probably. It was pleasant music, and I considered it first class music and I wasn’t grizzling at all – I was like someone on a holiday who was enjoying every minute of it.
Funnily enough – well probably not funnily enough – in fact I was relegated in that course and had to do it all over again. It was in a way my own silly fault. I had a pal, Jock Blackwood, in the unit, who was very, very left wing – he father was a trade union leader from Scottish shipyards, and Jock said, “The only reason that we’re here is that we’ve got a Labour government and the Labour government wants to suck up to us working folk – they want some of us to have pips on our shoulder, because in the past its been the privilege of the people who go to public schools, the upper crust of England, you know, the sort of people we don’t want – and I’m gonna have no part of it and I’m gonna go see this RSM of Britain and tell him I want to be out of here, and I want to go back to my unit and be a corporal like I was before I came” and I thought what a wonderful, wonderful approach to life this guys got. Jock Blackwood had hid interview with RSM Britain and explained his viewpoint, and in the queue waiting to go in after Jock was this bright, long, thin pork butchers apprentice, and I was marched in, in front of Britain and I sort of said, “I’d like to go back to my unit because I don’t think I want to be commissioned, I want to have a good life in the army as a corporal or sergeant or whatever my unit wants to make me up to,” and they said, “You’re relegated for eight weeks, do the course again.” And I checked with Jock and he was going back to his unit! He’d got what he wanted. All I got was, stuck my neck out and got relegated for eight weeks so I did the whole course again, and I found that I had an advantage in that having done it once, especially on the academic side, the military law side, the essay writing the various things that I was a bit shaky on I improved so much on in the second time around – discussion groups, lecturettes – we gave a short five or ten minute talk on a subject of our own choice.
And again the selection process that we had to go through I went through twice only to ultimately make the decision that I wanted to go into a working unit because the war was over and there was no hard work being done – the infantry was just standing around polishing their buttons, the artillery was standing around polishing their guns – but the transport units were still working as transport and supply units, so I elected to go into the RSC which meant that I got to yet another barracks in Aldershots and do the RSC training which was eesy peesy after the basic OPTU with the RSC of Britian in charge. I went through the RSC transport wing and got my commission – a happy day when everyone sits there in their uniforms and says, “Oh, aren’t we smart!” and you realize that you’ve come to a milepost – that’s all – you’ve got a long way to go before you’re accepted as an efficient, worthwhile officer – but at least on that day you’ve got a pip on your shoulder and your posh uniform which you all paid a lot of money for.
Our first post – and a few of us went together which was rather good because this comradeship was beginning to develop – we were posted to a unit in North Wales which was an amphibious unit – it had amphibious tanks and amphibious ducks. It was the greatest summer of my life to date – a very, very happy summer. We had all this equipment and our task was to learn how to operate them – we’d take them out into the sea, float them out into Cardigan Bay, do exercises, turn them around and beach land them, bring them out of the river in mud, learn how to use the winches in order to assist you to get out of difficult situations, maintain the vehicles – we lived with a grease gun in our hand – everything that went into the salt water had to be greased and greased and greased until the bearings were completely pumped out – likewise with amphibious tanks where there were many more places on them to be greased – but it was fun. It was a great unit. This was in Tarwin in North Wales.
I found myself after a short period of time with the RSC unit in one of those amphibious ducks towing our target up to Tongfani which was three miles north of us and when we got off Tongfani the lads with both the guns started opening fire to our targets and when I was on the boat with the gun we found a little trick that when you used your sight-correction trigger and brought your shot a little bit further forward, you could get the people in the ducks as frightened as anything because they released the shot was getting closer and closer to them, and they’d start waving jackets upon the end of barge poles as if to say, ‘can’t you see what you are doing?’ And they were in quite a panic while I had now changed roles, and they were still doing the same things, they were still clicking the triggers and aiming a little bit short between the target and the boat so I thought that was rather funny the way it came right back on me.
I got a commission in the RSC, and got a posting to go overseas to Austria, which sounded rather exciting – this Yorkshire port butcher boy is getting well extended – and I reported then to Holden unit in Fratford. We were held their for 10 days and I was given the job of defending officer – my weaker side, the legal side of our training – but there was a great shortage of officers, there was a surplus of people going through the military courts because they had given an amnesty on people who had been involved in anything that was criminal in military law and deserters being the main ones who had been told that if they came forward they would be treated with leniency because they wanted to clear the records, find out where these people had got to because quite often people went into hiding because they were unable to face going back into the army, or for domestic services as such, they may have been running a farm and the farm was going downhill fast and they thought ‘blow this, I’m not going back to sit on a gun site for the rest of the war, I’m going to do what I’ve got to do’ and by changing identity and by moving to a brothers farmhouse or something they could be hidden. So if they came back now on the very serious charge of desertion, they were told that they’d be treated leniently. I had the job of defending one man and through legal offices we were told how to conduct our defence, and we were told as this man had come back through the amnesty plan it would be reasonable for him to plead guilty and for me to do a plea of mitigation to say what a nice sort of fellow he was and that we should be lenient. So I talked to this fellow in his cell as defending officers do – I tried to remove any nervousness that he had so that he could appear as a competent, confident witness when we put him in front of the court. From the information I got from him I was able to put his case forward which was his plea of mitigation, which was basically: when he went home on leave in one stage in the war, his wife was very, very sick with two children and not handling it very well, and he felt that it was necessary for him to take over the household and look after the children and his wife, because otherwise he didn’t know what they would have done. He was a good, honest man who had now come forward to say he is very sorry, he knows he should have completed his military services but the circumstances were such that he was under such domestic pressure that he couldn’t do this.
There was a rapid getting together of heads as the decision was made and he got four years, four years imprisonment. Better than being shot in front of a firing squad, but that was under amnesty! I thought that was rather terrible, to defend a man then see four years of his life taken away from him. He came up to me, saw me just before he got sent away to the military prison, and he said, “Aw, thankyou sir. Those are the nicest words that anyone’s ever said about me,” and he went away quite happily thinking that he’d got away with murder. And he probably had. I think I realized then that in justice and in law there is very little truth. People tell their story as the see it from their viewpoint, and the fact that you forget some sides of the argument and you emphasise other sides of the argument mean that you can put up a story that could convince anyone. I realized then that there is a very big difference between the law and true justice. But as in democracy, it’s probably the best system we’ve got.
Shortly we were onto a ship. We did have a brief embarkation leave when I went home to Leeds and managed to meet up with most of my friends and especially my family, and show off my nice bright Karki uniform with its little shiny pip up on the shoulder. And then the leave was cut short because we didn’t have jabs for overseas. So we had to go through 14 inoculations in the week before we sailed (they can’t give them to you all in one day, so we had to go back a week early from our leave). So we had all this stuff pumped into us, to protect us from Cholera and you name it – it must have been everything that had ever been in the military handbook.
Onto the ship at Harrage, where we crossed to the hook of Holland, then into a train called the Medlock Sea, and that went for two days and nights to get us down through Germany. We finally arrived after going through the corner of Switzerland and Bulveria at Vilac in Austria (just north of the Italian border). I was again thrilled with everything – I’d seen the Alpine mountains, the snow on the peaks, a beautiful countryside, German and Austrian people in their country costumes – the leather shorts and the braces and the girls were in their dermal dresses with their embroidered tops – I thought it was delightful that I was getting paid 21 pounds a month as a second left tenant for seeing it. At Velac I reported to my unit – my RSC transport unit, 57 company. My commanding officer was a Major Donald Grill, and he greeted me with, “One thing you’ve got in front of you Watson, is you’re going on a skiing course, a unit ski instructors course and when you come back you’ll be able to teach skiing to all the men in the unit because after all it is a form of military transport and you’re the one who’s going to do it.”
I said, “Smashing, wonderful,”
And he said, “You’re joking aren’t you? You’re taking it out of me.”
I said, “No, no, no. Its wonderful, I really would like to be involved in that, yes.”
And he said, “Well I’ve asked all the other officers in the unit, and they’ve all turned me down with some excuse – they’ve either got a knee that doesn’t work properly or their circulations such that their hands go cold as soon as they open the fridge door, and there was not one of the four junior officers that they had that would look at going to the job and he had to force someone to go, and so he was forcing me to go. The fact that I wanted to go was beyond his wildest dreams.
It was a month or two until I moved up to the mountain training school where we did this course, which I thought was wonderful. We had various people in, some air force personal, people in from Germany; a few people from Austria (not many) but each unit that wanted to have a ski program for winter had a unit ski instructor on the course. One infantry unit had a corporal, a man called Plank, excellent material, he was a PTI, I think, Physical Training Instructor, he skied extremely well right from the word go. We did this course with Austrian instructors – brilliant instructors – two I think had been in the Olympics before the war. Our theoretical instructors were; one Professor Green who lectured on the subject on the Alpine and snow structure, avalanches, landslides – he was the scientist. We had Dr. Upholster, and in our instructors we had Hans Packer, Bruno Pick and Crustal Maire. Crustal Maire was a famous Austrian – he was like our Shaun Fits Patrick if you like – he was a tennis player in summer, Skier in winter, he was a footballer played guitar, he was a pop star on guitar and singing, he was a yodeller, and he was quite a character, one of our Austrian Instructors. Over the top of them we had English Army instructions; so between them we had English instructions, and Austrian demonstrations.
It was a wonderful course, I loved it – I think it was six weeks long. It was largely kitting up, knowing how to handle snow, how to survive in snow – we slept out in snow caves on one occasion; we lived in a high Alpine hut. We started in the village of Mulnuts where we did five days on theory – indoor lectures. They told us that the snow would fall on the 15th of October, because they’d looked at the mountain and they’d measured how far the snow was working its way down the mountains on a daily basis – it did snow on the 15th of October, and that struck me as amazing. England’s a bit like Auckland – it doesn’t have a climate, it has weather, and anything can happen at any time – in the Alpines they seemed to know just what was happening to that point, they could give you 10 days warning as to when the snow would fall.
From there, in the snow, we climbed to an Alpine hut called the Hokamblick, and from there we did our ski training. I loved it.
Memoirs of my grandmother Hilda Allis (nee Scurr):
The name “Scurr” supposedly comes either from Scandinavia, or from Scotland (there is a place in Scotland called “Scuir”).
I went to Kirk Merrington Village School when I was 5, where my mother had been the Infant Mistress, so all the teachers knew me, so they all expected me to do wonders and I never dared be naughty because they would tell my mother about it. The school was still in use when we were there in 1988.
I really enjoyed school. I could have a bus-ride to school in the morning, but I had to walk home for lunch and walk back again to school again after lunch, and walk home again at the end of the day, which was about a mile. When my brother started school, because he was supposed to not be as big and strong as me; we went to school on the bus in the morning, walked home for lunch, went back to school on the bus, but then he had to wait for me coming out of the school. The infants got out earlier than the rest of us. And he was supposed to wait for me, but with my brother Charlie you never knew what he would do and I used to spend the last part of the day worrying about where he’d be when I got out of school, and walk home with him, because there would’ve been trouble if we hadn’t been together.
When I was ten I sat scholarship to go to the local grammar school, Alderman Wraith. I have to say that when I was at the village school I was often referred to as the teacher’s pet, I didn’t think I deserved that – but I wasn’t all that popular with the others because the teachers all knew me and knew my mother. Anyway, I had to sit the scholarship when I was ten. I sat the first part of it, which was written questions, and you sat that at your own school. And then if you passed that you went to the local grammar school to sit the second part. There were two of us passed from our school to go sit the second part, and we had to answer multiple choice questions. I had to go to the grammar school, and I heard that I’d passed that. You had to be ten before the first of August in the year that you were going to go to school – and my birthday was the 29th of July so I think I was actually about the youngest person in the school when we first started.
We started in the September of 1939, just after the war had started which made things very different for the school – they were in the process of building a swimming pool and that was never finished while I was at the school. When Dunkirk happened and all the soldiers came back from Dunkirk, we were moved out of the school and a lot of the soldiers came into the school. We had individual desks and we had locks on the desks and, although I had a lock on my desk, I left my fountain pen in my desk and it got pinched by the soldiers because it was getting hard to get fountain pens and all sorts of things.
I was in 1A, there was A, B and C and didn’t really have any significance where you were put in A, B or C. But at the end of the first year they sorted people out into A, B and C, and I stayed in the A – never one of the top ones – my friend Margot, who I still keep in touch with, she was one of the top ones and got prizes. I wasn’t very good at exams.
I used to play netball, but I didn’t like the netball they had there. I played hockey, hockey was the main game I played – I was the school hockey captain – I ended up in the 6th form as a Prefect and the Vice Head Girl of the school.
We had boys and girls at the school – we had the boy’s cloakrooms at one end of the school and the girl’s cloakroom at the other end of the school. There was boys’ stairs to the boy’s cloakroom and girls’ stairs for the girls to go up. But when we had to go outside to the science labs we had to go through the boys’ cloakroom and they’d be off getting changed out of their sports gear. The only place that you had to get changed for the gym was the cloakroom – and we did gym in the gym school hall. The girls wore a green t-shirt and navy-blue runners. All the boys wore stripes, and they’d make excuses to go through the hall when the girls were having gym. But we had lessons together – only our gym and sports lessons were taken separately.
The boys would sit on one side of the classroom and the girls would sit on the other side. There were thirty in a class. The boys were called by their surnames and the girls were called by their first names. We didn’t have corporal punishment, we got lines. We didn’t have detention because nobody could be allowed to miss the school bus to go home because there wasn’t any other way to get home, so we didn’t have that kind of detention. If you got sent to the Headmaster, the worst thing that could happen to you – we had a conduct mark in our reports and it was excellent, and if you really got sent to the Headmaster it would be put down to very good and then to good and then to bad, and you could be expelled after that, it was really very bad. One of the first things my mother ever looked at on my school report was to see what my conduct mark was. If the boys got sent to the Headmaster you never actually ever found out really what happened, but they used to talk about “getting the bat” – that’s all they ever said, they “got the bat” – so you had visions of them bending over and being wholloped with a cricket bat. I’m not sure whether that happened or not.
I did school certificate at the age of 15 in the 5th form – I did 8 subjects. I did Biology, Chemistry, and Physics – English was counted as 2 subjects because you did English Grammar and English Literature, I did Mathematics, French and Geography. You had a pass, credit or distinction. I had 5 credits and 3 passes.
I went into the 6th form, that’s first and second year 6th. I did Biology, Chemistry as the main subjects and Physics and Maths as subsidiary subjects. They were quite different from 5th form – I had been good at Maths and Science, I was very good at that – but I didn’t have sense enough to tell people I couldn’t do them at 6th form. I failed one and passed one, I think. But I enjoyed my time in the 6th form. By the time I finished grammar school the war was over.
Then I went to Physio School. Why did I go to Physio School? I nearly didn’t. I first though that I was going to do agriculture because all the time during the war in my school holidays I worked on the farm. I always worked outside – I didn’t like indoor work like washing up and housework, and I wasn’t allowed to do any cooking because my mother could make the rations go a lot further than I could have. We had Domestic Science at school but I think we were supposed to be given the ingredients by the school, but somehow we had to take it from home, and a lot of the time I didn’t take it because my mother said we couldn’t spare the rations. If you did take something and you cooked scones or something, the boys were all around and they conned you out of it so you hardly had anything to take home because you were sort of being friends with the boys.
I don’t keep in touch with my friends from school except Margot, but through her I hear about various ones. I keep in touch with Dorothy who used to live across the road from us, and I knew her before I ever went to the grammar school. One famous occasion, she wrote to me two or three years ago and asked me if I remembered it. We were upstairs playing with dolls and scissors and dolls clothes and things. Suddenly, my mother, like an avenging angel, charged into the room and said,
“Dorothy Stevenson, go home! Hilda, go to bed!” My brother had got our scissors, gone into her bedroom and cut his hair off close to his head, his lovely curls – and gone downstairs and said,
“Do I look nice now, Mum?” And Dorothy wrote and asked me if I remembered that. I do, vividly.
As well as working outside I used to deliver the milk on Saturdays and Sundays to local houses. I used to work in the hay field, the harvest field, picking potatoes in the school holidays.
I was brought up on the farm before the advent of Combine Harvesters – we didn’t have a tractor until after the war started. Part of the farmyard and a big Dutch barn and haybarn were full of stocks of wheat, oats, barley and hay. Because of the danger of fire (particularly children playing with matches) my mother showed us how to make a fire outside. We cleared a patch of grass on a lawn away from house, trees and stacks, and built a small brick fireplace with bars across to rest a ‘Billy’ on. She brought billy cans and we made tea, coffee, toast and probably baked beans – we had a lot of fun.
There was a swing on this lawn - you could swing really high. There were many trees in the garth and plantation, particularly a big sycamore and a very big silver birch – you could see for miles from the top of them. I don’t know whether my mother realized how high I used to climb.
Before the war the Spennymoor Golf Course was on the farm. The Club House was not very far away from the farmyard, they must have paid rent to either my father or my grandfather. The greens were fenced and our cows, sheep and horses still grazed on the land. The course was divided by the main road. Some of the greens were built up quite high. My brother, his friends and I had a great time playing cowboys and indians on and around them – they made good forts, although strictly against the rules.
As the war progressed more land had to be used to grow food so the half of the course across the main road was grazed by the animals. After the war my Dad didn’t want the Course back so one was made on the Page Bank Rd out of Spennymoor.
I had always wanted to have a pony. When I was quite young men, perhaps Gypsies, used to try to sell my Dad Shetland ponies. One he had on trial kicked me so I stopped wanting a pony.
When I was about 13 I got a Handy Hunter pony called Molly who had a well-trained army style. She responded to commands such as “walk, march, halt”. I discovered having a pony was not the same as in storybooks. She had a mind of her own. If she didn’t want to be caught I couldn’t catch her. She ran in the field with the cart horses (Shire horses). I would go out with a dish of oats to try and catch her but she would get on the far side of the big horses. They would try to get the oats, and if I tried to chase them away they would turn around and kick. It often ended with the men having to drive all the horses in to catch her, which didn’t make me very popular. I could catch her myself if the other horses were working, but on the weekends they often were not working, and I was at school during the week. She was sold when I was away at Physio school.
We didn’t have a car until my brother got his license and got a car. I had a bike, which a lot of kids didn’t have and they wanted to have lots of rides. I would bike to the village school.
My very earliest memory is of when my brother Charles was born. We were both born in the house where we lived. I was 2 yrs and 7 months older than him. I remember being taken upstairs to visit the new baby, and I remember hiding when the doctor came because the maid had told me that he would take the baby away if I wasn’t good. I hid in under the armchair amongst Dad’s dirty boots, in the corner of the kitchen. When I was very small if my mother wanted to go out I would stay behind happily if the maid wore my mother’s pinafore.
I used to get a halfpenny pocket money on Friday to spend on the way back to school after lunch. A local Grocer used to do his deliveries then and give us a ride to the village in his car. We seldom spent our money at his shop; there were better deals at little sweet shops.
I went to Physio School in Ancoats Hospital in Manchester, which in hindsight I realize wasn’t a very good school. There was the Head, Miss Hilton-Royal, who always had to be called by her double-barrel name, and there was one other one, Miss Gorsewood, and they were really the only instructors we had. And we had lectures from outside lecturers. But really learn the practical way of doing things from the students up above us, which isn’t a very good way to learn, because if they’ve got a problem, we’ve got a problem. We were students, but we actually did most of the work in our Physio department. We had Wednesday afternoons off, but we had to take turns working Saturday mornings. We used to go the Manchester University for anatomy lectures and physiology lectures.
The students now would laugh – we were not allowed to go to the hospital in slacks, we were not allowed to wear makeup, we were not allowed to wear nail-varnish, we were not allowed to have long fingernails – and heaven help you if the Head decided she’d go check up on what you were doing! You had to have your hair up above your collar, so a lot of the time we wore those horrible hairnets like Ian Sharples wears in Coronation Street. We wore white coats in some things, but we wore grey shorts and white blouses with a collared neck and a tie, and most of the time we had to wear long stockings with these shorts in the days of suspender-belts, so that when you bent down all the people behind you could see your suspenders – which was ridiculous! We were occasionally allowed to wear socks. We had a grey blazer with a badge.
When I was in Physio School I boarded with some people in Stockport, near Manchester. I used to travel there on the tram, which was okay most of the time but sometimes when it had been snowing and it was all melting, and I was trying to get to the trams and the traffic was going past – it wasn’t like in Melbourne where the traffic gives way to the trams, you took your life in your hands to get on.
Some of the time I traveled by train – the station the train came into was the London Street station. We all used to walk up and Ancoats was the slums of Manchester. There was one house that we all used to hold our breath and rush past because the smell from it was atrocious. Then they started pulling a lot of the slum houses down and built new houses. When I went back in 1968, my friend took me back to Ancoats and the houses were beginning to look like slum houses again.
I passed most of my exam, but I wasn’t very good at the practical side – we never did any practice, practical examinations. We had to go down to London for the final, into this enormous room that had wires and Junction leads going everywhere. I was a nervous wreck. I went to work as a student – Hilton-Royal had decided to send some of us to Pinderfields Hospital, which was a chest hospital – and a funny old hospital. Some of us went there and took turns, went for a certain length of time and I got to stay there after I failed my finals. I took them again, this time to Leeds, which was much easier and I passed. This big hospital, a lot of miscellaneous huts that the army had put there, was attached to a Psychiatric hospital.
These huts went off a long corridor, closed in on one side but opened to the weather on the other side. Wards of people with TB spine, wards of children with polio, wards of men with mining injuries because it was a mining area, a lot of children with congenital problems, hips and Polio – people with TB spines were kept lying on plaster shells for months and months and months and years – they laid on their backs most of the time and were turned over at regular intervals. Some of the ones, that belonged to the surgeon, Mr. Pain, who looked after them, stayed there for about 5 years like that.
There was a women’s and a men’s ward, and there was a chest unit where they had TB chest people with Tuberculosis. So there was no wonder that after we worked there, when I had a TB test here, I had antibodies so I didn’t have to have an injection. Because everyone went to Pinderfields to work at the chest ward, to get the chest experience, you had to do all the rotations on all the other rungs before you got to the chest hospital. Once you got to the chest part, when people had done their 3 months or whatever there, they left.
So after that I went home for the first time since I was 18, and I worked at Dryburn Hospital in Durham – I took the bus from Home to Spennymoor, and then from Spennymoor to Durham, and it used to get me there too early. It was while I was there that I got this idea to go to New Zealand. It was really because my brother said he was going to New Zealand for a holiday to visit our relatives here. And I thought, well I’m not having him coming back from New Zealand saying, “When I was in New Zealand I did this, that and the other.” I didn’t have any money – I was like some of my descendents, spending my money on clothes. So I decided to apply for a job, and I applied for a job at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Rotorua, so I was accepted for there, and then I came to New Zealand and that’s another story.
I had to have smallpox, cholera and yellow fever vaccinations before coming to New Zealand. I was under bond to the Health Dept. of New Zealand for 3 years. My mother encouraged me to go to New Zealand, I’m sure in later years she wished she hadn’t.
The last thing I handed in before leaving England in 1953 was my food ration book (food was still rationed even though the war ended in 1945, although sweets, clothing and shoes were off the ration by then).
The ship to New Zealand docked at Curacaa in the Dutch West Indies and at Colon at the beginning of the Panama Canal. We had a day at shore at each of these places to visit the shops. The passage through the Panama Canal was very interesting going up through a series of locks.
I arrived in Rotorua at 7.30am 23rd February 1953. I was met at the bus depot by my cousin Barbara and Ernie Hapnes and their daughters Carol and Judith. They were wonderful to me. My boss Pauline Pole also met me. She looked at her watch and said we start work at 8am. To say that I was gobsmacked would be putting it mildly. I told her I hadn’t had much sleep, hadn’t eaten and hadn’t washed. “Allright,” she said, “you can go with Barbara and be at the hospital at 1pm.”
When I went up to the Nurses Home where I was allowed to stay until I found myself a flat there was mail waiting for me from home, and if I could have got back on the ship then I would have! After several weeks I was told to hurry up and find somewhere else to live. Cynthia and Nan (both from England), who I met at the Nurses Home, decided to come flatting with me. Nan had lived in New Zealand for about three years and knew all about it. We divided the work into one week cooking, one week housework and one week off.
One Saturday night, Nan, Cynthia and I went went with 3 guys that Nan knew to the dance at the Hall at the Waipa Village (there was a dance most Saturday nights). Theo had called in to see what was what, and asked me to dance. He was a very good dancer. He eventually asked me to go to the dance at the Ritz Ballroom the following Saturday. Theo worked as a mechanic at the Waipa Stark Mill and lived in a Workman’s Ht at the Hostel, getting all his meals at the cookhouse. He owned a 1928 Essex car in which he called for me at the flat. His friends Mr. And Mrs. Pont (I always knew Mr. Pont as Win) sold refreshments at the Ritz Ballroom. They were friends in Indonesia, and had their children Freddy and Ria with them. Wim was a sergeant in the Dutch colonial Indonesian Army, Theo was a sergeant in the Dutch Army. They were both there until Indonesian Independence.
Theo and I, Cynthia, and Nan and her boy friend used have picnics and go rabbit-shooting at Reporoa, and go trout-fishing (at Trout Pool, Lake Tarawera and Aratiatia).
I would visit my cousins Barbara and Ernie, and they took me to visit Auntie Winnie and Uncle Carl Scurr at Waihi and to visit Roy and (my cousin) Marian Lusby at their farm at Galatea. Roy had got the farm in a soldiers ballot after he returned from overseas at the end of the war. Ernie was a baker, but after the war his health was not good so he gave up baking and worked in the Rotorua Council Offices. Barbara had trained as a hairdresser and used to cut my hair, although after the girls (Carol and Judith) had grown up she worked at various other jobs instead.
My brother came out to N.Z before Christmas 1953, and met Theo then. Theo and I, Nan, Cynthia and Charlie all went for a trip up North in January 1954 – to Auckland, then up the East Coast – Opononi, Ninety Mile Beach, Kaitaia, Russell and Pahia.
Theo and I eventually got engaged and bought a section at Holden’s Bay on Robinson Ave.
THE QUEEN ELIZABETH HOSPITAL
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was on the shore of Lake Rotorua looking out to Mokoia Island. At first I worked in the Rheumatology side. I asked to be transferred to the Cerebral Palsy Unit, because I had been interested in treating Cerebral Palsy in England. It was like a boarding school, the children there were from all over New Zealand and they went home only in the Christmas school holidays. The children were schooled in the morning, and taken out for various treatments. In the afternoons they rested, went for walks and played games. The children who couldn’t walk sat in a long cane basket on wheels, which the Physio’s would push – their favourite place to go was to the Government Gardens to feed the ducks. After they left the unit some of them went to ordinary schools or to university, others unfortunately ended up in institutions. I was very sad to leave in November 1955 when I was about 6 months pregnant with Robin. Eventually the concept of the unit changed, and it became an assessment centre where the children stayed short-term.
The section we bought at Holden’s Bay needed to be cleared. Theo’s friend Jack Angell lived across the road and helped to clear it, along with his other friends. They then built a two-room bach towards the back of the section – in theory this was to be turned into a garage when the house was finished in the front of the section. There was a rain-water tank, and a shed with a chemical toilet beside it. We would wash in the Blue baths, or in Lake Rotorua when it was warm enough.
The wedding was at 12pm on 20th November 1954 at St. Luke’s Church. Robin and David were baptised there, and Gary was baptised in Raglan. The Wedding Reception was held in the lounge of the flat where I lived – it was small, just family and friends. Jack Angell was best man, my cousin Barbara was Matron of Honour, Carol and Judith (Haynes, now Harris and Nichols) were flower girls. Nan, Cynthia and I did the catering. Ernie made and decorated a beautiful 2-tier wedding cake for us. We went to the Government Gardens for the wedding photos. We went on a camping, fishing tirp to the Taupo area for the honeymoon.
Robin was born 01/02/1956. Before Robin’s birth Theo had seen an advert for the sale of a fishing business, something that he had always wanted to do, in Raglan. We went there to see the owners – quite a journey in those days, a very windy and steep road out of Rotorua and an unsealed road with a lot of bends over the deviation from Hamilton to Raglan. Theo decided to buy the business. The owner Pop Gurnell was going to work with him and show him the ropes literally, so we sold the section and bach. Theo went and I stayed with Barbara and Ernie for 2-3 weeks until Robin was born, and then for about a week after. I was pretty clueless about babies. In those days one stayed in hospital for 7-10 days after the birth, learning about breast-feeding, baby care and bathing. By the time all the nurses had given me different advice I was terrified at the thought of taking him home. Fortunately Barbara was a calming influence, and she had made a couple of little outfits for him.
In 1956 it was very difficult to find permanent places to rent in Raglan. Theo had found a little two bedroom house on Robert St. for 15 shillings a week. He borrowed a truck and with the help of friends moved our furniture and two cats (“Speke” and “The Other One”) to Raglan while I stayed with Barbara. It was a horrible house – outside toilet with nightsoil can changed once a week, one rainwater tank full of mosquito larvae, no hot water, a cooker that didn’t work, and a bath. We bought a zip water heater to heat the water but there wasn’t enough pressure from the tank to fill it. We bought a quick, one ring, heating element on which I did all the cooking and heating water. There was a tub and copper in an outside shed with a dirt floor – lots of flees in the dusy. I used to boil the copper to do the washing and sometimes my next door neigbour Mrs. Dent let me use her washing machine. I had to take the washing home to rinse because she couldn’tspare the water. Fortunately the shed had a rainwater tank and I had a handringer – but things were never really rinsed properly. The garden was a jungle which the cats loved, rats climbed the peach tree into the rook and lots of slaters lived on the inside walls – a sign of damp. Robin had croup when we lived there.
Our next door neighbour Mrs. Jin Dent, an elderly lady, was very kind to me – said I needed some young friends – and invited me and Ann Boyliaa to afternoon tea. We got on quite well together. Ann said, “You must come and visit me sometime,” so sometime later I took my courage in both hands and phoned her,
“You said for me to visit you, when shall I come?” After that we became good friends. Her husband Peter worked in the Commercial Bank of Australia in Raglan and eventually he was transferred and they moved away, although we kept in touch. Before she left Raglan Ann had got me involved in the Anglican Young Wives Group and the Kindergarten – actually a sort of Play Centre.
We moved from Robert St. to a house at Raglan West which still had an outside toilet and some rainwater tanks, but had lovely hot water for the bath and a smal electric cooker. Gary was born when we lived there.
Next we lived in Bankart St. in Harvey Wrights’ old house – scrim walls and lots of bores and once again an outside toilet, rainwater tanks – but hot water and plenty of space. A big sunny verandah at the front was great for the children to play on, the house was very cold. David was born while we lived here. The boys used to fish off the verandah with toy rods and occassionally caught a fish! Theo used to sneak up and put a srpat on their lines. We had a washing machine with ringer by the time we got to this house.
We bought the section at 7 Park St. and built a house. This was arranged through State Advances by capitalising the Child Benefit for the 3 boys and paying the rest off at 3% interest for 25 years. Here we had town supply water – some of the first to have it, and a septic tank so we had an inside flush-toilet, although the drainage was a bit dicey at times. Later this was changed to the town sewage system.
Robin, Gary and David attended the Raglan District High School to School Certificate level, then boarded in Hamilton to Attend Melville High School for 6th and 7th Form. All three ended up as Dux of Raglan High School in the 5th Form – David was a prefect and Head Boy.
At one time while living here Theo kept pigeons and used to put them in races, taking them to Hamilton Friday evening to be ringed, then they were put in baskets with other peoples’ pigeons, put on the train and sent down to be released at a designated station on the Saturday morning. Then on Saturday they would wait for the pigeons to come home, be caught, and the ring put in a special clock. Theo had to go into Hamilton with the clock to the pigeon club to see whose bird had won.
When we first moved to Raglan we were so hard up that Theo got a job at the Manapouri hydro project as a mechanic. He was at West Arm and working on the machinery building the Wilmot Pass road over to Deep Cove. He worked there for three months, the firm Bechells paid his airfare there and back, and they fed their workers very well. While he was away the car was sitting unused in the driveway (we hadn’t built the garage by then). My friend Dorothy Wield said to me, “Theo is o good, you have to learn to drive” and set off to teach me. Another friend, Ida Lind, had the boys at her house while I was having lessons at the kopua (camping ground). When Theo came home he made me drive to and fro whenever we went to Hamilton, I didn’t drive in Hamilton. Eventually I sat and passed my driving test.
We moved into the house in Park Drive when David was 4. After he started school I got the job of supervisor at th local kindergarten/play centre held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in the Union Church Hall. Mothers had to take turns at being a helper – 2 of us with 20 or more children would not be allowed now. I had been on the Kindergarten Committee and I had a turn as President of the Committee prior to being supervisor. The only fence between the palying area and the footpath and road was a psychological barrier, a rope strung between electric fence posts which were fitted into concrete blocks in the ground. This was put up and taken down every morning. Sometime after I gave up being supervisor, the Kindergarten was allowed to put a building in the grounds of the school which has been enlarged and extended and is now a proper Government Kindergarten with qualified teachers open 5 days a week.
In 1969 I applied to the charge Physio, Gillian Gorrick (English trained) of Waikato Hospital for a job. I went on a months trial, working part-time Monday, Wednesday and Friday 8am-4pm, with a half-hour lunch break. I had to learn ultra-sound treatment, micro-wave machines and treatments, indications and contra-indications. I had to take a written and practical examination and I passed. I was expected to supervise the students even though they knew more and were far more up-to-date than I was. Weeks later I approached the Charge Physio to ask whether I had passed the trial – apparantly I had, but no one had mentioned it. I only worked part-time because full-timers were expected to work week-ends and be on call at night and do scary things like working in the Intensive Care Unit where they did sunctioning and other things I hadn’t been trained to do.
The other area I never ventured into was neurology, because the treatments were new and quite different to the little I had learned in training. In the 14 odd years I had been out of Physio the whole concept had changed dramatically. I was fortunate to work in a Physio teaching hospital for the 3rd year students – I learned much from them, the tutors, and the young staff.
Eventually I became the Senior Physio in the Outpatients Department, specializing in Musculo-Skeletal problems – neck, back, hips, shoulders, ultra-violet treatmetns for skin conditions, treatments and exercises for Pelvic Floor problems.
I used to drive to work and at the end of 1969/beginning of 1970 I had an accident on the way home and wrecked the Vauxhall Velox car and demolished a grate and a power pole. I hurt my neck and knee. It was in the days before seat belts, so I was very fortunate to not be more seriously injured. I think I must have fallen asleep. That may have been when all my neck problems started.
I used to deliver the flounder Theo caught to the fish shop in Victoria St. The fish were packed in cream cans and put in the boot of the car. If Theo wasn’t home, I had to pack the fish. They were kept hanging in a big Frig in the garage. I delivered the fish to the back of the fish shop before 8am. Because the fish shop wasn’t open and the cans were heavy the men from the butcher’s shop next door used to lift the cans out of the boot for me. After work at night I used to go and collect the empty cans. Eventually Ivan stopped buying the fish – Theo was catching too many for him to deal with – in the end the shop closed. Theo was then selling the flounder to Hartstones in Raglan.
London Shore Store
I waited all day for Ralph to return, and when he did, he said he had got a house and shop to rent, and we are leaving. He had been to the Estate agent and found this shop up Flamborough road, by Forty Foot Bridge. It had been empty for two years and needed a lot of decorating and cleaning. There were six bedrooms, a huge lounge on the second floor, a toilet and a bathroom. Ralph promised to do the decorating, providing we could have the property six months rent-free. The landlord agreed. Our furniture was still in the store in Knaresborough, and it was going to cost 15 pounds to bring it to Bridlington, so we sold it to the chap for 20 pounds, and we gave the money to Mother so she could go and buy some more furniture at the sales rooms. She was happy to do that – she got some real bargains.
Ralph did up the shop first, and we moved in. We got a friend to paint the outside, and to put “London Shoe Store” Above the window. It looked good. Ralph contacted a firm in London, and bought 5 pound’s worth of stylish shoes, and we were in business. I started papering, and Ralph started to repair shoes in the back place. We had a nice big living room with a kitchen leading to the back door, and an outhouse where Ralph did his repairs. That became a nice little business, so I looked after the shop and helped to finish off the repairs using heelball and special tools that were heated in the fire. I got quite proficient after a while, but I didn’t like it.
We gradually built up the business and got our Stanley – my younger brother, who was a joiner – to put in new shelves and a nice window back. He made a very good job of it, too. It looked very smart and we were selling good class shoes that we bought from Lilley and Skinners of London – the name helped us a lot. Lovely high-heeled sandals, and court shoes that appealed to the younger set. By this time we had made a few friends, but we didn’t entertain much as we were still struggling to make ends meet – the children were growing up fast and needed bigger clothes and shoes. The boys went to St. Georges School on a new estate, but Carol still went to a school on Key rd, which was quite a long way from where we lived. I used to set her off half way down Tennyson Ave, and meet her at 4-o-clock on her way home (they all had school dinners).
We had been there about 18 months when Ralph’s sister Beattie, her husband Allan and their three children came to visit us for a week. Max was the youngest – about 11, then Ralph 14 years old, and Allan 16. A lovely family – but could they eat, my goodness! I couldn’t feed them enough. Although they did pay, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep them. But we did enjoy their company and caught up on all the news. So, in the next summer months, I decided I would take in visitors. It was hard work, but a bit of extra money, as rents and rates were a bit heavy. But we managed as always, the winter months were the worst. Bridlington shut everything down end of September, and it was too cold for visitors and there was nowhere for them to go.
One day a workman came into the shop to ask if I could take in Seven Labourers full board. But I felt I couldn’t tackle all those men, with the shop, the children, cleaning and helping to finish off all the repairs that Ralph had done. Evidently these chaps had come from Hull to build four houses up Eighth Avenue, and they were sleeping in tents, as they could not travel to Hull and back everyday. After talking to them a while, I told them all I could do was to make them a good hot dinner every night on weekdays. Two of the chaps did get a place, so that left five to look for. They were really nice men – not rough, and were very grateful to me. They came to me for six months until the houses were finished. It was hard work, but they needed the money. They always helped to do the dishes – I think they missed their family life, and were most intrigued when I fetched out the irons and heelball and cloths for finishing Ralph’s repairs, and made a good job of it too! When they left, they bought me a lovely pottery set, teapot, milk jug and sugar basin on a tray. I had it for years.
We got through that winter okay, and spring and summer brought the visitors back, and trade bucked up again. There was another shoe-repairer just round the corner from us, and Ralph made friends with him. His name was Mr. Nixon. When Mr. Nixon was snowed under with repairs, he let Ralph have some and it worked very well. Bernard Newby was the only one who came to visit us – we were always pleased to see him as he took the boys swimming. Carol had her little friends now too, and everything seemed to be going right for us for a while, but nothing ever lasts.
Mother was very good, still making clothes for the children and Dad would go to the fish pier when the Trawlers came in with their catch. Some of the fish was auctioned off before the rest was sent to the big towns. Dad would come back with a huge Haddock that he got for 6 pence. It would make a dinner for all of us for two days, with a few chips – it was lovely.
Ralph made friends with Mick Martin. He worked on the deep sea Trawlers, and was away six months of the year. His parents had the fish and chip shop, on our Parade. Eventually Mick and Ralph went partners in a boat, to take 12 passengers. It had a 12HP motor, and of course they were going to make loads of money taking trips out to Flamborough and Bempton, but nothing ever turns out the way one wants. The boys thought it good though, until Trevor and Ralph got seasick. Dennis enjoyed it. I guess Mick thought they were sissies – Mick used it for fishing and we got plenty of the catch.
Mother still went to the sales rooms every week, and always brought back good bargains. My bedrooms were beginning to look nice. A social worker called to see me and asked if I would like to join their small club, helping old and lonely people. So every fortnight I would set out my big lounge to accommodate 12 people, who came for a Beetle-drive to raise a bit of money for little extras. They paid a shilling each and I provided tea and biscuits. Every Thursday afternoon I would go and visit an old lady, a Mrs. Wigg. She was over 90 and I read to her or let her talk about her old days. Poor old soul – it was very sad to see her stuck away in this little room with no family – just a landlady to make her meals. There were many more like her, and our little band of helpers did what we could.
By this time Mick’s father had died, so he began to help his mother in her fish-shop, and gave up Trawling. He and Ralph used to go to a pub in Old Town, called the Nags Head. It was a very popular place, as Mrs. Alexander the landlady had two very good-looking daughters – Sylvia who was 18, and Meda 20. They were a great attraction, and all the young fellows went to the Nags Head – it was the in thing at the time. I went a few times, but the customers all got up to such antics, it wasn’t my style. I thought the girls were fast, but Mrs. Alexander turned a blind eye – after all, she was making money hand over fist. We did not have many parties, as we could not afford them and they turned out to be boozy does. Besides, it wasn’t good for the children.
World War Two
Then it was 1939 and the good summer we were about to have came to an abrupt end. The threat of war altered everything. All the visitors I had booked in gave backward; and trade dropped drastically. There were soldiers everywhere and great rolls of barbed wire appeared on the beaches. We were forbidden to go onto the sands. The fun fairs and arcades closed down. By this time, war was declared. In September, the Town was empty.
Ralph went and got a job at the Fertilizer Works, just out of Town. There, he heaved 100 weight sacks onto Lorries all day, for 7.30 am to 5pm. It was very hard work, and not big wages. He used to come home exhausted, and then if there had been any repairs brought in, he would do them. He still refused to go on the dole.
Then the German aeroplanes started to fly over. The first bomb to be dropped and flattened a large hotel called the Cock and Bottle, at the bottom of King St. My Mother, who was out shopping that morning, said that the blast literally blew her up the street. She said her feet never touched the ground until she found herself in a shop doorway at the other end of the street. There were a few people killed. It was awful. That was the beginning of the bombing.
Then the German single planes came across – the Spitfire and the Heinkels. These were dogfights with our planes. One time Dennis, Trevor and Carol went down to the beach. They somehow managed to play there, even with the barbed wire. Suddenly, three German planes roared over the sea, and our three scampered to a huge open garage beneath the Expanse Flats – a posh new building. They watched the British planes attack and bring down the Heinkels. After the all clear went, our three came home not a bit afraid. Dennis was so excited – he couldn’t stop talking about it. Trevor wasn’t so sure, and neither was Carol. It was just some thing that happened.
Dennis got a little job delivering meat for the local butcher before he went to school. For this, he received a shilling and sixpence. He gave me the shilling, and the rest was his to buy sweets and comics. Both boys went delivering papers for a while, but so many people were leaving Bridlington that Ralph got another job: furniture removing. The fertilizer shop closed down, as they were afraid of being bombed.
Then the government decided to evacuate children from the industrial towns – Leeds, Liverpool, Middlesborough, etc. About 200 children were brought to Bridlington – goodness knows why, as the bombers came over the North Sea to Hull, which was one of their targets. If the attack was too fierce, they turned around, dropped their load anywhere and fled -so Bridlington got quite a lot of damage.
Anyway, three lads were parked on me from the docksides at Middlesborough, and they were very rough, with only the clothes they were standing in and shaven heads. It was a bit difficult at first. I fitted them up with pyjamas and jumpers, and Mother made them some trousers. Ralph repaired their boots, and I received eight shillings and sixpence a week. We taught them a few manners, saw they brushed their teeth, and we had to separate them into different rooms as they had pillow-fights. They thought it was lovely. I don’t think they had proper homes, and the food they ate they just wolfed it down, and waited for more. Eight shillings and sixpence no way covered it. I baked a stone of bread twice a week, and gave them stews, dumplings, rice puddings, rabbit pies and steamed puddings, until I was sick of the sight of food!
But they calmed down and went to school – until all the children at school got scabies, and I had to scrub them in the bath every night, and cover them in sulphur – my own three included. The school was closed until the epidemic was over. I had the boys for six months, until the raids and bombings got so bad that all the evacuees were sent home to their parents. It was hard work trying to keep them entertained in the winter evenings, so I bought a yard and a half of Hessian and cut up all our old clothes into four-inch long clips, an inch wide. Then I set them on making a rug. Each one had a corner to do with different colours, and Carol had the centre to do. They liked it at first – for a week or two – but then I had to be really firm with them. I told them that if they spent an hour every night on it, I would let them go to the Cinema on a Saturday afternoon. I had no more trouble after that. They were not bad lads, and they liked being with us. They got on well with my three, and were sorry when they left. They were called Leslie, Frank and Spud – we never got to know his proper name.
Mother had left Balholm Chalet and bought a really nice semi-detached house at the top of Eighth Ave. Dad joined the A.R.P and would roam around the Avenues at nights, when the raids got worse.
Ralph and I slept under the table in the living room – it was strengthened with mesh. Dennis, Trevor and Carol slept under the stairs with mattresses piled around them. We dared not go upstairs to sleep, as the bombs seemed to get closer to us. St. Georges School got a direct hit one night, and so did the railway station – but the houses in the Town were badly knocked about. The air-force camp was at Driffield 12 miles away. I guess that’s what they were looking for. One day they did find it, and demolished hangers and air-raid shelters. A lot of air-force personal was killed that day – it was a dreadful tragedy.
By this time I was frantic with worry, no sleep and no money. Two lots of bombs were dropped very near our house. I was filled with a premonition that our house would be hit, and all I wanted to do was get away somewhere safe. Mother went to Leeds to see if she could find some place for us to rent. She found an empty house and shop in Oldfield Lane. It was not the best of places – three bedrooms, no bathroom, the privy across the yard, a sitting room, a big kitchen with an iron-side oven, and a tiny shop. But at least we had somewhere to start a shoe business again from scratch. It was a poor locality, and we hated it – especially Carol. We had got used to living in nice places, first Knaresborough then Bridlington, and now this. We felt we had come down in the world. We packed up all the furniture that would go on one truck, as we couldn’t afford two lorry loads. We had to leave quite a bit of furniture in the house. Dennis travelled with Ralph in the lorry; Trevor, Carol and I went on the bus. We all stayed the first night with Ralph’s sister Molly and husband George Stephenson, and their two children. It was very cramped but we were thankful to be able to stop until our furniture arrived the next day. It took us a couple of weeks to get ourselves sorted out. The shop was our first priority.
There was a small keeping cellar under the house. It was built of brick in the shape of a tunnel. It made an excellent air-raid shelter, as we still couldn’t believe we would be safe from the bombing – although we did have a couple of raids. One was at Barnbow ammunition factory just out of Leeds, and the other was at a railway depot.
We had been in our new home about three weeks, when Mother wrote and said a landmine had been dropped, and the Alexander Hotel on the sea-front had been hit as well as houses in Eight Avenue and St. Anne’s convalescent home in the next block to us. A great many invalids died, and our house on the Parade was cut clean in half – from the top bedrooms down to the kitchen, where we would have been sleeping. So I had a lot to thank my Mother for. She was never demonstrative, but cared deeply for us in her own way.
Clothing coupons were introduced about 1942. We were only allowed a few, and couldn’t replenish our small stock we had brought from Bridlington. Mother again came to our rescue. There was a very old-fashioned shoe shop in Old Town. Mother knew the owner and bought about 20 pounds worth of men, women’s and children’s shoes from him without any coupons. It was quite a lot of money in those days. We were able to sell and make a little profit, and also get a few more coupons from the government. Ralph also was doing shoe repairing in the cellar, but it was not pleasant down there, lit day and night with a light bulb that he had rigged up. But we scraped by somehow. I would go to Leeds warehouses to buy a few shoes and odds and ends that I was able to sell.
Tuesday was half day closing. I was delighted to find a childhood friend, Alice Gaunt, who lived only two streets away in Amberley Road. Her husband, Harry, was in the war in Egypt in the desert. We were both delighted to meet again after all those years. Alice had had one baby girl who was still born, so she was feeling a bit lonely. She went with me shopping every Tuesday. We would go to Leeds market and buy remnants of material – enough to make a blouse or skirt for a shilling. Alice was a great sewer and made all her own clothes. So I bought myself a second hand sewing machine – one that I had to wind a handle to make it go – and I was able to make my own and Carol’s clothes, which saved us a lot of money.
Dennis and Trevor went to my old school in Lower Wortley, Carol went to Upper Wortley School, which wasn’t so far. We used to go to Armley Slipper Baths for our weekly bath, as the children were too old to bathe in front of the fire in a big tin bath like we did in Knaresborough.
When Dennis was 14, he left school and went to work at an engineering firm. He wasn’t there long. He used to come home with filthy overalls covered with grease and oil. So we found him a nice clean job as a sales man in a gent’s clothing shop “Greenwoods” in Tong Road, Armley. He looked so smart in his navy blue suit. He had grown tall too. He was only there six months because he said he would like to work with Ralph and learn shoe repairing. I was disappointed. I thought he could do better. Ralph had heard of a chap who wanted to sell his shoe repair business in Lower Wortley. It was only a lock-up wooden hut, and the owner wanted to retire. So Ralph and Dennis set up shop and worked together. I took in repairs in my shop. They would take all the shoes in a sack on the tram, and bring them back labelled and priced. We were doing quite nicely.
Then Carol got Scarlet Fever and was whisked away to Killingbeck Hospital. She was there for three months. I was only allowed to see her by standing in the grounds – no one was allowed to go indoors and touch their children. I used to throw up a bag of sweets, which she was unable to keep – the nurses always took them. She was allowed one sweet every Sunday. I suppose it was only right, as sweets were rationed. We never saw a banana or an orange – the cargo ships had other, more important, things to bring into our ports.
It was a dreadful time. The casualty lists were getting longer and longer, and us civilians were finding it harder and harder to manage on the rations we were allowed.
Two ounces of butter each, one quarter-pound of lard for baking, 2 pounds of sugar for a family of five, 40 grams of meat each per week and a small piece of cheese. The flour was so horrid and dark, and mixed with something else, and the bread was uneatable (that is, when I stopped baking and bought loaves of bread instead). There were no eggs, only subsidized powder, but I managed very well to make a cake with egg powder, and liquid paraffin instead of butter. The cakes looked good when baked and plastered with jam – our family thought they were good. The margarine wasn’t fit to eat – it was a dreadful green colour. There was very little dried fruit – only on black market. For breakfast the kids had porridge with treacle and toast with either butter or jam. Dinner was midday. It was always potatoes and whatever vegetables were available – mostly peas; and meat-pie without meat: just oxos and a steamed pudding. Tea was baked beans, bread and jam. Then there was always fish and chips or chip butties.
About this time we heard that our boat, “The Sarah Elizabeth”, had been commandeered by the government to help with the evacuation of Dunkirk. We never found out what happened to her. We never got the boat back, or any compensation – not even any news that boat or soldiers had made it back to Britain. Like thousands of other people, we were kept in the dark. It was just another mishap, another word for War.
Meanwhile, we struggled on in our little shop and made the best we could. When Trevor was 14 he also left school and went to work with his Dad and Dennis. They were doing quite nicely, and things were a bit easier money-wise. Trevor never did care for repairing, but there was not much else for boys to do, especially when they didn’t have a Grammar School education.
I was determined that Carol would do a bit better, so I arranged for her to attend a private school – Miss Brigg’s, in Town Street, Armley. I didn’t want her to speak broad Yorkshire. At least it gave her a bit of grounding. Each subject paid for separately, so she took a commercial course in typewriting and shorthand. Carol never like the school – she thought all the girls were toffee-nosed. Actually, it was the same school that Barbara Taylor Bradford went to. At least a bit of culture rubbed off on Carol, and her deportment was good, and her speech improved – although Carol always said it was a waste of time and money, I didn’t think so!
Ralph decided he would take another shop in Burley Road. It was quite a good business, and Trevor could work there and keep an eye on things. There was already a young chap working with them, by the name of Tommy. He was a good worker, and got on well with Trevor. Ralph managed to buy an old Ford very cheaply. It was an old banger, and did good service. It saved time, travelling on buses from one shop to the other and carrying sacks of shoes. Then Ralph joined Gotts Park Golf Club. He and Bernard Newby had always been interested in golf, from as far back as when we lived in Knaresborough, where they would have a knock around in fields. But now he was serious, and lived and breathed Golf. Any minute Ralph could spare from work he would take it, and play Golf.
Poor old Dennis was left on his own quite a bit in the afternoons. I guess he was feeling a bit lonely and badly done by; so after he had done a few repairs he would close the shop, and go to the Lyric Cinema on the Crown, for the afternoon matinee. That didn’t last long, as customers complained to Ralph that the place was closed, so Ralph gave Dennis a raise in wages, and started to play golf on the early morning or evenings in the summer.
Still, the horror of war continued. Lists of casualties grew longer, and bigger and deadlier weapons were being poured out onto London, Liverpool, Coventry, Hull, and all the ports in South England. Food was even scarcer, and there was no fruit to speak of. The daily round of looking after my shop, washing, cleaning, making meals out of nothing except potatoes and oxos (vinegar) was constant. We thanked the good Lord for fish and chips. The boys were always hungry, and would eat a two pound loaf of bread, with fish and chips, for supper.
It was so depressing living in poor surroundings, amongst streets of back-to-back houses.
Scores of children with their fathers at war and their mothers on munitions – no wonder they were wild and unmanageable. Even sweets were denied them, except on coupons and they were poor quality; and of course people in Oldfield couldn’t afford fancy shoes, and our business didn’t go too well. Although I tried all sorts of bits of drapery, without coupons it was hopeless.
The highlight of my life then, was Tuesday half day closing, when my life-long friend, Alice and I would go to Leeds and look round the shops, and visit the warehouses, and I would buy a few pairs of shoes with my meagre coupons. Then we would go and have tea and toasted-tea cake at Hagen Bach’s café. There, we would decide which Cinema to go to afterwards – or possibly to the City Varieties, to see and hear Evelyn Laye. She was very beautiful, and a great attraction in those days. It only cost nine-pence. Then we would have shandy in the Varieties Bar, and go home again on the tram. It didn’t matter what sort of weather it was, we never missed a Tuesday for 16 years. Dennis and Trevor would have their friends in to play Monopoly or cards, and Carol would go next-door to play with Jean Hackney.
One can imagine Ralph and I were having a few problems. He was playing Golf every minute he could spare, and family life was finished. The Golf and his work seemed to be all that mattered, so I joined the Golf Club in the ladies section, but I’m afraid I was no good. I was too tired to play even nine holes – never mind eighteen, and of course, no one wanted to play with a learner. I was no good at Bridge either – I felt such a mug, although I got on better with the women and we had some nice times. Olive Laycock was a real live wire when she was on the piano. She made the Club hum when she started playing all the old songs. Then all the fellows came in from the 19th hole. Women were not allowed in the men’s rooms, except once a year on Christmas Eve. It was a sore point with all the wives.
In 1944 Ralph saved a boy’s life on Christmas Eve Day. Ralph was playing in a match, and was on the fairway overlooking the Leeds and Liverpool canal, when some children shouted that one of them had fallen in the canal, and could not swim. They all ran down to the canal, but there was iron railings stopping them, so Ralph pried open the railings and squeezed through, pulling off his heavy Golf shoes and jacket as he ran. He dived in and pulled the boy to the side. It was a bitterly cold day, and Ralph was shivering, so they helped him and the boy to the club house and gave him brandy to warm him up a bit. The lad was about 15 years old, and didn’t seem any the worse for it. The Lord Mayor of Leeds presented Ralph with a certificate and a medal, from the Humane Society.
Ralph didn’t feel well for a long time after that, and he developed a Duodenal Ulcer. After lots of tests he had to go to Leeds Infirmary for an operation. He was in there for two weeks, and then was sent to a Convalescent home in Horsforth for three weeks. Dennis, Trevor and I had to manage the shops on our own. The lads did a good job and they were only 17 and 15 years old. When Ralph recovered, he realized he couldn’t work the same as he had before and set on another experienced man.
By this time, Dennis and Trevor were bringing girls home, especially Trevor – he had lots. Dennis only seemed to have one – Joyce Cam who had known him from school days. She would wait outside our shoe shop when he came home from work. She was determined to have him. He never got a chance to meet any other girls.
I became great friends with Joyce’s older sister. She lived in Doncaster with her husband Les and their daughter Carol. Nora’s husband was a soldier in the Coldstream Guards. He was a huge man – 6ft 4, and straight as a ramrod. Nora was also very tall and well made. She and Carol would come over to visit Nora’s parent’s who lived in Lynwood Crescent, and she always came to see me each time and have cups of tea and talk our heads off. She was a marvellous person and I thought if Joyce grew up like her she would be fine for Dennis.
The war news was dreadful and rations were even smaller. The children had forgotten what bananas and oranges looked like. No supply ships were able to get to the UK because of submarines in the Channel. It was so depressing. I was sick of everything, the shop and the district. The poor people had no money to spend on shoes, but repairs were booming and Ralph employed another young man to help out. His name was Len Turners.
About this time, Ralph took on another business in Brudenall Road – quite a large premises with lots of machinery. Another chap called Tommy came into the business. He was a very good worker, even though he suffered terribly from Asthma.
So I decided as things were looking up, it would be nice to have a decent house for a change. I searched through the Yorkshire post for houses for sale, and I looked at a few that were way out in price, when I heard of one going in Woodhouse Ridge. I called in at the house, and I liked it. The couple were quite old; he was blind, and she couldn’t cope. They were such nice people, but the whole place needed painting and decorating, which didn’t worry me at all, and they were selling at 730 pounds, which was a real bargain.
I asked my Mother if I could sell the house in Bridlington and buy the one in Hartley Avenue. Some years ago Mother had bought these four Terrace houses next door to each other, in the hope that Leslie, me, Cyril and Stanley would all live side by side in Olinda Road – but, alas, nothing ever works out as planned, Leslies wife, Edith, didn’t like the house so they sold and went into a rented house for a while, until they and their two daughters went to live in Hull. Cyril was in the air force, and sold his house and took one of Mother’s flats in Roundhay mansions, which Mother had built in 1936. Stanley and Jenny did up their house and lived in it for a few years. All three boys were in the services. My house was rented out, a mere pittance, which Mother kept for any repairs set.
My house was sold for 400 pounds and Mother then gave me the other 350 pounds to buy it outright, as there were no agents fees, it being private sale. It was good, and I was in Seventh Heaven. It was a lovely house – three big bedrooms, and best of all a nice bathroom, a big lounge, dining room, a large kitchen and lovely views overlooking the Ridge towards Sugar well hill, and a small garden in the front and back. I began painting and decorating the house. Ralph never helped in any way; he wanted to stay in Oldfield Lane, so I did it all on my own every evening after closing the shop, when I would dash over to my new house. I painted ceilings and walls, as there was no wallpaper to be bought. I just went mad with paintbrushes and in six months it was ready to move into.
Then Dennis was called up for his National Service. That was a blow. He was just 18 years old and looked so young. He was sent up to Fort William, in Scotland, for six weeks of training, and after 10 days leave he was packed off to Austria. After a very short time he was made Sergeant and was put in charge of Flame Thrower’s. His letters to me were full of what he was doing. He liked the life, and he gave a portion of his Army pay over to me, but I banked it in the Post Office in his name for when he was demobbed.
At this time, Mother was seriously ill with Tinnitus and acute sinus. She had been in and out of hospital for a long time, but now the Doctors said she would have to have an operation for double mastoid, so she was booked in the London Clinic in Wellesley St. She was taken by ambulance from Bridlington to London. Dad and I were with her, and had to go to a hotel nearby until after the operation when I had to come back home. Poor Mum, she suffered for another six years in dreadful pain and was bedridden. She even had another operation for Gall Bladder. When we moved to Hartley Avenue, Mother and Dad came to stay with us for three months hoping she would feel better, and all this time Ralph and I had bitter rows over my insistence about leaving the shop.
Len Turners and his wife were expecting a baby, so Ralph let them stay rent free and Len’s wife looked after the shop whilst Len did shoe repairs alongside Trevor in the Lock-up shop in Cow-Close Road, whist Ralph and two repairmen worked in the Brudenal Road work-shop.
It was lovely living in Hartley Ave, and I felt on top of the world. There was lots of space and indoor plumbing, but Ralph wasn’t happy. He said rates and expenses were too heavy. So I found myself a job as a waitress at Fullers Café in Leeds, but even that wasn’t right. Ralph still went Golfing though, now and then. After we had been in our new house for just over a year, Ralph heard of a house and shop that were being let in Kirkstall - another repair shop, three bedrooms, living room and kitchen. It did have a bathroom though, so I had to put my dream house up for sale, and Ralph negotiated for the business, which cost 550 pounds for fittings etc. My house was sold for 1,900 pounds, which to me was a fantastic price.
I had just completed the sale, when Ralph collapsed with burst Duacenal Ulcers. I had to phone the Doctor, and he called the ambulance, which took Ralph to Leeds Infirmary.
Once again, I was nearly out of my mind, as I had to be out of my place on the Tuesday, and this was Saturday. So I sent a telegram to Dennis to get in touch with his Commander and ask for special leave. The army were very good, and sent him home straight away.
I begged the buyer of my place for a couple of days’ grace, and when I explained it, he was very nice about it. He was a Professor at Leeds University. It was touch and go with Ralph. He was very ill. This was in January 1948. Dennis was really marvellous and took charge of the removal to Kirkstall road. By this time, Trevor was called up for his National Service. Dennis, Carol and I had to run the three businesses as best we could. When Ralph was out of danger, I would take the books for him to manage while he was convalescing. What a nightmare that was. But at least I now had a bit of spare money after paying for the businesses. Ralph came home after six weeks, but was not strong enough yet to work.
Dennis got his discharge from the Army. I think he would have liked to stay in the Services, as they asked if he would like to make a career of it, but Joyce, his girlfriend put her foot down and did not want him to go, so that was that. They got engaged that year, and Dennis drew out all the money I had saved for him and bought Joyce an engagement ring. A few months later they were married in Wortley Church. They rented a nice little house in Cobden St, Wortley, and we all settled down, until August 1948, when I was taken ill.
After being examined by the Doctor and having had X-rays, I was told I had to have my Gall Bladder removed. So, on the 16th August I had my operation. It took me about six months to recover. Ralph was better though, and the various businesses were doing quite well. He was back at Golf again. The highlight of his life was when he was made Captain, and he holed in one, twice on the same green in three months.
We, none of us, liked Abbey Road dwelling, although it did have a bathroom. We were on a very busy road with trams and traffic roaring past, day and night. Business was quite good, but I hated the repair shop, and got myself a part-time job in a grocery store two days a week. It was good pay, and I wanted a bit of money of my own, as Ralph just gave me housekeeping which wasn’t much.
Then Trevor met Mary Carr, and they were married at Crossgates and went to live with her parents for a couple of years. Trevor still worked for Ralph. Dennis decided his Dad wasn’t paying him enough, so he left and went to work for a large firm where he did piece work and earned a lot more money.
Joyce had a good job in Leeds managing a sewing machine firm. She learned her trade at a factory hands-on learning school. She was very clever, and made some lovely clothes. She was quite a fashion model.
Unfortunately, Joyce fell ill. After lots of Doctor visits, she didn’t get any better, so she had to have chest X-rays. They discovered the poor girl had T.B, and she was ordered to bed. Her own mother said she could not look after her, so Dennis and Joyce came to live with us. It was a bit crowded though, and Joyce needed to be necrosed, but she still continued to smoke even though she knew it wasn’t good for her. After three months she wasn’t better. She wouldn’t stay in bed like she was supposed to. I asked the Doctor what to do, and told him she was still smoking. He very quickly packed her off to the Sanatorium Scotton Bank, at Knaresborough. It took two years for her to recover. From then on, she always had to be careful about her chest.
Dennis came back to live at home, and every weekend he would go and stay with our dear friends Molly and Alf Whitley, so he could spend as much time as possible with Joyce. She moaned and groaned plenty at having to stay there. Personally, I think she enjoyed the fuss she received from family and friends. She looked very fit and well when she came home. She soon got another job, working at a sewing firm. She and Dennis then bought a new bungalow in Pudsey. They were very happy. Dennis had a job in a repairing factory in Bradford. He earned good wages. Joyce had started smoking again, although not quite as bad as before.
Carol had been so good helping in the shop that I decided I would take her on a nice holiday. We went to Jersey for two weeks. It was wonderful – like paradise. We stayed a little way outside St. Helier, at a friend’s house, Nelly Bright. I used to go to school with her and her sister Alice, when I was about eight years old, and we all remained friends throughout the years. Carol and I had a wonderful holiday. We even went across to the French Coast, “Denard”, for the day. We visited the underground tunnels that had been built by thousands of Yugoslav’s, Polish and Jew’s that had been made captive during the German Occupation of Jersey. They were kept prisoners. Many of the prisoners died, and were buried in the walls where they fell. We didn’t like it – it was so cold inside. The Germans were getting ready to invade England from there. Fortunately the war ended, but it left a dreadful feeling on the Island – all the people could talk about was the Occupation. Some of them suffered greatly. Of course, there were others who fraternized and betrayed their friends.
Dennis was born on the 7th of October 1926, whilst Ralph was managing a shop in Derby. When he came home a week later, he brought me three of the hugest Chrysanthemums. They were lovely and I was the envy of the other mothers in the ward. I was home within two weeks, back to Cromer Terrace.
One day I decided to take the tram to show the baby off to Ralph’s mum, and the neighbours in the street. The day after my outing I must have caught a chill, as I was taken seriously ill, and was rushed to Leeds Infirmary – something to do with my kidneys. I was put in a sort of casing that was full of electric lights, with only my head showing. The lights were very hot, and the doctor said it was to sweat whatever it was out of me, to get my kidneys to function again. I never did find out what my illness was. Doctors never told patients what was wrong with them in those days. I was so ill that Mother sat up with me every night for two weeks. Everyone thought I wasn’t going to recover, so Ralph’s Mother took the baby to live with them, and I did not see Dennis again for three months.
An incident happened whilst I was in the Infirmary – I didn’t talk about it, as I am not quite sure whether I was hallucinating or if it was real. I only know I was desperately ill, and didn’t know if I would get better. One night – all the lights were out, so it must have been late – a lady came down the long ward. She was blonde and had flowers in her hair. She was dressed all in white and in a sort of shimmering silk. She came up to my bed and laid her hand on my forehead. She whispered, “You are all right, my dear”, than she turned away and walked back down the ward not stopping at anyone else’s bed.
When I was able to come home from the hospital, I was sent to a convalescent home in Southport. After I had been there a month and seemed to be getting better, Ralph sent me a telegram to say that his mum had had a severe heart attack and I was to come home immediately to look after the baby. I went to Ralph’s house, and lived there a while as by this time Mother had sold Cromer Terrace house and gone to live in Bridlington.
I learned how to look after the baby and helped in the house until Mary, Ralph’s mother, felt able to go back to work.
I still did not feel really fit, and got terrible backache. Ralph had taken over the management of the shop in Knaresborough, but was lodging through the week and only came home for Sunday for a few hours. I was very miserable as I was making meals for Ralph’s Dad, and his siblings Bill and Molly. They never lifted a hand. I was really thrown in at the deep end.
I decided it was time we had our own home, so we went and had a look at the house and shop. It seemed huge. There was a cellar kitchen with a horrible iron fireplace. The window was half below the outside pavement – we could see people’s feet as they went by. The toilet was outside, also underneath, with a stone sink in one corner and a cold tap. Everything was filthy and had not been used for years. There was no way I was going to live in that dark hole. I went up three flights of stairs, to a lovely big sitting room with a bay window and a fireplace at one end. Another door at the top of the stairs opened into a small room, which I thought would make a nice kitchen. Up two more flights of stairs, a large bedroom and a smaller one, up one more flight of steps to a large attic with dormer windows. Every room needed decorating. We decided we would live above the shop, even though we had no water upstairs and the only Electricity was in the sitting room and kitchen. The rest didn’t even have gas, so Ralph and I had to use candles in our bedroom.
We moved our furniture, which fitted in good, and I stared to decorate. It was a good thing Dennis was such a placid baby, and he thrived. I put a tea chest in one corner of the kitchen and had a large bowl, which served as a baby bath. For washing up etc. there was two buckets of baby clothes all white with long petticoats (not like today’s clothes – stretch and grow, and overalls). We had to fetch up every drop of water, and take the dirty water back down again to empty it in the cellar. There were no cooking facilities either, so Ralph had the gas people put pipes in, and points, so I could at last boil potatoes and fry sausages. After making do with a gas ring Ralph realized he had to have a gas oven. I was delighted and could make proper meals.
Then we had another blow. I fell pregnant again when Dennis was only eight months old. We were devastated as I wasn’t too well. By this time we had got to know people and we became great friends with Molly and Alf Whitley. They had been married a little while before us, and she was pregnant with their first child. They were a wonderful couple, and Molly taught me such a lot. She was a waitress at the Town Hall Café in the Market place in Knaresborough. Alf was a cabinet-maker for Mr. Woodward, who was a funeral director with no children. When he died, he willed the business to Alf, for being such a good and faithful worker. Molly had a baby girl called Kathleen – a very pretty red haired child. We used to take our babies for walks along the riverside or watch the boats and punts on the river.
Ralph and Alf would take us punting. They would compete with each other to get up the rapids, which was quite a feat, as the water rushed down between two rocks that were just wide enough for a punt to get through, but unless you knew the knack you would end up in the river. We used to watch others try to get through, it looked so easy – no one was hurt – only soaked, and the cushions wet through.
For 10 years, we had wonderful happy times. Ralph seemed to draw friends to him like a magnet, and the chap’s all brought their girlfriends to our place, or to Molly and Alf’s. We had great parties. We did not have a lot of money, but we never missed it.
Trevor was born in 1928, in March, and that year it was so cold in Knaresborough. The river froze completely and everybody went ice-skating. Tacky lights were strung all through the trees and I walked on the ice very gingerly, afraid of falling and having a miscarriage. Molly came and looked after me when Trevor arrived. Mother came and took Dennis back to Bridlington for a few weeks. He came back with a whole lot of new clothes she had made for him – specially a beautiful red overcoat with brass buttons. He looked real bonny with his blonde hair and big blue eyes. Trevor was quite different – very dark hair, green eyes a thin, restless baby but very lovable. He was always more reserved – not as out-going as Dennis, even in later life, but they were great friends and went everywhere together. Our lives were just marvellous. Ralph taught the boys to swim.
On Thursday afternoons half day closing, we would either go fishing with jam jars, or go punting on the river. It was only 6 pence an hour. Alf and Ralph joined the YMCA and met two or three times a week to play Billiards, Snooker and Table Tennis – where all the other young congregated, and where all our other friends originated, and of course Ralph invited the ones he liked best to our house for supper – fish and chips and tea – nobody drank in those days. Then they asked if they could bring their girlfriends. There was Molly and Alf, and Bernard Newly, Hubert Kenn and his girl Pam, Jack Wheelhouse and his girl Ethel, Basil Wheelhouse and his girl Nellie, Archie Sorrel and his girl Elsie, Syd Corcheran and his girl Fay. Each one of these men, married the girl they brought to our parties – all except Bernard Newby. He was too busy studying and going to Leeds University to have a regular girlfriend. He always made a beeline to our place whenever he had a vacation, and Dennis and Trevor always called him Uncle Bernard.
Molly and Alf had their second child, named John, another redhead. Molly had to give up work for a while, so we were able to go out into the Castle-yard with our children. We spent many happy hours in the new paddling pool that the council had made. Molly and I were very close. She was like the sister I never had.
Carol (1933) (my grandmother)
When Trevor was four years old, I fell pregnant again. At first we were a bit upset, but when our little girl was born on Jan 6th, 1933, we were thrilled. We called her Carol. She was a beautiful baby, and weighed 9 ½ pounds. She had fair hair and blue eyes that were speckled with brown. I used to say she had stardust in her eyes.
Ralph bought a big motorbike, Royal Enfield. He also bought an old sidecar to fit on his big motorbike, so he could take us all for rides and picnics in the country. It looked quite smart when repainted. Dennis would ride pillion, Carol, Trevor and I managed somehow to fit into the sidecar. He would go roaring up the High street and I would cling like mad to his back. I lost so many hats on that bike that I refused to go anymore. Ralph and Bernard used to go for a swim to Rogers Lido every morning at 7-o-clock. It was a very popular resort for campers. Ralph would then come back, have breakfast, and open the shop for 9-o-clock.
Once a year we were allowed a week’s holiday from the shop. We would take off for Bridlington, to stay with Mother and Dad. We always went up Garroby Hill, which was very steep in those days – 1 in 6 whatever that meant – and when we arrived at the top of the hill people used to stop and let the engines cool down. Some cars couldn’t even make it to the top! It was a great attraction; but there were dreadful accidents for folk’s in cars and buses going down the hill, mostly because the brakes failed. One very bad accident was when a bus failed to take the sharp turn in the road, nearly at the bottom. A few people were killed so a cross was planted there to warn motorists to take special care.
We also went with Molly, Alf and their two children to Blackpool for a week. We found some cheap lodgings and brought our own food, and the landlady cooked it for us. It was a good system, and worked very well as there was not a lot of money to spare. In fact, we took our weeks wages 2 pounds, 12 shillings and 6 pence, and managed fine. So did Molly and Alf.
Unfortunately it rained nearly every day, and was very cold, so we spent a lot of time in the Tower. It cost nothing to go in and listen to the big Wurlitzer organ with Reg Dixon playing. When we did manage to get on the beach the poor kids were muffled up in overcoats and scarves, trying to build sandcastles; but we did enjoy it just the same. It was a change, and the first holiday that Molly and Alf had had for years. We were invited to London to visit Beattie and Allan, so off we went on the motorbike. Allan was in the police force, and was living in Wandsworth at that time. They made us very welcome, and we became great friends. Beattie and I exchanged letters every month, until she died in about 1963 from heart trouble. She and Allan had not been retired long, and had bought an old pub, “The Talbot”, at Much Wenlock in Shropshire. After a while Allan sold out, and went to live with his son Max and wife Enid for several years.
Dennis and Kathleen Whitely started at the Castle-yard school when they were three years old. Then Molly and Alf were asked to be caretakers of the YMCA. The house was very nice too; so all the lad’s went there for their games. It was very popular, didn’t cost much, and, of course, there was no alcohol. I don’t think any of them took a drink – at least, Ralph didn’t until he was 25 or 26, when he and Alf joined the Working Men’s Club.
When we had a party, one of the lad’s would take a huge jug to the pub and fill it with beer for the men. We ladies would have lemonade, a few sandwiches and cake. We played guessing games and twenty questions. We really had a lovely time. In the weekends we would take picnics and all go to Scotton Banks, by the river. Ralph taught both Dennis and Trevor to swim – also Kathleen and John.
By this time I had painted and papered all the rooms of the house. The wallpaper was only sixpence a roll. And large cans of paint cost one shilling and sixpence.
Mother would come for a weeks visit every couple of months. She had given me her old big Jumbo Singer sewing machine, which I kept up in the attic, and Mother would go into Knaresborough market, and buy remnants of material very cheaply. Then she’d make clothes for Dennis, Trevor and me.
When Dennis was seven, and Trevor five, I would put them on the Bridlington bus and ask the conductor to put them off in York. Then they would walk through the Town, and over the Bridge to Rougier Street, to get the other bus to Bridlington. They knew the way, as I had taken them many times when they were younger. They really were marvellous, and I never worried – not like today! They would stay for a month – all the school holidays. Dennis still talks about what a lovely time they had. They played on the beach, and went swimming nearly every day, and did look well when they came back on the same bus route – reversed this time, and I would meet them at the bus Terminus.
In the meantime, Molly had gone back to waitressing in the Town Hall café, so I also took a job whilst the boys were away at school. I was doing quite well, and the bit of extra money was useful, as Ralph had not had a rise since first taking the managership of the shop. We did very well though, as Ralph earned 2 pounds, 12 shillings and 6 pence a week, and rent rates, gas and electricity were free – which was an exceptionally good wage in those days. But of course, as the family grew so did our expenses, and our lifestyle. I didn’t want homemade clothes anymore. I remember one time Ralph took me to Leeds on the bus to buy some things from Crofts, and I came away with three lovely outfits for 1 pound, 9 shillings and 11 pence: a white linen suit, dress and jacket, a navy-blue silk dress and long coat, and a plaid dress. I felt very smart. I kept my job at the café. I started at 9-o-clock in the morning, and finished at 7-o-clock in the evening, when I picked the boys up from a friend who looked after them from 4-o-clock, after school. I would collect them both and put them to bed. Then I had to prepare the meals for the next day and clean the house, because Ralph was too busy in the shop.
When I fell pregnant again with our daughter Carol, I had to leave the café. Dennis was five, and Trevor was seven, and we all adored this little baby girl. Mother came to visit and decided to have a plumber bring cold water up to my kitchen, and had it paid for too. We had another three perfect years. We thought it would last forever, but life is not like that.
We got a letter from Scales and Sons of Pudsey, to say the firm had gone into Liquidation and they gave us a month to quit the house and shop. We were frantic. Ralph tried to get another job – he even went down to Lewis’s, in Leeds – they were advertising for floor walkers, but the wages were two pounds and10 shillings per week and we would have to find somewhere to live and Ralph would have to pay for fares to Leeds everyday.
Ralph answered an ad for undermanager at a shoe-shop in Skegness. He got it, and had to start straight away. So I was left to pack up and store all our furniture, and then go to Mothers with the three children. Mother and Dad were then living in Balhome Chalet – a lovely old house in Bridlington on the Southside. There were only five of these Chalet’s built – by a Swiss builder – so mother decided to take in visitors, and I was to help. The children all went to Hilderthorpe School – Carol was three by now. Ralph sent a pound a week for our food, as he had to pay board and lodgings. As it turned out, the job at the shoe shop was only seasonal, and finished at the end of September.
Ralph came back to Bridlington, but there was no work to be had, and he refused to go on the dole. He had a months pay in Lewes, so he relaxed a bit. One morning he didn’t go downstairs to breakfast until after 9-o-clock. Mother was furious. The visitors had gone out and the children were at school. I can see Mother now – she stood in front of Ralph and said, I quote,
“Them that don’t work, don’t eat in this house!” Which was a bit unfair. It was just like two electrics were meeting. Ralph just turned round and walked out without a word. Dad and I were struck dumb.
Phyllis Walker & Ralph Pearson (my great grandparents)
I was 15 when I met Ralph. It was on a Saturday afternoon, and I was walking down Scarborough Crescent in Bramley, calling on my friend, Ethel Naylor. We went to the same Chapel, Ebenezer, and were both in the Choir. On my way I saw Ralph, who was cleaning his bike – one of the latest models with three speed drop handlebars painted red and white. I liked the look of this handsome lad with dark hair and green eyes. He introduced himself, and asked me my name. I asked if I could help, but as I was dressed up in a white silk dress, white shoes and stocking, he said I’d better not; and after talking a while longer, he promised to go to Chapel next day to see me. I fell hook, line and sinker for him – he was very handsome and a snappy dresser.
My brother Leslie, four years older than me, and my twin brothers, four years younger than me, all went to Ebenezer. Leslie formed a cycle club – the Bramley Wheelers. There would be about 10 of us, and we would go on long rides to Knaresborough, Adel Crag, and Ilkley. My bike was an old back pedal. Ralph cleaned and oiled it, and got it in good order. We all used to go for bike rides into the country, but I could only see Ralph if our Leslie went also, never alone. We went together for three years. We would all go on long cycle rides on a Saturday afternoon.
I worked at Betty’s printing works in Bramley. A nice clean job, laying gold on bookbinding’s. Ralph worked at Scales and Sons shoe factory at Pudsey. His Mother also worked there. After a few weeks he took me to meet his mother, father Jim, brother Bill and sister Molly. She was about nine years old. I didn’t care for his father, but his Mother was lovely – very sweet and placid – nothing seemed to upset her; even when Jim Pearson staggered home drunk every week. Ralph’s father, Jim, used to buy and sell horses and dogs, and kept them on his allotment through the ginnels. He would go down to Leeds Market where he would meet his contacts. If he had made a good deal, he would give Ralph ½ a Crown (that was when he was much younger).
Ralph’s grandfather had had a coach and horses trade in Stanningly for many years, but had gambled the business away, so I was told, so James Pearson and his four brothers were left without money. One, called Ralph, went to America. The other three went into the Army during the First World War. Two were killed in action, and George came back. No one seemed to know what happened to him.
I took Ralph home to our house to meet my Mother and Father. It wasn’t a success. They didn’t like him, and said I was too young. Anyway, we still met and went for bike rides and Chapel, and I was always made welcome at Ralph’s home. Nearly every Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Pearson, Molly and I went into Leeds and had afternoon tea in a little café, with lovely cream cakes, whilst Ralph played Rugby for Pudsey Old Boys.
Ralph’s greatest friend was George Kemp. He was older by four or five years. The Kemps were friends and Neighbours of the Pearson’s when they all lived at Farnley, and for years they would meet every other Sunday night at one house or the other, for a singsong round the piano. The Kemps had six children – three boys, three girls. George never married. I don’t think he ever had a girl, but he was the kindest and gentlest man I ever knew. In fact, I was surprised that he palled up with Ralph – the two were as different as chalk and cheese. They used to go to Billiards and Snooker halls in Leeds. They were both professionals, but no drinks ever! We three would go around together – Cinemas and bike rides and long walks. I never minded, as they were such fun – not like my brothers who never played any sports.
Mother then sold the house in Bramley, and bought a lovely old house in Carcroft, Armley. I always wondered if it was to get away from Ralph and his family, but it didn’t make any difference – it was just a mile or two further away (1 ½ – 3 km). By this time I was 17 years old, and had dropped out of Chapel. We did not see so much of George Kemp. We would meet on Sunday afternoons and walk round Armley Park, and listen to the band. It was lovely then, on the tram to Ralph. Mum would always have a special tea, with salmon, salad and rich fruit loaf. Ralph was never invited to my home for tea in Armley.
I got a job in Leeds, at Barrons, the Clothing Factory, sewing. It was awful and poorly paid. I had to complete a dozen boys’ shorts, fully lined pockets, and all the buttons and buttonholes for 11 pence and ½ penny. If I made any mistakes I had to unpick them and start again. I think I only ever received 15 pence a week, and of that I received two shillings pocket money, for Tram fare. Tram fare cost two-pence a journey. I did not stay very long, as the women were very rough and the language was worse. I got myself another sewing job at a much smaller factory in Armley and didn’t have to pay Tram fare.
Saturday evenings I would meet Ralph after tea, and after he had played rugby we would go to the Branch Road Cinema and have a quarter of nice chocolates and an ice cream. I just lived for those weekends. The others were just like days in-between that passed. I had a lot of snide remarks from Mother, Dad and Leslie. They said he was jumped-up and dressed too well, and that his family weren’t good enough. But I got more love and affection from the Pearson family than I ever did from my own parents. Ralph’s mum was quite ill at times – she had a very bad heart, from which she died of two years after we were married. Even so, she worked full time at the same shoe factory as Ralph, and would go on the tram to Pudsey everyday.
By this time I was 18, and was madly in love. Inevitably, we got married, and after dreadful rows with my family Mother saw that I wouldn’t change my mind. She put on quite a show, and paid for everything. Mother also arranged the service at Leeds Parish Church, and nice tea at Lyons Café, in the Arcade. George Kemp was best man, and I had a friend in Armley, called Hilda May – she as my bridesmaid. I was dressed up in mauve – a two-piece suit, and a very pretty bonnet. I had a posy of primroses and violets. Ralph had a very smart navy blue suit and white shirt and spatts – very fashionable.
Needless to say, the only members of my family to turn up were my twin brothers Stanley and Cyril. They were supposed to be groomsmen. It didn’t mean much to them, as they were only 14. None of Ralph’s family attended either, but we didn’t care. We had each other, and that was all that we cared about. After the tea at Lyons, we boarded a train at Leeds Station for a weeks honeymoon in Bridlington, West Street, staying with a friend of Mothers, Which was paid for by Mother.
My gold wedding ring was given to me by my Uncle, John Edward Fradley. He was a first cousin of my Father, and had married a first cousin of Mothers, called Annie. They all went to the same Chapel. Unfortunately Aunt Annie died on the birth of their first child, and ever afterwards when Uncle J E came to our house, he was like one of the family. His mother’s sisters brought up the baby boy, named Ernest.
Well, Uncle J E. decided to give me Aunt Annie’s ring, so on the Saturday before our wedding (on Monday 19th April), we thought I had better try to see if it fitted. I don’t know why we waited so long. Anyway, I got the ring on – it was a lovely broad band – but I couldn’t get it off. The more we tried, the more my finger swelled. It was very painful. Mother thought it would be a good idea to rest it overnight, so that when the swelling had gone down the ring could easily come off. No way – my finger was blown up like a sausage, in fact my whole hand was swollen on Monday Morning, 19th of April. I was due at Leeds Parish Church for the Ceremony at 12 Noon, so off we went in the taxi. I had on a pair of white silk gloves to cover my hands.
When the Vicar arrived and we stood at the Altar, I had to explain what happened. He looked at my hand, which was quite blue by this time, and was very understanding. He said Ralph would just have to pretend to slip on the ring. All this time the Best man and Bridesmaid were wondering what all the whispering was about. It wasn’t until afterwards that we said anything, and we all joked about it. It took about a week for the swelling to go down.
We had a wonderful honeymoon. We went for long walks as I hadn’t any money, and Ralph had only about 30 shillings. We had a lovely week and fine weather. Bridlington was a very quiet little town in those days. We walked along the beaches and the two piers, and watched the fishing boats come in, and found a little café for a cup of tea and biscuits.
When we arrived home to Carr Crofts, Mother had furnished the breakfast room. The house was quite large, and there had been servant’s quarters at one time. There was a very big kitchen, too – it was beautifully furnished with a three-piece suite, sideboard, oak table with four chairs, and a nice carpet. The kitchen was fitted up with pots and pans, and cutlery and tea sets – everything anyone could want. It seemed Mother had splashed up on fixing up a home for us, instead of a fancy wedding. Our bedroom, the attic, was fitted out too. We were very lucky really. I didn’t realize how good Mother had been. I must have been a great disappointment to her and Father.
In the meantime, Ralph had a promotion and was made relief manager of the shoe shops in surrounding districts (Sheffield, Derby, and Rotherham). He would be away for a couple of weeks at each place through the summer. That didn’t suit me at all, so I decided I would go to Rotherham to be with him. Unfortunately, it was 1926, the year after the great strike, when everything shut down. It took me about eight hours to get to Rotherham. Ralph’s face was a picture when I turned up at the shop with my suitcase. I don’t think he was very pleased at first. When we arrived at his Landladies house, she also looked a bit put out. She was called Mrs. Godlove. I didn’t care for her. She was too bossy, and she charged us double the money Ralph was paying and I had to help her with the housework too. We were there for six weeks. By then no trams were running, and buses were being driven by students. It was a dreadful time, everyone out of work, and people wondering about the streets looking strained and pale. Men stood about on street corners in groups. The pits were closed too. Eventually the Government came to terms with the Unions, and the strike ended after 26 weeks.
Mother had bought a brand new car – an Austen. Leslie learned to drive and he fetched Ralph and me back to Leeds. Mother had decided she would like to go live in Bridlington, and we were looking for a little place of our own – houses were very hard to get in those days. Very few people owned their own houses and were considered very well off if they did.
Eventually we found a tiny cottage, in New Farnley, but the Landlady was a sourpuss and wanted 20 pounds key money. Supposedly furnished, all it contained was a three-piece suite and a moth-eaten carpet. It needed decorating. It had a large living room with one bedroom and a tiny garden, and cost 10 shillings a week. We decided to take it. The landlady said no children or pets, and she was quite upset when she found out I was pregnant. She hoped I wasn’t going to have anymore.
Well, George Kemp came to our rescue again, and he painted and papered the house. It looked quite nice and very quaint. Mother said she wouldn’t sell the house until after the baby was born, but the most wonderful thing happened to us. Ralph was given the management of a small shop in Knaresborough, on the high street. Scales and Sons were very fond of Ralph, as he had risen from the Factory and gone right through the business of shoe making.
By this time Mother was trying to find someone to take on the house in New Farnley. A poor women came to see us about it, but had three children – one, a baby in arms. She was quite willing to pay 20 pounds to Mother, and went to see the Landlady with only the baby, never mentioning the other two little ones. We never knew how things worked out – the poor soul was desperate for somewhere to live.
World War One
When I was seven, the First World War started. Up till then my life had been very ordinary, with school on weekdays and Chapel on Sundays. Those four war years were horrid, and after a while news kept coming in of various families who had lost husbands, sons and sweethearts. My Uncle William, who was only 18 years old and the youngest of Mothers stepbrothers, lost his life. He was gassed when the Germans first used the poison gas. Also, Uncle John Edward was called up. He was a correspondent for Newspapers. He served overseas for three years and never got a scratch, but in later years he was mentally affected. He never married and lived a very lonely life, writing, and doing chess problems for the Newspapers. He died in 1940.
All these people were born in Lower Wortley in a Suburb of Leeds. It was a rather big village, surrounded by fields and hills with a river running through, where Cyril, Stanley and I used to paddle and play. We would go on Picnics up to Lockersdale woods and gather bluebells. We always used to eat our sandwiches and drink our Spanish water before we got to the woods. It was quite a long way really.
The rationing was the worst. We had to queue for all groceries. I remember standing for an hour many a morning before going to school, because a consignment of flour had arrived at our shop, Farnley Co-op it was called. The queue would, many a time, be quarter of a mile long (0.4 km), and two or three deep. We were allowed one stone of flour and ¼ pound of lard per week if we were lucky. We had 1 pound (1/2 kg) of butter for six people, so Mother would skim the cream off the milk, and I would beat it until it was solid enough to mix with margarine, which we would then spread onto our bread. We also had 1 pound of jam and a 2-pound tin of syrup. Coal was also in short supply, so Leslie and I used to take a bag each and go to the slag heaps which were near the pit, and scratch away to find pieces of coal. We were not the only ones either – dozens of men and women and children all dug away – some of them couldn’t even afford the coal that was rationed.
Mother still kept on sewing, and her little business was doing well. People who were working on munitions were getting fairly good wages, especially the women, and they spent at Mothers shop quite freely. By this time she had stopped making suits and overcoats – she didn’t have the time to spend on the finishing work. It was easier to make dresses, shirts, blouses and kiddies things. As time went on she began to complain bitterly about the taxes the Government put on all money earned. Because of this, she always did her own book keeping and had two sets of books – one for the taxman, and one for Edith. She would say she was afraid to take the weekly takings to the local bank, as the manager was always saying she must have a gold mine, so she had to think of some way to save her money and keep it safe.
As I said earlier on, Mother always bought rolls of material. One day I was watching her unroll a huge bolt of flannelette, right back to the board it was wound on. To my amazement she began to rewind the bolt, but after a few turns she would place a packet of 1 pound notes – sometimes as many as fifty at a time, then roll a bit more cloth and another packet of notes – but only halfway. Then she would start on another bolt. She went for quite a long time – a year or so I would think – with all the spare cash. We were all sworn to secrecy. Eventually though, it began to be too much of a worry, so she decided to go to the Halifax Building Society. She realized, I suppose, that it was better to pay a bit of tax and be safe, rather then have all that money stashed in the shop. She also took out a big insurance – 10 pounds per week for 30 years – that was big money in those days. In 1925 Mother bought four nice houses in Bridlington and rented them out.
I left school at 13 years of age, and of course wanted to go work in the Mill, weaving, but Mother was horrified because it was considered common. So I had to make up my mind whether to stay at home and help in the house and shop, or go work in a factory at sewing. I hated both, but went out to sew at John Barrows Factory. I hadn’t been there very long when Mother began to be poorly, and I had to stay home and help. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it must have been the menopause. Anyway she didn’t get any better so she decided to sell the business and retire. She bought a house in Great Yarmouth, where Mother and us four children went to live, Dad stayed in Leeds. Unfortunately it didn’t suit either Mother or Leslie, but I was in Seventh Heaven. I really thrived in the warm climate and got a job in a Café on the seafront, selling cigarettes and chocolates. We knew quite a few people there, as we had spent many holidays there in summer. I was 14 years old and the twins were 10. Leslie who was then about 19+ couldn’t find any work. After six months, Mother was still unwell, and I could only get seasonal work in a shop. Because of this, Mother sold the house and we moved back up to Yorkshire.
Mother bought a nice house in Bramley, Leeds, and I got myself a job in Betty’s printing firm, not far from our house. I laid gold on book spines, which I really enjoyed. We joined the Ebenezer Chapel, and Leslie and I were in the choir, where we made quite a lot of friends; one of which was Ralph Pemberton Pearson.
Edith Hepper & Joseph Walker (my great x2 grandparents)
Mother met my Father in Chapel where they were both in the Choir, and against her stepfathers wishes they were married at the Bull Ring Methodist Chapel in Lower Wortley. So after making her own wedding dress, and Father’s wedding suit, she was a fully experienced tailoress and they were married on the 1st of October 1901. They rented a very nice little house in Coldon, in the new Blackpool part of the village of Wortley.
Father worked in the railway and got 15 shillings per week, so Mother looked after her nice little house and did outside work for the same family – that is, she brought home dozens of suits and overcoats to sew at home, so she could be at home to look after Dad as well, as he was on shift-work – a cleaner of engines at that time.
After being married for two years my brother Leslie was born, on the 16th of February 1903. About this time, Mother began to get restless. She felt she wasn’t getting anywhere and she didn’t just want to be a housewife all her life. She was ambitious and very intelligent. In fact, she worked and saved as much as she could, and even bought a brand new piano; which caused quite a stir amongst their friends. They were big Chapelgoer’s – both Mother and Dad sang in the Choir. Eventually a small shop became empty in Wortley village proper near the Tram Terminus (by this time they were power driven). So Mother, Dad and Leslie moved into this old house and shop. Everyone told Mother it was a wrong move; but she wanted a business of her own.
She opened her little shop at Whitsuntide, Saturday 1905, with ribbons and lace and cottons, needles and pins. She made pretty baby dresses and petticoats, long gowns and Christening robes; as in Whitsuntide all parents tried to dress up their children in new frocks and clothes and pretty ribbons for the Whit Sunday walk (or Pentecost Sunday – the seventh Sunday after Easter). This was when all the children would set off from the Chapel, the Methodists, hundreds of them; and walk up to Western Flatts Park. There, the Choir and a band played Whitsuntide hymns that they had been learning for weeks. On Whitsuntide Sunday everyone met in a big meadow by the river and there were sports and stalls. All the ladies brought cakes, buns, sandwiches and fruit. It was a great day, and everyone joined in with races: sack races, egg and spoon races and tug-of-war for the men. That is all gone now – the Government saw fit to do away with Whitsuntide completely and have altered the date to call it spring holidays now.
Anyway, Mother took 25 shillings in her little shop on that Whit Sunday, and she was so proud and pleased. She got a Joiner to come and put up lots of shelves and a new shop window – a large one as the other was only a house window, and not very big.
Then she sewed and sewed day and night. She made everything she sold in the shop – from men’s suits’ and overcoats to ladies dresses and costumes, to sheets and pillowcases. Everything one could think of, she made on an old Singer jumbo Treadle machine – a great big ugly thing, it was part of all our lives. Oh I hated it, from the time I was old enough to understand what it was all about. It just dominated everything, but Mother was established and everyone called her little Mrs. Walker. She wasn’t very tall, and she was only comfortable sewing and looking after her shop, owing to her disfigured face.
In 1907 I was born, and Christened Phyllis Walker. It was on Christmas day – a cold and snowy day, and the Chapel Choir had come round to sing Christmas Carols outside the house. They were invited in for cake and ginger wine, but Mother was in the throes of labour and Dad had to ask them all to go away. I arrived about 3pm. Of course everyone was delighted I was a girl.
About his time also, my poor Auntie Violet found herself pregnant, and her little boy was born on the 5th of November 1904. She never did say who the father was, a fact which upset my mother dreadfully as poor Violet was definitely taken advantage of; although, in later years it turned out a good thing as he took care of her until she died. He was then 32, and not till then did he marry – he was a very good lad, and worked hard in the building trade, eventually becoming a master builder.
My earliest recollections were when I attended kindergarten school – I must have been only three, because I remember being given a coronation mug by our teacher on the occasion of George the Fifth’s accession to the throne in 1910. I also remember having chicken pox when I was about five years old. It was as my Father was going to work, he kissed my Mother goodbye and I ran to him for a kiss also, but he said, “I can’t kiss you – I don’t want any spots”. I was quite upset, and don’t remember his ever kissing me again.
She would be cutting out some garment or other on the table, and humming a I was about seven or eight when my mother used to tell me little bits about my Grandparents and other members of the family tune to herself. She was always very happy when she was sewing or making something, and the tune was a popular music hall ditty, Two Little Girls in Blue. I would stand there watching and I had only to ask a question regarding the family and she was away talking – more to herself than to me, but it was all very interesting. One story was about how, when she was a small girl, any man who wouldn’t work or was a wife basher would be caught – the men in the village would lie in wait, and grab him. Then they’d tar and feather him, and wheel him in a wheelbarrow all round the village, while the people pelted him with rotten fruit and other things. It cured the chap of wife beating at least – it’s a pity it isn’t done today. In lots of cases the victim used to go into the Army to take the Kings shillings.
Stanley & Cyril (1911)
In 1911, four years after me, my twin brothers were born – Stanley and Cyril. They were both very sickly babies and didn’t thrive as well as Leslie and I. They were two years old before they could even walk. I had to wheel them out in the pram – a high boat-shaped thing with large wheels, which took quite a bit of steering. Of course I upset it, and both babies ended up on the pavement. Someone flew to tell my Mother. Fortunately they must have been quite tough – they were all right, but I got a good belting. Needless to say I wasn’t trusted with them anymore.
About this time I suppose Mother realized she couldn’t manage to look after the business, sew, cook, and look after two babies besides Leslie and me, so she employed a maid; Mary Stockell. She was a good-natured person of about 30 I should say, and things were a bit easier; but Mother still sewed and journeyed to Leeds every Tuesday afternoon to the warehouses to buy bolts of cloth, linen, flannelette, cotton, yards of lace and ribbons for trimmings. It used to be very exciting opening all the parcels. Every piece of brown paper and string had to be saved so they could be used again in the shop.
When I was 10 my mother taught me how to bake. She used to put a stone of flour in a big earthenware crock, with yeast and lard. I had to knead and knead until it was nice dough – just the right consistency. I really loved the baking days. It smelled so lovely; newly baked bread done in a big old-fashioned range. There were six 2-pound loaves and three flat oven cakes, which Mother used to wrap in a tea towel and put on the doorstep to cool by the time we came home from school. I can tell you, nothing was ever so marvellous as the taste of that fresh oven cake spread with nice butter and golden syrup.
I haven’t said much about my Father’s parents. They lived quite a long way from us, so we didn’t see them very often. My father was one of five boys and three girls. Dad’s mother died at an early age, and Grandfather remarried. She wasn’t thought much of by my Father and Mother, so I suppose that’s why we didn’t visit. Father’s brothers were very nice though. They all worked on the railway and all became drivers. There weren’t many other types of work in our village, except the Pit, which employed a lot of the men although it was poorly paid and dangerous, or to go into the spinning or weaving sheds at the Mill.
I used to lie in bed and hear the women clattering past our house at six in the morning, calling out to each other. They all wore big, black, heavy shawls to keep out the cold and wooden clogs. We would snuggle back under the bed-cloths until it was time to go to school. The women would trudge back again at six in the evening, too tired to talk. It was a very hard life – there didn’t seem to be much joy for them, what with having children and slaving in the Mill. It was called Nussey Mill.
Everyone came to Mother for clothes and household linens. She used to have clubs where the customers paid as much as they could each week – some as low as sixpence – but they were very honest, even the poor, and Mother was always very fair. She often gave them little gifts if they paid without missing.
Father had risen from cleaner foreman to driver by this time, and got two pounds a week; but there was always trouble on the Railways over the wages. In fact, in every type of work – the coal miners were giving a lot of trouble, for which I don’t blame them; they had to work in such appalling conditions. Even the men who used to go round and knock up the workers who were on shift work. They used to go round to all the houses and tap with a long stick on the bedroom windows to wake up the one who was on early shift – they shouted to my Father, “Come on Joe!” it would be two-o-clock and fine, or pouring as the day may be, and Dad got up quietly without a grumble. But we liked him to get up in the early morning because he always had a lovely fire burning for us to come down to, and the kettle boiling on the hob. That was a real treat. On other mornings we would come down shivering until Mary had got things moving.
Dad worked on the railway, as did his three brothers. The youngest one died at 18. Altogether there were five boys and one girl. Their father died and their mother remarried, having a further three children. They lived quite a way off so we didn’t see much of them. The brothers all seemed to have large families – in fact one of them, Arthur and his wife Violet had 14 children, all still alive. He was a lovely man, small but very funny, always laughing and full of jokes. He had a wonderful sense of humour – I guess he would have, with 14 kids. He was very much like Stanley, our Cyril’s twin, who was just the same in his younger days.
All four of us went to Lower Wortley Board School. Leslie took piano lessons, but I didn’t do much – either at piano, or at school. I couldn’t take it in, and I hated Arithmetic. I liked History and Geography and Reading. Mother taught me to sew – another thing I hated, but had to do. I sewed all the straight seams on sheets and pillowcases, and side seams on men’s shirts.
How I loathed that machine! The only time it was covered was on Sunday when we all went to Chapel, and on lovely warm days in the Summer when we would go for walks across the fields to Farnley, or to Bramley to a cousin of Mother’s, cousin Clara. She was a singer and sang in the musicals at such Chapel’s like the Brunswick in Leeds. Mother always looked so smart on the occasions, wearing a nice dress and a huge hat that covered her face, and a feather boa slung round her neck.
I loved to dress up in her hat and boa – I fancied myself – but if I was caught I was in trouble. In fact I was always in trouble; I must have been quite a trial I think.
I always wanted to go out and play, or wanted to read. But Mother didn’t believe in idling about, and Leslie and I had to clean all the brasses – the brass fender, tongs, shovel, poker and brass dogs. We were very pleased when they were sold as they became old-fashioned, when nickel silver was all the rage.
When the twins were seven, Cyril caught double pneumonia, and was very ill. For weeks he was near death, and Mother stayed up every night poulticing him. The doctor had given up on him days ago, when Mother decided to use an old remedy given to her by an old wife; it was to heat up goose grease in the oven. She made a chest protection of flannel and soaked it in the goose grease and placed one on his chest and one on his back. Eventually Cyril started to breathe again. This whole house reeked of this fat, it was awful but Mother saved his life. The doctor was amazed when he came again; he fully expected to find a dead boy. It was two years before Cyril could walk properly – we used to have to wheel him around in a pushchair. One lung was gone, and he walked with one shoulder down for a long time.
Anyway, Mother took us all on holiday to Brighton. Father would get three free passes a year with working on the railway, so we generally had a holiday once a year. We went to Great Yarmouth, Bridlington, St Leonard’s, and Brighten, but mostly we went to Bridlington; and once we went to Blackpool where I got lost and was taken to the Police Station. When Mother and Father came to collect me I was eating a slice of bread and jam, and telling them I lived near Granny Lane. Evidently, the Police were highly amused, but I was only very young. After that I always had a tag pinned to my dress to say where I lived.
Sometimes we went on picnics Sunday afternoon. We used to go to Lockersdale Woods – a beauty spot near us. One Sunday, mother decided it would be nice to take a little train ride to a lovely little village called Arthington. It was a lovely train ride and of course we were all delighted to set off for the Station, but some how Dad got mixed up with the trains, and we arrived at Seacroft, another little village, but nowhere near Arthington. Poor Dad, he was never allowed to forget it – that he worked on the railway and couldn’t find his way to Arthington. Mother was very strong-willed and took the lead in everything. Maybe it was a good thing she did, as Father always took the easy way out.
Memoirs written by Phyllis Walker, my great-grandmother, for her daughter Carol Pearson (grandmother). Some dates & information is incorrect, but I have left it all as is because this is what Phyllis wrote down from her memory. For instance, ‘John Edward Hepper’ in the first paragraph should actually be ‘Edward Tesseyman Hepper’.
1979, 226 Stanningly Rd, Bramley, Leeds 13.
The family history as far back as I can recall – also recollections of my mother reflected to me when I was a child. This is approximate; I am only going to write on what my Mother told me when I was seven or eight.
Sarah & Sam Smith (my great x3 grandparents)
Mothers Grandparents named Sarah and Sam Smith married about 1820. They had three children; Sam, Polly and Ann. I’m not quite sure of dates.
Ann Smith & John Edward Hepper (my great x2 grandparents)
Ann married John Edward Hepper in about 1845 and had two daughters, Edith Ann, my Mother, born on the 12th February 1878 in Tong Rd, Wortley, Leeds 12, and her sister Violet born in 1890. I never knew my Grandparents, Anne and Edward Hepper. They had a tailor’s shop in Tong Rd and had a good business. They had one or two men helping to make suit’s etc. My Grandmother was also a sewer. She finished off garments and made buttonholes – things that were always done by hand in those days.
My Grandfather, I was told, was very smart. He always wore a frock coat, tall hat and striped trousers, and always hired a hansom cab when going into Leeds to buy bolts of cloth and cottons and linings. His picture shows a stern looking man with full black beard and moustache. In the same photo my Grandmother is sat looking anything but happy, with Aunty Violet on her knee. My mother sat alongside, holding a little basket – she would have been about three years old at the time.
All went well until two years later, when mother was five. She was playing in the street with some other children at Ring o’ Roses, when a horse took fright and bolted. It knocked over my mother and trampled her face. All the other children ran to safety, but my mother was taken to Leeds Infirmary. She was blind for six months.
The doctors said they would operate on her face when she had fully recovered, but my Grandparents refused to have her operated on. They said it was God’s will. He had seen fit to restore her sight, but her face was left all scarred on the right side. The left side was really pretty – it was very sad because the accident affected her for the rest of her life. She was always conscious of her defect, although we never noticed anything wrong with her because we got used to seeing her.
About this time my Grandfather became ill, and after only a few months, died of consumption in 1884 at the age of 45. He left my poor Grandmother a widow at 26, with two little girls to bring up. She had to come out of the shop, because men would not work for a woman in those days. She moved into a tiny cottage in Lower Wortley, and took in sewing to make a meagre living. This was in about 1886, when work was very scarce.
She struggled on for four years, until she had a marriage offer from a man named George Dodgson. He was a foreman at the Farnley Brick Works. In the end Grandmother accepted him – she must have been really sick of trying to make ends meet. He became Mother’s stepfather. Then, of course, more children began arriving. Poor Ann had five babies in less than ten years. Of course mother had to help bring them up, and there was still not enough money for a decent living.
The other children were named Harry, Orlando (Lander), John Edward, William and one girl called Sarah Emma, who is the last one alive at this date (1981). She is about 80. Harry married and had a boy and a girl. John Edward never married; he was a correspondent during World War I. William was killed in 1914, just 18 years old. Lander married and had five children – four boys and one girl (I’ve lost touch with them) and Sarah Emma married late in her life and had no family.
Mother had to help bring up her brothers and sisters because Grandmother was sick most of the time. Consequently, Mother didn’t receive much schooling – it was a penny a week in those days, which meant two pennies a week because Aunty Violet also went to school. In any event, Aunty Violet wasn’t very bright and didn’t want to learn. After a while she stayed at home, but she would never help, and sulked most of the time. She was always very difficult even in later years. She never married, although she had a child – a boy she called Edward.
Anyway, at just turned 40 years of age, Grandmother died. She was worn out with bearing children and trying to manage. Mother then got a job in a factory in the City of Leeds, at about 14 years of age. She walked to work in the morning and back again every night – about three miles each way (5 km).
Grandfather Dodgson was a very hard man. He ruled the family of seven children with a rod of iron. Mother led a very miserable life, helping to feed and clothe them all, not receiving any thanks. Aunty Violet was no help at all, and seemed to get away with anything she wanted – it evidently paid to be dumb. She was the same throughout her life. Her son, my cousin Edward, looked after his mother very well and was exceptionally good to her until she died in 1958.
My great-grandmother Phyllis Walker’s speech at ‘Toastmistress':
My husband and I moved from Yorkshire to a small market town called Leominster, in the heart of Herefordshire, with a population of 7,000. Everyone knew each other; it was a very close-knit community. We were considered foreigners for quite a long time.
Leominster is a very old town, even today, with narrow streets, alleyways and black and white buildings. It goes far back in history to when there was only a handful of cottages and a Priory Church dating back to 600.
The Kings and Queens of England passed through Leominster on their way to Ludlow Castle, for the hunting in the surrounding forests. Our hotel, the “Golden Lion” was situated on the outskirts of the town it was an old coaching Inn, with accommodation for horses in the large stables behind the building. We had 12 acres of Meadowland with a river running through it, a large kitchen, garden and an Orchard. The Royal Cavalcade would pass by on this road, which was a narrow cart track then.
In the cobble-stoned market place every Boxing Day, the local Gentry would meet for the hunt. It was a marvellous sight, the men in bright red coats and the ladies in their smart riding habits, with quite a lot of children in their Jodhpurs, sitting so proudly on their ponies, the stewards running backwards and forwards with hot snacks and the stirrup cup. At 11am the Master of fox hounds would blow his horn and the meet would move, horses snorting, hounds trotting round, the breaths rising like steam in the cold crisp morning air, and a lot of the residents following on foot – all after one little fox. Sometimes he got away.
I wonder if any of you have ever seen this type of thing before? This is a Ducking Stool. It was used for nagging wives and shrews that had misbehaved. The women were strapped onto the chair, then ducked in the pond until they promised to be good. The last time the stool was used on a person, was on a woman called Mary Ellen Hughes in the year 1900. The original chair stands today in the Priory Church as a grim reminder.
In the year 1600 when Queen Elizabeth the 1st and Mary, Queen of Scots were having their religious wars, a local parson by the name of John Cadwalader was found guilty of being a Heretic, and was hung, drawn and quartered, at the Cross roads in the centre of the Town; after which the locals placed an Iron Cross on the spot where the dreadful deed had taken place. Even today it is still known as the Iron Cross.
We had two bars in our hotel, the Lounge bar, and the Public bar where farmers and locals came in for drinks and to play cards, dominoes and darts, and tell yarns of days gone by which were very interesting. After a while we were accepted – it was like having a large family coming in every night. Each year on 12th night, I would buy and cook a Baron of Beef, and at 9 pm I would ask one of the men to carry in the huge piece of hot beef. I would slice the meat, and every customer received two pieces of crusty bread and a slice of beef. There were lots of pickles and cheese for afters. It was a great Old English night, and a good time was had by all.
The winter of 1965 was a very hard one. Snow began falling early Jan, and continued until the middle of March. It snowed and froze for weeks on end. The roads and paths were up to three feet deep, and our meadow looked really beautiful. The trees were covered with thick snow, and looked like cotton wool on the branches. The river was frozen over, and both adults and children enjoyed the skating and sledging. Personally, I would rather see it on a postcard.
After a while, it just became a way of life. The farmers still came round in the evenings to tell us how many lambs they had lost, and how many sheep had frozen to death. It was very sad, but as time went on to March, the weather turned slightly warmer. The ice began to melt and great pools of water appeared on roads and pasture. Talk in the bar turned to floods, and how many there had been over the years; although we didn’t take a lot of notice and carried on as usual – although we were advised to keep our Wellington boots handy, just in case they were needed (in NZ are they are called gumboots?) – I even began to feel a bit of excitement at the thought.
Leominster is only nine miles from the border of Wales, amidst the Welsh mountains. The huge Caewen Dam was built in 1956 and was opened by the Queen to supply the whole of Birmingham with water. When, at various times, the Dam was too full, the Sluice gates were opened to relieve the pressure, and millions of gallons of water poured down into the valleys. The river overflowed, and the backwash flooded Leominster and surrounding districts.
We all know what a common commodity water is. But it can also be cruel and take lives.
On the 18th of March, we went to bed as usual, after clearing up and seeing the customers off the premises. In the early hours of the morning we were wakened by a furious knocking on the back door, and a voice calling,
“Get up Mister, the floods be up!”
Still half asleep, we scrambled into our clothes and started down the stairs. My husband was down first. On reaching the bottom, he stepped into icy cold water, and called out to me to get our boots. On opening the back door, we found that our farmer friend had trudged quite a long way to warn us. On going into the cellar, which was on the ground floor, I saw our boots, which were full of water. After emptying them out, and drying them as best we could, they were still wet and cold. The farmer then told us to go open the front door. We literally gaped at him, and said,
“Open the front door? Why?”
“To let the water out, of course,” said he.
We sloshed our way through the Lounge bar, and saw the sense of it, as water was building up and had already covered the fire place, and was swirling round the piano. My lovely Axminster carpet was buried under a pool of water. When we opened the double doors there was a river outside, instead of a road. All kinds of debris were floating down the main street – chairs, bar stools, dead chickens, a lamb or two – it was horrible.
Two men were rowing down the middle. They had a lantern and were calling out to the residents to hand their children into the boat, to be taken to the Church Hall. By 8 am, most of the families had been rescued.
I was fortunate in having a gas cooker- I could make cups of tea and do a little cooking; but it was a nightmare, and I had to pinch myself to see if it was really happening.
Strangely enough, business didn’t suffer at all. It became quite the thing to come down to the “Lion” by boat. We put boards on top of boxes, for customers to stand on, so they wouldn’t get their feet wet. We did a roaring trade – the local council had stacked sandbags all round the back door. They didn’t keep the water out, but they did filter it a bit because there were fish and frogs and all kinds of little animals that had been washed up. This dreadful state of affairs continued for three days, and I didn’t think it was exciting anymore. The water began to go down, and left a thick layer of mud everywhere. It took us weeks to clear it away and get things dried out. We had to decorate to cover the watermarks on the walls, and the cold and damp stayed with us for ages, in spite of huge fires.
We had three floods in two years, but none as bad as that first one. The local government improved the situation by widening the river and digging it out. That was the end of floods in our part of the world.