I Remember… Childhood Memories of Wartime Mitcham

Local History Notes 7: by Irene Bain

Those who remember the War years will have very vivid memories of all that happened:- of the sudden changes – the house and family across the road that were not there next morning – the ‘culture shock’ of evacuation, etc., etc. Irene Bain has remembered, vividly, life in Mitcham during the War, as it was for a family. For those who weren’t there, this is what it was like.


Review by Margaret Carr in MHS Bulletin 110 (Jun 1994)


Use was now made of the precious items of food hoarded for just this purpose. Vases were filled
with flowers picked from our gardens and set out at intervals down the tables, which were soon
laden with plates of food. All of us children went to the party with our brothers and sisters, and
the babies were carried along, too. I wore my best dress and the recently bought wooden soled
sandals I was so proud of.

Use was now made of the precious items of food hoarded for just this purpose. Vases were filled
with flowers picked from our gardens and set out at intervals down the tables, which were soon
laden with plates of food. All of us children went to the party with our brothers and sisters, and
the babies were carried along, too. I wore my best dress and the recently bought wooden soled
sandals I was so proud of.

At the end of the party one of the only two car owners, a taxi driver, sat at a little table and handed
out to each child in the road a sixpence.

In the evening the adults had their celebrations. There was to be dancing in the streets. A special,
exciting atmosphere could be felt as night fell and bonfires were lit and their sparks flew up in the
darkness. I went to watch the party in Almond Way where my school friend lived. There was quite
a gathering there with a gramophone playing and dancing going on. A plump, elderly lady of staid
and sober habits, whom I knew from church and was a little in awe of, had on a smart new dark
red dress for the occasion. I was so surprised to see her leading the line in the conga.

Later, on VJ-Day, I also went up to town with a friend and was one of the crowd outside the Houses
of Parliament. The whole of the surrounding area was packed with people as far as the eye could
see. People climbed upon the lampposts and any high point possible. One soldier was reclining
cheerily in a chair belonging to one of the statues. It was all high spirited and very, very happy.
However, there was a point when the mounted police were clearing a path for a car when I felt
quite faint as the crowd surged all around and the horses reared up in front of us. Then Winston
Churchill came through in an open car, waving to us all on his way to Parliament. The war was
well and truly over.

ISBN 1 903899 31 1
Published by Merton Historical Society – February 1994

Further information on Merton Historical Society can be obtained from the Society’s website at
www.mertonhistoricalsociety.org.uk , or from
Merton Library & Heritage Service, Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden, Surrey. SM4 5DX

MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
LOCAL HISTORY NOTES – 7
I Remember
Childhood Memories of Wartime Mitcham
By Irene Bain – 1993
“The day war broke out, my wife said to me…” was a popular saying of the comedian Rob Wilton
on the wireless during the Second World War. He started his act with this phrase and then went
on to relate some funny happening. However, the saying itself was considered highly amusing and
was what is now known as a catchphrase and repeated often throughout the war.

The day the war broke out or, rather, the morning the war started, I was nine years old. I lived
at No. 56 New Barnes Avenue, one of the roads leading off the far end of Commonside East, with
my mother and father and my brother, Peter, who was a year younger than me. It was a bright,
sunny Sunday morning and I was in my bedroom playing when my mother came in to make the
bed and tidy up. She had a light scarf tied in a triangular fashion over and under her hair to keep
any dust from it. She was crying as she made the bed and I asked her why. How could a nine year
old have any understanding of the fears one’s parents would have under those circumstances? It
must have been terrible for them. My mother was a lovely, kind and caring lady. I sensed her tears
were for a wider issue, which I could not comprehend. The siren sounded. It was our first air raid
warning. We looked out of the window at the clear blue sky but could see nothing. It was
apparently a false alarm, people said, caused by one lone plane crossing the channel, but we
believed it was a sort of test to let the public begin to understand how the system worked and
prepare them for what was to come.

Previously, I had sat in the corner of the living room listening to the wireless broadcast of
Chamberlain returning from his visit to see Hitler and waving a piece of paper – “Peace in our time”!
I pictured him in my mind getting off the aeroplane at Croydon airport, which I knew, but this, of
course happened at Heston airport. The wireless had an aerial which was strung between long
metal poles down the garden. It also had a large accumulator which had to be re-charged and I
remember taking it up to Long & Watson’s electrical shop in Northborough Road. It had to be
carried by its handle very carefully because the acid could spill and burn you. It cost half-a-crown
to have this done and was a great deal of money then.

Previously, I had sat in the corner of the living room listening to the wireless broadcast of
Chamberlain returning from his visit to see Hitler and waving a piece of paper – “Peace in our time”!
I pictured him in my mind getting off the aeroplane at Croydon airport, which I knew, but this, of
course happened at Heston airport. The wireless had an aerial which was strung between long
metal poles down the garden. It also had a large accumulator which had to be re-charged and I
remember taking it up to Long & Watson’s electrical shop in Northborough Road. It had to be
carried by its handle very carefully because the acid could spill and burn you. It cost half-a-crown
to have this done and was a great deal of money then.

A man had come to the house with our gas masks. He fitted them on and showed us how to use
them. What a nasty rubbery smell they had! They had their own small square brown cardboard
box and were to be taken with us whenever we went out. There was a string for a strap and we
carried them over our shoulders. Later more attractive carrying cases were for sale. The man
showed us a Mickey Mouse gas mask for very little children. It had a brick reddish coloured face,
a peculiar flap of a nose and round black rimmed eyes. It did not look attractive to me. He also
showed us a respirator for little babies. This had a square shaped perspex visor to be able to see
the baby through. You put the baby inside this contraption and the mother would have to use a
hand pump to keep the baby alive. These things were accepted as part of life.

One morning as I was playing in the back yard our neighbour’s daughter called Dad to the fence.
She then told him she was just going off to get married. Her husband-to-be was in the forces and
was going abroad. Later on he was to become a prisoner of the Japanese and work on the notorious
Burma railway.

A friend of mine lived seven doors up the road from me. In those days one knew the names of nearly
everyone in the street. I can remember the names of our nearest neighbours even now and picture
them in my mind. Her father found the skeleton of a cow in the garden whilst digging the hole for
their Anderson shelter. This showed how rural Mitcham once was. Our houses were built on the
land of New Barnes Farm – hence New Barnes Avenue. Dad always used to say that the gate posts
for the big house were beneath our alleyway. This would be the Watney brewery people who had
a house nearby, also noted by Watneys Road, which crossed near our section of the common.

Our first shelter was also outside in the garden, but was square, built of brick and stood above
ground. It had a flat concrete roof and was quite near the house. The cement between the bricks
looked very sandy to me. It had wooden bunks inside, but the roof leaked and my mother used
to sit there at night holding an umbrella over my brother and I when it rained.

Public shelters were dug all over Mitcham and a few remained, but forgotten, until quite recently.
It is just possible that one still exists somewhere. We had several in my Sherwood Park School
grounds for the children and teachers. When the air raid warning went we would file out in an
orderly way, with our teacher, class by class, down to the shelters. We spent many hours down
there in total and this did no good to our education. We would sing songs, play the whispering
telephone game, or just sit and wait for the raid to finish.

2

There was a Lyon’s tea shop near where I got off my bus for work and sometimes, if you were lucky,
they had some of their individual fruit pies in – a rare occasion. I had always liked these square
shaped pies and in the war, with fillings hard to come by, it was rumoured that this was in fact turnip
flavoured with something or other. Whether this was so or not, I do not know, but they certainly
tasted fine and it was good to be able to take some home to mother, to supplement the rations.

Then, whilst I was working in London, came the day of the D-Day landings. The excitement was
electric in Oxford Street that morning as everyone swarmed around the news vendors to buy the
papers and read all about it. When I jumped off my bus I ran to join the scramble, too.

With the V2s targeted mainly on London, I decided to give up working in Oxford Street and to
find something nearer home. I was then fourteen and a half years old. I got a job in Towers
Creameries (newly built after the landmine) as a messenger girl. The pay was eighteen shillings
and sixpence per week as opposed to the twenty-seven shillings and sixpence per week from C &
A, but there would be no fares to pay. So, after vowing never to work in an office, there I was
set for life on this course. The job was only a short walk away and I could go home at lunch times
if I wanted to. Another friend in the road worked there, too, and if there was a raid on we would
walk together along the ditch on the edge of the common for protection.

At one time a small group of Italian prisoners of war were working in the factory. They worked
on what was known as the Solvat platform and were allowed to cook their own meals there. The
factory, amongst other things, recycled shipwrecked butter. My job as a messenger girl took me
all over the works and I can remember seeing this group of men who, when I passed near them,
curiously smelled of sultanas! I did not fraternise, for that would have been against the rules, not
of the factory owners, but the other workers.

It was also quite usual at this time to see small groups of rather good-looking blond-haired German
prisoners of war standing in the backs of lorries being ferried about to help clear up the rubble from
bomb damage. They also called out as they passed but in no way did you acknowledge them.

Later I worked in an office with two or three people much older than me, for I was the office junior.
One of the ladies was very nearly deaf. She was a bubbly person with a good sense of humour.
She told of how she had gone to her doctor to ask his advice about this deafness and he had asked
her if she had perhaps been near a very loud noise. She answered, “No,” but then, on reflection
remembered, “Oh, yes, we did have a bomb drop next door”!

After D-Day the tide of the war turned in our favour and the idea that peace could actually come
at last and the War be over filled our minds. This was what we had lived for all these years.

I remember the time of the Allies overrunning the concentration camps. Walking to work with
another friend on a gorgeous summer morning, we expressed our disgust at the Germans and what
had been found in these camps. The morning papers were full of it all. Never had anything so awful
been seen before. The horror of it was overwhelming and the newsreels at the cinema showed
much more to come.

VE Day came at last – what a day! Mum and Dad went up to London to join the crowds for this
momentous occasion.

Then came the Street Party. A group of women in the street formed a committee to organise it.
On the actual day trestle tables were set up down the centre of the road and covered with cloths.
Chairs were brought out of the houses and arranged down each side. There was no fear of traffic
then for only two people in the whole road owned cars.

15

The V1 rockets started to arrive. They were amazing things to watch in daylight as they hurtled
across the skyline, flames pouring from the back of them. We used to stand in the back garden
and watch them in the distance. They made a terrible noise that filled the air. They seemed to travel
too fast, even for themselves. Then the noise would stop and the silence they left could be felt.
It was frightening because this is when they drifted in the air currents, and who knew where they
would fall, for there was death. Then we would hear the explosion and know that something
terrible had happened to some poor people somewhere.

The V1 rockets started to arrive. They were amazing things to watch in daylight as they hurtled
across the skyline, flames pouring from the back of them. We used to stand in the back garden
and watch them in the distance. They made a terrible noise that filled the air. They seemed to travel
too fast, even for themselves. Then the noise would stop and the silence they left could be felt.
It was frightening because this is when they drifted in the air currents, and who knew where they
would fall, for there was death. Then we would hear the explosion and know that something
terrible had happened to some poor people somewhere.

A similar incident happened to Dad when he was going to his allotment one day. He looked up
and to his horror saw a rocket drifting down towards where he was. He crouched low into the
hedge for any protection he could get when suddenly a current of air caught it and lifted it up and
away.

It may seem odd that at times we were out during raids, but often it just happened that way. If it
was deemed safe to go out on occasions one did. Life had to go on and at times you had to take
chances.

It was around this time that I had left school and gone to work in C & A Modes store in Oxford
Street as a window dresser. I was fourteen years old. It was nothing to come home in the evening
and find Mum and Dad clearing up because roof tiles had been blown down, a ceiling was down
or the front windows had been blown out. If I came home via Tooting Broadway tube, I would
see people on the platform with their bedding already preparing a place to sleep the night. Coming
home from work one day as I got off the bus at the Horse & Groom a lady was waiting for a young
woman passenger. She had bad news to tell and put her arm around her and led her away crying.
This must have been the evening of the day mother and the others avoided the rocket.

Then the V2 rockets started to arrive. They were worse even than the V1s, in that they just dropped
out of the sky. No warning noise, no engine cutting out, they just exploded on impact. They were
falling all over London. One landed opposite the Middlesex Hospital at the back of where I was
working. We went to look at the damage in our lunchtime. The devastation was terrible to see.
The very tall London houses had been demolished and others sliced through, so that you saw the
rooms and fireplaces, with personal things hanging up there – remnants of peoples lives.

The Yanks, or dough boys, as they were called (because they were paid more than our British
Forces, which caused much jealousy) were everywhere in London at that time. Their being there
did not have any effect on me, for I was certainly a late developer! However, one Yank did call
out “Hiya, red,” to me in the tube one day, and I remember being most surprised that he should
find me remotely interesting and concluded that he was hard up for company!

14

Sometimes it would be a short raid and sometimes a very long one. Another way the teachers
thought of to use the time was to get us to recite our tables. One child would have to start “Once
two is two” – the next child “two twos are four”, on and on and round and round. This was all right
until we got to the seven, eight and nine times tables, when I would be in an agony of getting it
wrong. This was a nightmare to me, as I was hopeless at arithmetic.

The shelters were dimly lit and dank. They had wooden seating and duckboards to keep our feet
out of the water which formed into puddles now and again. Eventually, the All Clear would sound
and we would all file out singing. “We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing On the Siegfried Line
(Have you any dirty washing, mother dear)” was a favourite and gave one a happy feeling, and it
was good to be out in the air again.

There were street shelters, too. These were long and built of brick with flat concrete roofs just
like our garden shelter. They had rows of metal bunk beds in. There was one in Dahlia Gardens,
where we slept several times. There were a couple in Sherwood Park Road, but we didn’t sleep
there.

One of these shelters was damaged by a flying bomb and this ties up with a happening recorded
later on. I understand that someone concerned in the building of these shelters had some sort of
fiddle going and did not use the correct mix in the cement, making the shelters unfit for their proper
function. We did not know this when they were first built.

Dad was a male nurse and worked at Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. This hospital stood
in massive countrified grounds and even had its own farm and slaughtered its own animals. Dad
cycled to and from work through Tamworth Lane. I can remember him arriving home late from
work one night. He was travelling through the blackout during the first barrage. He had reached
the railway crossing when it started. He described the darkness broken by searchlights, the guns
firing all around him and the shrapnel falling. How relieved we were to have him safely home. We
children would go out in the mornings and search for shrapnel in the streets. We used to find a
lot of this heavy grey metal, often with screw markings in it.

Winston Churchill was affectionately known as “Winnie” during the war. He had a face somewhat
resembling a bulldog and a short, sturdy body. We saw him on the newsreels at the pictures. His
personality was as far-reaching as his oratory and he rose to be the figurehead of our hopes and
endeavours during these terrifying times. We hung onto every word of his speeches, which were
broadcast at intervals. From this most outstanding character of our time we received fresh hope
and courage. The famous phrase taken from one of his earlier speeches, in answer to something
Hitler had said, “Some chicken, some neck”, was made into a song which we heard on the wireless

-“Some chicken, some neck, some chicken, by heck…”
There were many slogans about and posters appeared with pictures and captions which read
“Careless talk costs lives” and “I trust you’ll pardon my correction, but that stuff’s put there for
your protection”. This last one showed a man persuading someone not to peel off the criss-cross
paper put over windows to alleviate the damage caused by flying glass. “Put that light out!” was
a command of the air raid wardens who patrolled the streets looking for leaks in the blackouts.
Another saying was “Is your journey really necessary?” And if you went into a shop and they didn’t
have what you asked for the reply would be “Don’t you know there’s a War on!”

Standing at our front door and looking up the road towards Pollards Hill you could see a line of
shiny grey barrage balloons strung out on the horizon like great big fat fish, put there for our
protection.

3

The news broadcasts always seemed to coincide with mealtimes and particularly at dinner times.
My brother and I were usually quarrelling and Dad used to get very heated, as he was trying to catch
up on the latest news. “Here is the news and this is Alvar Liddell reading it” was a line I heard times
without number. My other friend’s mother had put up a large map on her dining-room wall and
had little flags to move following the war’s progress.
Workers’ Playtime was also broadcast at dinner times and went out live from various factories
doing war work. This was performed in large works canteens while the workers ate their midday
meal. The programme was brimful of gusto with a tremendous atmosphere coming over the
airwaves.

The news broadcasts always seemed to coincide with mealtimes and particularly at dinner times.
My brother and I were usually quarrelling and Dad used to get very heated, as he was trying to catch
up on the latest news. “Here is the news and this is Alvar Liddell reading it” was a line I heard times
without number. My other friend’s mother had put up a large map on her dining-room wall and
had little flags to move following the war’s progress.
Workers’ Playtime was also broadcast at dinner times and went out live from various factories
doing war work. This was performed in large works canteens while the workers ate their midday
meal. The programme was brimful of gusto with a tremendous atmosphere coming over the
airwaves.

There was a short family doctor programme, something quite new, given by Dr Charles Hill. He
gave blunt, earthy advice and also seemed to talk a lot about bowels – very nearly unmentionable
then.

Every evening there was the lovely Children’s Hour with its variety of plays, stories and serials and
items such as “Out with Romany”, a nature programme. I really thought this was an outside
broadcast, but discovered years later that it had all been done in the studio. One of the favourite
programmes was “Toytown” with lovely characters like Dennis the dachshund (whose sentences
were all spoken the wrong way around) and Larry the Lamb (l am only a little laaamb”). Not to
be forgotten was dear old Mr Growser with his saying of “It’s disgraaaceful, it ought not to be
allowed.” And at the end of it all was Uncle Mac’s closing of “Goodnight Children, Everywhere”,
a blessing if ever there was one.

Princess Elizabeth gave her talk to the children of Britain at the end of a Children’s Hour broadcast
with Princess Margaret Rose sitting by her side and in my head I can hear their voices signing off
now.

Then there was “Monday Night at Eight”. (“It’s Monday night at eight o’clock, Oh, can’t you hear
the chimes, they’re telling you to take an easy chair, to settle by the fireside, forget your radio times,
for Monday Night at Eight is on the air.”) Arthur Askey and Richard (Dickie) Murdoch entertained
us marvellously with their antics supposedly coming from a flat high up in Broadcasting House.
We were always sent to bed before 8 o’clock, but on Monday nights my brother and I would get
out of bed and sit at the top of the stairs in our nightclothes begging Mum to let us come down
and listen. Of course, she soon relented and down we would go, returning happily to bed
afterwards.

Another programme was ITMA with Tommy Handley and his gang. He was certainly put on this
earth to lighten our lives during the war. There was the phrase “Can I do you now, sir?” said by
Mrs Mop, with its double entendre – very risqué in those days, and lots more catch sayings that
kept us bubbling over with hilarity for days afterwards.

Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart, was heard singing her songs all through the war. She sang
“There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, just you wait and see”, and “When
the lights go on again all over the world”. Was it possible, we wondered, that life could be
different?

4

The Church of the Ascension was a ‘high’ church with the vicar being called “Father”. He wore
a long black gown and a little round black hat. There were many processions around the church
of the vicar, servers and choir, proceeded by another server shaking incense liberally everywhere.
The church collection plate was carved from one of the last oak trees to be felled at the foot of
Pollards Hill. My brother had watched these trees being cut down by playing truant from school
one afternoon. He made a mistake in judging school home time and got told off by Mum on his
too early return!

As a Girl Guide and Poppy Patrol Leader I took my camp fire test in one of the fields off Willow
Lane. I cooked sausages and potatoes over the open fire, followed by stewed plums and custard.
Two of us went up to a lone house that stood in the lane and asked the lady there for water, which
she kindly gave me in a jug. The fields were lovely there then, just as they also were at the bottom
of Pollards Hill, each surrounded by its boundary of trees.

Another landmine was later dropped in the Sherwood Park/Pollards Hill area and people all around
it were evacuated from their homes, as it had not yet exploded. Our neighbours of next-door-but-
one (the lady who had helped mother when my sister was born) came just inside the radius. The
whole family, now four of them, together with the bird in its cage and lots of possessions, came
into our house and filled it up. A marvellous thing happened – the mine did not go off! It was found
to be filled with sand. A wonderfully brave person or persons working somewhere on German
munitions had done this to save us, risking their life or lives to do it. Thankfully, people returned
to their homes, the threat over. Later, at the Church of the Ascension jumble sale the empty mine
case was put on display in the garden. It was guarded by a young member of the Home Guard,
the boy friend of a girl I knew. On his head he wore a German forage cap, obtained from I know
not where. It was a gesture of defiance and he wore it a lot during the war. The mine itself was
just as I imagined it would be, even down to the knobs sticking out of it.

A house in the road at the back of us received a direct hit. It was a small bomb, which completely
demolished the one house, leaving its neighbours standing either side of the gap. Fortunately, no-
one was in the house at the time. The site was cleared of rubble and it was possible to get from
our garden, across the alley and into the next street.

One hot summer evening Mum was sitting using her sewing machine on the living room table. Only
three of us were in the house at the time. The windows, french windows and doors were open to
try and keep the house cool. My little sister was in bed, but not asleep, it was so hot. Mother asked
me to go upstairs and see if she was all right. It had gone rather quiet up there, usually ominous.
When I went upstairs she wasn’t there! She wasn’t in the house at all! We panicked. I then had
an idea. I rushed down the garden path into the alleyway. Something made me go into the bombed
house and through to the next street. And there was my pretty little blonde sister, in her white
nightgown, dancing among the broken glass in Beech Grove, our dog Taffy with her!

We had extremely hard winters then and at one time there was no coal to be had. In desperation
mother kept us away from school and my brother and I pushed my sister’s big pram all the way
down to the gas works in Western Road, where we would be able to buy some coke to tide us over.
Girls wore pixie hats then and both of us had woolly scarves and gloves. Our Headmaster, aptly
named Mr Head, was indignant that we had missed school for this purpose and drew attention to
the non-attendance at the full school assembly. However, he was kind enough not to specifically
mention names, but we knew who he meant. He was a fine, upright man, an excellent headmaster.
When I left school and wrote later asking if he remembered me and could he give me a reference,
he answered by writing, “Schoolmasters have longer memories than perhaps you may think. Of
course, we remember you and Peter perfectly… ”

13

Later on in the war a Morrison shelter was provided for us. It was put into the dining-room and
took up most of the space, so that furniture had to be moved out. It was called a table shelter,
because you could use the top as a table. However, it was very large and had a grille around the
underneath part and was not really convenient for sitting at, so we used our normal dining table
and chairs, which had to be put in the front room.

Later on in the war a Morrison shelter was provided for us. It was put into the dining-room and
took up most of the space, so that furniture had to be moved out. It was called a table shelter,
because you could use the top as a table. However, it was very large and had a grille around the
underneath part and was not really convenient for sitting at, so we used our normal dining table
and chairs, which had to be put in the front room.

The sweetest sound of all during the war was the high piping of the All Clear. It was wonderful
to hear this, especially early in the blue of a bright sunny morning coming out of a shelter and
knowing that you had survived the raids.

At one time it seemed that the Germans had a schedule for their daylight raids specifically meant
to interrupt our dinner at about 1 o’clock! It was nothing to be sitting down to our meal and have
to leave it to dive into the Morrison shelter, then re-emerge to take up where we left off. Once,
I recall leaving our lovely dinner of fresh new potatoes and garden peas from Dad’s allotment, with
fried plaice and salad cream three times. Did we get annoyed with Hitler! My little sister, now
a sturdy toddler, would run in from playing in the garden straight into the shelter with Taffy, our
lovely Welsh sheepdog, as a matter of course, knowing no other way of life.

When the shelter was first delivered it took several men to handle and assemble the heavy pieces
and bolt them together. Among those helping was a quiet soldier in khaki battledress. One of the
older men told us, out of his hearing, that he was home on leave because his wife and child had
been killed in an air raid.

Mitcham received a great many hits by bombs during the war, together with Croydon, probably
due to being near Croydon airport. There were also a large number of bomb craters to be seen
on open ground, fortunate because nobody had been hurt. These used to throw up pretty crystal-
like stones along with the earth.

I remember a soldier being on guard near the ruins of St Mark’s church. He was armed against
looters.

Dad once came in with a funny tale about a Home Guard exercise he had seen near Beehive Bridge.
As he cycled over the bridge he looked down and saw a Home Guard hiding in a bushy tree, but
the man was smoking and a spiral of cigarette smoke rose up, which would have given the enemy
a clear indication of where he was!

For my brother and I our lives centred quite a lot around the Church of the Ascension, which was
in a hall then. I was a Brownie and a Guide, and my brother was a Scout and choir boy. Later on
in the war he received savings stamps to the value of sixpence for every Sunday service he sang
in the choir, which he would cash as soon as possible! In the post office in those days was a dragon
of a lady behind the grille at the end of the hardware shop in Sherwood Park Road. If I wanted
to cash any of my savings stamps, she would tell me off. She has given me a complex for life!

12

Not to be forgotten was the dot-dot-dot signal taken from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, heralding
the sending of messages to those working underground in enemy occupied territory. These
cryptic, staccato messages sounded so odd to us. Sentences like “Louise has seen her aunt” would
mean more than we could ever comprehend to those to whom they were sent.

Lastly, I remember the King’s speech to us one Christmas, a special one when he quoted from a
little known poetess, Minni Louis Haskins. At the end of his broadcast, in those darkest of days,
we were left with these beautiful, hopeful words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than a light, and safer than a known way.”

This piece of poetry, so very relevant then, is still so to this day, and always stirs the feelings to
tears.

We saw many dog fights, but one in particular I remember was high above our houses. Up in the
clear blue sky of a lovely sunny day a deadly battle raged as “one of ours” and “one of theirs”
weaved and dived in attack, machine guns spitting. So clearly their engines could be heard.

Planes would return home from raids on Germany and do the Victory Roll, turning over and over.
This was exhilarating to watch.

Later on a new hair fashion came into being, when ladies’ hair was rolled into a big ‘V’ at the back
of their heads. It was an attractive and tidy style and well suited the women in uniform who were
very smart, especially the WRNS in their navy blue skirts and jackets, black stockings and super
smart hats.

Things began to get very scarce and luxury goods disappeared from the shops. Mother spent hours
queuing, for if you saw a queue forming, you joined it. Pregnant women were allowed to go to
the front of the queue but, pregnant later on, my mother never did this. Often a rumour would go
round that a certain shopkeeper was “expecting something in” and people began congregating.
The counters of Woolworths in Mitcham were empty, except for one or two nondescript items.
Suddenly, there might be a few combs put out, and you joined the queue.

I would often be sent to get the weekly rations. Carrying mother’s wicker shopping basket, I would
take the shortcut through the alleyways and cross Sherwood Park recreation ground, hopping and
jumping from one fairy ring to another. We got the rations from Robins grocer’s shop in Sherwood
Park Road.

The shop itself would be quite crowded with people and a child was often made to wait a long time
to be served until someone’s conscience struck them and one would be pushed forward. The
buxom peroxide blonde girl serving behind the counter would take the shopping list and ration
books and put the items in the basket, crossing off the coupons in the books as she did so. Now
and again, if you were lucky, she would reach down and take an item from “under the counter”.
This could perhaps be a bottle of sauce or some such item in short supply and reserved for regular
customers only.

The value of the shopping would be about one pound. Mother would say she was pleased with
the contents because, small though the portions were, they were good basics for a family’s needs
and we were lucky to get them in wartime.

5

I couldn’t believe there had ever been such things as bananas, but the adverts for Fyffes still stuck
upon the wall of the greengrocer’s shop proved that there had been. Tinned fruit was a dream.
If you happened to see an American magazine, the luxury of their lifestyle depicted in the
advertisements was unbelievable. If mother had queued for an hour for some apples, my brother
and I would be given a half of one each, and were grateful. Although, I must say that in season
there was plenty of English fruit for sale. I can remember once we bought a pound of gorgeous
dark blue English plums for fourpence ha’penny from a greengrocer’s shop at the Common end
of Manor Road and ate them from the bag as we walked along.

I couldn’t believe there had ever been such things as bananas, but the adverts for Fyffes still stuck
upon the wall of the greengrocer’s shop proved that there had been. Tinned fruit was a dream.
If you happened to see an American magazine, the luxury of their lifestyle depicted in the
advertisements was unbelievable. If mother had queued for an hour for some apples, my brother
and I would be given a half of one each, and were grateful. Although, I must say that in season
there was plenty of English fruit for sale. I can remember once we bought a pound of gorgeous
dark blue English plums for fourpence ha’penny from a greengrocer’s shop at the Common end
of Manor Road and ate them from the bag as we walked along.

Fancy cakes were also a thing of the past. There were cakes about but these were plain ones, such
as Madeira or light fruit cakes and buns. Later in the war, when I was older, I used to be sent up
to Streatham High Road to queue at Fuller’s cake shop for a ticket. These were issued on a certain
weekday and the queue for them was a long one. When you had obtained the ticket this then
entitled one of us to go back up there again on Saturday and actually buy one of their sponge
sandwich cakes. These sponges, such a treat, were delicious. They had a slight orangey flavour
and were the highlight of many a wartime Sunday tea.

Our school (Sherwood Park Road) was to be evacuated. Mother bought thick white canvas and
made two large shoulder bags, one for my brother and one for me. I can see her now sitting at the
dining-room table sewing them on the hand sewing machine. Into these bags was packed all the
clothing necessary for our new life. With the large bags over our shoulders and me carrying my
beloved Teddy Bear, we were loaded onto buses. My brother was not in the bus with me, so we
must have been taken by classes. Then, the mothers and fathers waving us goodbye, the convoy
of red London buses packed with children set off, we knew not where.

Our destination turned out to be a little town called Egham, near Staines, a country place then. It
was dark when we were taken into a local hall, now packed with children in the centre and grownups
standing around the sides. People began picking out the children they wanted and the crowd
thinned a little. Eventually, four of us girls were taken by a gentleman helper in his little car and
personally delivered to foster parents on the edge of town. My friend, Jean, and I were taken up
to a front door. When the lady of the house opened the door she was told she could pick which
child she wanted. She chose Jean, which was not a very nice feeling for me.

I was therefore delivered to a house just a few doors away, but could not have been passed to a
nicer person. Her name was Mrs Boniface and her appearance matched her name. She was small
with curly brown hair, red cheeks and a happy, smiling face. She had two children of her own,
named Mary and Hugh. Her husband was an architect and he was away up in Yorkshire on
government war work. She had another evacuee besides me staying with her, an older lady come
to escape the bombing in the heart of London.

Mrs Boniface, so aptly named, was pleasantly surprised at the contents of my white canvas bag.
Mother had made pleated skirts put onto bodices and I had knitted jumpers to go with them. We
were not well off but I was nicely dressed. I think people thought children from London would
be poorly dressed as, indeed, some of them were, often arriving in layers of all the clothes they
possessed, and sometimes very dirty. I was certainly expected to have a cockney accent.

6

Within days of the airman baling out, Dad had gone down with scarlet fever. He was put on a
stretcher, tightly wrapped in red blankets, placed in an ambulance and taken to the local fever
hospital. So, mother was left in bed with a new baby and two young children. Parts of the house
were fumigated. My brother and I could not go to school and, of course, no-one would play with
us. Nurse Gaunt gave mother her sole attention, as she could not now visit any of her other patients.
My mother’s closest friend would not visit or help her because her eldest son was taking his exams
and, if he caught the fever, his future would be set back. Her friend did not see my sister until she
was nearly six months old.

Our kindly neighbour of next-door-but-one, who had been present at my sister’s birth, braved the
disease and came in to tend to us, although she had a little boy of her own. One day my aunt came
over all the way from Barking and we walked across the common to visit Dad at the fever hospital.
It was called the Wandle Valley Isolation Hospital and was near Goat Green right by the river.
Parcels for patients had to be left at the gate and we could only peer through the ward windows
and wave.

When at last Dad came home from hospital, mother was still terribly weak. She was ghastly pale
and he could see her teeth through her lips. There were no blood transfusions in her case then. As
a child I knew nothing about all this. All I did know was that my sister was a baby who cried and
cried and kept us all awake at night. All you could see in the dark was an even darker round hole
where her mouth was open, yelling. I was not happy about this and could well have done without
her! She, poor child, was not happy at that time either. Because of mother’s low state of health
she was not getting proper nourishment. As soon as she was put on National Dried Milk (which
came in large tins and you got from Sherwood House clinic) she settled down. Mother used to
eat a spoonful of the dried milk when she made up the feeds and this, plus the milk stout the doctor
said she was to drink started her slowly to recover. Soon my sister became a happy, bouncing baby,
full of life.

Having a baby in the house entitled us to concentrated orange juice for her. To get it at first we
had to go to the Food Office in the Parish Rooms near the Cricket Green. It was a long way from
Commonside East down into Mitcham, but we walked there, pushing the pram. We would stop
to see the horses in Mrs Farewell-Jones’s field before walking over Beehive Bridge. We walked
to most places then, the library especially.

The children’s library was in a wooden hut at the side of the main Mitcham Library then. I loved
its woody smell and there were little tables and chairs of various sizes to sit at and lots of lovely
books to borrow, which gave much pleasure to read.

The Food Office was always crowded and you waited ages to be dealt with. Although the juice
was for the baby, it was natural that, not having oranges, my brother and I should sometimes be
given some and we found the orangey drink, which you diluted with water, delicious.

There was also concentrated blackcurrant juice, which came in tins. A teaspoonful of the thick
purple stuff in a glass of hot water made a lovely drink on a cold winter’s day.

Dried egg appeared. It came in packets and made reasonable flat omelettes and could be used in
cakes. Later came tins of Spam and this was very tasty. Also introduced was a fish called Snoek,
sold in tins, which we had never heard of before, and whalemeat was sold in the Butcher’s shop,
but we didn’t buy these.

11

On the night of 16th April 1941, while we were sheltering under the stairs, a landmine fell on The
Creameries, also known locally as the Margarine Factory. This was not far from us and stood
actually on the edge of the common. Fifteen men of the 57th Surrey (Mitcham) Home Guard were
killed that night, as their meeting was being held there. The young man across the road from us
was killed. His name was Henson and he was only eighteen and had been courting a young woman
from Commonside East. I sat next to a very nice girl at school, named Lilian, whose father was
also killed that night. She was one of three sisters left fatherless and their name was White.

On the night of 16th April 1941, while we were sheltering under the stairs, a landmine fell on The
Creameries, also known locally as the Margarine Factory. This was not far from us and stood
actually on the edge of the common. Fifteen men of the 57th Surrey (Mitcham) Home Guard were
killed that night, as their meeting was being held there. The young man across the road from us
was killed. His name was Henson and he was only eighteen and had been courting a young woman
from Commonside East. I sat next to a very nice girl at school, named Lilian, whose father was
also killed that night. She was one of three sisters left fatherless and their name was White.

We went to see the damage the next day. Very sadly I watched a draped stretcher carrying a body
being eased from the ruins. (My brother remembers seeing rows of covered stretchers laid out on
the common, but I did not see these). From the explosion, huge girders had been flung, twisted
and careless across a wide area of the common and, it was rumoured, a man’s head had been found
there.

My sister was born in June 1941 – a war baby. There was a difference of eleven years in our ages.
Mother would therefore have been pregnant at the time of the Creameries bombing when we were
sheltering under the stairs. Babies were mostly delivered at home then and the midwife, Nurse
Gaunt, lived just across the road from us.

At the time of my sister’s birth the front room downstairs was turned into a bedroom for safety
and convenience. My brother was off out playing somewhere, as usual. Dad took me out into the
garden. A neighbour was in the room at the birth. She came running out into the garden crying,
“It’s come, it’s come!”

Dad picked her up and swung her round in joy. The next thing I remember was being taken on
the back of his bike up to Dr Miller’s house near Pollards Hill to call him out. Words were
whispered to neighbours asking questions, so that I would not hear. Unbeknown to me, my mother
had a terrible haemorrhage and Dr Miller saved her life. He never forgot the sight that met his eyes
as he walked into the room that day and would recall the occasion when my mother visited him
over the years.

There was a gunsite and army encampment on the common opposite the Goat Pub. One light
evening a few days later I was in the front room with Dad talking to Mum who was in the big bed.
She was still “lying in” after having the baby (ten days in those days). There was a raid on and Dad
and I were on the window side of the room. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion. Immediately,
Dad threw himself over me, turning his back to the window and using his body as a shield against
whatever was to come. The gun had scored a direct hit on an enemy plane and we turned to see
through the window a man floating down in a parachute. The men on the gunsite let out a
tremendous roar of triumph, clearly heard from that distance away and inside the house. I started
to cry. I was afraid for that airman and what would be done to him when he landed.

I cried twice during the war: the other time was when I was older and a newspaper published
pictures of a row of men being hung in an occupied country. I was convinced the Germans were
going to come here and do the same thing. The rest of the family thought I was ridiculous and
laughed at me.

10

Mary was the oldest child, me next and then Hugh. I can hardly describe the lovely games we used
to play, nearly always involving our teddy bears and Hugh’s lovely little toy animal called Piglet,
who was made out of pale pink velvet. These games were mostly thought up by Mary. Mrs
Boniface was very lenient in what we were allowed to do and the scope she gave us was not abused.
Mary and Hugh went to a private school just up the road in a big house. The classes had only eight
to ten children in them, as against our Council school norm of 35-40 pupils. Mary showed me inside
the empty school one day. How I would have loved to have gone there, but this could never have
been afforded. Quite naturally, I was often homesick and the sound of violins being played on the
wireless always triggered this feeling off.

My brother was one of four boys taken in by a lovely homely couple who lived a few miles away
from where I was staying. To visit him I used to have to walk down a very long road and then turn
off across a field, gingerly cross a plank bridge over a stream, cross another field and then on a little
way until I came to the row of small houses where they were.

One of the girls in our group was taken into quite a large house on the other side of the road from
me. The lady who took her in was Czechoslovakian and had come to England for safety. This little
girl, who came from a largish, poor family, was taken to the hairdressers to have her hair washed
and set each week. This was something unheard of in our lives and we rather envied her.

Some school teachers came with us and taught in the local school. My teacher was very nice and
obviously tried to comfort us for being away from home. I was the Princess in the school
production of Sleeping Beauty at Christmastime when our parents came down from London to
see us. I can remember saying, “Oh, I’ve pricked my finger,” in the most wooden delivery ever!
On their journey home Mum and Dad had to walk from Wimbledon to Mitcham in the blackout
as all the transport had been stopped because of a raid.

In the end, my foster mother decided to take her children and go to live up in Yorkshire to be with
her husband. I was pleased to realise that she liked me enough to offer to take me, too. However,
my parents decided against this, for her sake and theirs, and so it was arranged that I would go to
live with another family in a house just across the road. My friend from up the road at home in
Mitcham was also changing foster homes and the two of us went there together.

I will draw a veil over our stay in the new foster home, suffice it to say that we were not happy
there. We both wrote home asking our parents to take us back. The lady found my friend’s letter
to her parents before it was posted and was, understandably, most hurt. My friend thought I should
show her my letter as well, but I didn’t see the point of her being doubly upset. We did have good
cause to want to leave.

However, before all this happened, the lady in this house did a lovely thing – she took us into a toy
shop and showed us two beautiful dressed dolls standing high up on a shelf in their own cardboard
boxes. When she was certain we liked them, she paid, I believe, 1/6d off per week for them until
they were paid for, and gave them to us for Christmas.

So, after not so many months of evacuation government style, we were back living in Mitcham,
bombs or no bombs. Egham, although in the country, for the road I was in ended in fields, received
its share of bombing, and I can remember the High Street being hit by bombs. Also, a crashed
German plane was put on display for all to see. I was surprised how small it was. Sherwood Park
School itself was hit by a bomb during the war.

7

While my brother and I had been evacuated, my mother went with her friend, the doctor’s wife
and another lady to help with a further evacuation taking place in Mitcham. She had gone for the
day, she thought, but found she was expected to stay, After some adventures with these ladies and
the group of children they were looking after, she finished up that night in charge of four boys from
the Western Road area in a large house in Oxted. The man of the house was very good to the boys
and Mum said he used to line them up and give them pocket money at weekends. Mum took care
of the boys and even used to arrange the flowers for the house. The boys themselves were fond
of mother, which did not surprise me at all.

While my brother and I had been evacuated, my mother went with her friend, the doctor’s wife
and another lady to help with a further evacuation taking place in Mitcham. She had gone for the
day, she thought, but found she was expected to stay, After some adventures with these ladies and
the group of children they were looking after, she finished up that night in charge of four boys from
the Western Road area in a large house in Oxted. The man of the house was very good to the boys
and Mum said he used to line them up and give them pocket money at weekends. Mum took care
of the boys and even used to arrange the flowers for the house. The boys themselves were fond
of mother, which did not surprise me at all.

Sometime after this, when mother was home again, her friend had gone away into lodgings to be
near her husband, who was now in the army. Dad used to go around to Almond Way to keep an
eye on the empty house. He was also tending a few vegetables left in the patch at the bottom of
the back garden. I was there with him one day when he found some unexploded incendiary bombs
amongst the cabbages. He said they were probably part of a Molotov cocktail – a bunch of
incendiaries said to be dropped in a kind of basket. Somehow the authorities were contacted and
soon an air raid warden came to collect them. He put the aluminium cylinders on the back of his
bicycle and rode away!

Urged to “Dig for Victory” from all quarters, including large posters stuck up all over the place,
Dad had two allotments and kept us supplied with plenty of fresh vegetables and soft fruits. In
season he would bring home colanders full of lovely strawberries. Often mother would bring us
up little dishes of strawberries sprinkled with sugar to eat in bed on a summer evening when sleep
would not come because of the heat and the light. Another treat would be a few chips on a plate,
sprinkled with salt and vinegar. Mother bottled pounds of soft fruits and made lovely jams, also
chutney from the tomatoes, as well as pickling the shallots Dad grew.

At school we were asked to design posters urging the war effort and the best ones were to be put
on exhibition at the town hall, together with others from the borough. I loved art and my poster
was one of those chosen. The main part of the picture was of a dog digging up a bone for the war
effort. It had a caption which ran on the lines of “Even he digs for Victory” and in balloons around
the edge were depicted other methods of “doing our bit”. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the
exhibition, which was a big disappointment. I hasten to add that my poster did not have great
artistic merit.

Everyone tried to “Do their bit” as the saying was. I decided to hold a raffle. I bought a book of
raffle tickets and went around the houses asking people to buy them. The prize was to be a savings
certificate, costing fifteen shillings. I soon sold out the tickets. When it came to the draw and giving
out the prizes Dad suggested I use the money I had collected and give it all out in savings certificate
prizes. The total collected was just over four pounds and was a lot of money then, as the average
man’s wage was about that amount. The remaining few shillings were put into the firemen’s fund.
In this way Dad made sure the people themselves benefited as well as the war effort and the winners
were surprised and pleased.

In 1941 we were sheltering in the cupboard under the stairs during night raids. There was only
just room for my mother, brother and myself. Mother, sitting on a chair, would read comics to
us.

8

Dad was an air raid warden. The wardens’ post was in an alleyway at the end of our road backing
onto Dahlia Gardens. He would come in now and again to check and see if we were all right. I
can remember him coming in one night and saying he had just put out an incendiary bomb fire in
a house nearby. You could hear the guns banging away and the shrapnel falling. By now we could
all recognise the drone of German bombers.

The large area wardens’ post was at the junction of Chestnut Grove, Greenwood Road and
Sherwood Park Road and was called “Windy Corner”.

ARP Wardens for Pollards Hill area, probably taken near “Windy Corner” main post at the junction of Sherwood Park Road/Chestnut Grove.

Note bomb damage at rear. My father .. is standing fifth on the left of the picture. Most of these people were neighbours or known to me.

Water was conserved in large EWS (emergency water supply) tanks sited here and there. Bath
water was restricted to a depth of 5″. However, we didn’t use the volume of water in our homes
then that is used now, for the majority of us had a bath only once a week. There were hardly any
washing machines about then and very few cars needing hosing down.

Monday was washing day. Clothes were soaked, soaped and rubbed on the rubbing board. Put
to boil in a large tin bath on the gas stove, they were removed with a big stick, rinsed, wrung out
and hung on the clothesline in the garden to dry. The shirts used to look like big fat people puffed
out by the wind.

The tops of letterboxes were painted with special green paint which, in the event of a gas attack,
would change colour to warn us. There were pillboxes on every bridge into Mitcham. Also,
unbeknown to the majority of Mitcham residents then, there was a specially fortified house on the
Croydon Road, which was to be used as a secret headquarters if the invasion came.

9