Childhood Memories

Growing up on the Estate

By Irene Williams

Photo:Twins Irene and Dot

Twins Irene and Dot

Donated by Irene Williams

I am a twin and my sister and I were born to a 43-year-old mother in a council house in Carshalton, Surrey. The estate, Rose Hill, was then the largest council estate in England. The house, No. 76, was adequate. We had an inside toilet but no bathroom. The bath was in the kitchen, covered by a large table that could be lifted up. The bath was filled with hot water from the boiler that served as a water-heater and a washing machine. There was no refrigerator of course. Food that needed to be kept cool was placed in a ventilated meat safe or on the lower marble shelf in the larder. None of us ever got food poisoning.

Our estate was, I remember, very pleasant with brick-built houses on quiet streets – not many cars then – with green patches at the corner of each road where we made dens and played hide and seek. There were also larger green areas – The Circle at the bottom of a road which sloped down and was an excellent track for soap box carts, and The Field which was a large area opposite to St Helier Hospital and the shops.

St Helier was a brand-new hospital, opened in 1941 and was damaged three times by bombing in the first two years.

Our house was on the corner of Waltham and Thornton Roads so we had a larger garden where dad grew runner beans, potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb and dahlias and much else. Every summer when the runner beans flourished, we would have a plateful of the first harvest with pepper on with bread and margarine. At the back of the house was another small patch. A while after we were born there was an Anderson air raid shelter immediately outside the back door and, later, chickens at the bottom next to a large shed. Dot had her own chicken that decided to lay eggs for her. Whether it also provided a Christmas dinner is not remembered. Between our house and the Berry’s next door was a fence and Michaelmas daisies that seemed forever in bloom. I can smell them now.

We were born in the front bedroom of our house. It overlooked a big bow window. Story has it that during the war my father was in bed when an incendiary bomb came through the roof and fell on to my mother’s pillow. Luckily, she was downstairs clearing up at the time. My father leapt up, gathered the bomb in the bedclothes and hurled the bundle through the open window, setting fire to his bicycle that was parked below. He bitterly blamed Hitler for this. Because my mother was elderly and expecting twins, a doctor was called to attend the birth. It is said that he sat on the windowsill smoking cigarettes whilst my mother and the midwife laboured. He then had the cheek to send a bill for 3/6p. Dot was born first and I came after an hour and a half. I have always been reluctant to get out of bed.

Photo:Waltham Road

Waltham Road

Donated by Irene Williams

At about two years of age Dot was chasing me with a face flannel when I slipped and broke my leg. That meant a visit to St Helier Hospital. At that time the hospital was painted in camouflage colours and only after the war was it restored to its white colour. That was a great day for all. Once my bone had reunited – it was only a greenstick fracture – it was back to the hospital to have the plaster removed. I do remember the nurse – she was fat and wielding a circular saw and when I, understandably screamed the place down, she put her hand on her hip and said, “I’m not doing this until this child stops screaming”. We also had our dental treatment there and I did have at least one tooth out – I don’t remember ever cleaning my teeth as a child. I was given gas via a black rubber mask that has given me a fear of the smell of rubber to this day.

We both had our tonsils out at quite a young age at St Mary’s Children’s Hospital. It was quite a long stay and parents were not encouraged to visit for fear of “upsetting us”. I don’t remember much of that except that we had face cloths made of an old vest of dad’s, with blanket stitch round. They went unpleasantly slimy in the bath.

Dot and I were born early in the war. Dad was too old to be conscripted. He had served in WW1, had been wounded, gassed and taken prisoner. He was successfully treated in a German hospital but still walked with a heavy limp.  However, he was in the ARP – Air Raid Precaution – and had a big heavy khaki overcoat to prove it. In the winter, when he wasn’t wearing it, it was put on our shared bed to give extra warmth – no heating in those days and we would get ice on the inside of the windows. I remember the sound of German bombers overhead as we sat and whispered to each other in case they heard us. If bombs fell, mummy used to tell us it was our neighbour having coal delivered. For a while we slept under the table but later had an Andersen shelter put up in our back garden.  It was a curved corrugated iron structure covered with soil and dug into the ground. There were two sets of bunks and mum, my big sister Pat and my two brothers, David and Lewis, sat in there if an air raid warning went off. Dad used to stand outside on the step and peer up at the sky. I was very afraid he would get hit. The shelter was dark, smelly, damp and full of cockroaches. I don’t remember this story but was told it. Early on we didn’t have our own shelter and used to share with a neighbour across the road. One night there was an air raid warning – a horrible siren that, if I hear it now, gives me the heebie-jeebies. The family got across to the shelter, mummy carrying Dot, but when they settled in, they realized I was missing. I had been left in bed! Mummy ran back and met an air raid warden, a sort of marshal managing the area. He told her off for being out during an air raid. Anyway, she rescued me, none the worse. We all had gas masks in case there was a gas attack. At first, if needed, Dot and I could be placed in a sort of hood and someone would have to pump filtered air into it. Later we had our own Mickey Mouse masks with a “nose” that went up and down as we breathed. I don’t think they were ever needed.

Later on, south-east England was targeted by “doodlebugs”. The British are good at making fun of things they are afraid of and this was the REALLY scary V1 and V2 pilotless rockets with enormous explosive power that were launched from northern Europe. The V stood for the German word for “revenge”. Over 100 a day were launched to begin with until the Royal Airforce was able to identify the launch sites and gradually bomb them. Daring pilots would even fly alongside them and use their plane’s wings to tip them over so they fell into the sea. I can also remember seeing searchlights spotlight them in the sky. One fell near enough to our home to shatter all the windows and to blow down the inside walls of Mr. Berry’s house. I remember going in there when it was tidied up and having fun stepping over the walls from one room to another. I still have a fear of thunder and will never walk under a railway bridge if a train was going over.

Dot and I were evacuated for part of the war. Many children from the cities were systematically moved into the country and billeted on more or less willing country dwellers. We went with mummy as we were very young. We went to the Malvern Hills and stayed with a couple of women called May and Edna – our middle names. I don’t think it was a happy visit since when, later in the war we asked to return, we were denied.

My mother must have taught us to read as we read very early. I seem to remember going to the optician’s – as it was called then – for an eye examination at a very early age and the optician didn’t believe I could read the letters on the chart or the book I was given. He said I’d learned it by heart. Dot and I used to walk to the library – probably about a mile away – several times a week, escorted by our beaux – mine was Alan Westmorland and Dot’s was Raymond Barker. Raymond had big ears and dad used to sing, “Red sails in the sunset” whenever Raymond called to ask if Dot could come out to play. The library was in a wooden hut, heavily creosoted to black and that’s another “smell” memory that lingers.

Although there was a war on, followed by food rationing until the 50s, we managed to celebrate. It was chicken for Christmas dinner and mummy scrimped and saved to produce a Christmas pudding that we all got to stir. At Easter we had hollow chocolate Easter eggs that we sat on the edge of the table singing “Humpty, Dumpty” then letting the eggs fall onto newspaper spread on the floor to break into mouth-sized pieces. We had parties on our birthdays. After a big street bonfire on VE Day (Victory in Europe) we continued the tradition each November. We made a guy and pushed it round the streets for “penny for the guy” and on Bonfire Night there was a big bonfire at a street crossing with wood collected and hoarded or pinched from the bonfires in other streets.

Remember, remember

The Fifth of November,

Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Season

Should ever be forgot.

I also remember going to pantomimes every Christmas at that time. Mummy and daddy managed a present for us each year. Beside the fireplace in our front room were two deep recesses with shelving made by dad. One Christmas a big item appeared in one, covered by a bedspread. Mummy told us that it was her ironing she was keeping until after Christmas. On the day it was revealed to be a big dolls’ house. Dad had made it with all the furniture and it had lighting in every room (until the battery ran out.) The recess on the other side of the fireplace held the radiogram on which we would listen to “ITMA”; “In town tonight”; ‘Children’s Hour” with Uncle Mac; “Dick Barton”; “Paul Temple”; “Journey into Space” and many other absorbing programmes.

On Saturdays we walked up to the ABC cinema in Rose Hill to go to Saturday morning pictures. I don’t remember how much it cost to get in but we had enough left over to buy sweets. I usually chose Spanish wood, an aniseed tasting wood that released a juice when chewed. Or I went for aniseed balls – so many a penny. If allowed to count out my own I always cheated on the plus side. The morning started with the “anthem”

We are the boys and girls well known as

The minors of the ABC.

And every Saturday we line up

To see the films we like to see.

And shout aloud with glee.

We like to laugh and have our sing song

Such a happy crowd are we.

We’re all pals together

We’re minors of the ABC

Then we all sang other jolly songs with the words up on the screen and a bouncing ball to guide us. I only remember Raggle Taggle Gypsies. Then there was a cartoon – often Tom and Jerry. This was followed by the serial – Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle sticks in my memory. Finally, we got the main feature – usually a Western of the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers type. On the way home we would re-enact the adventures and Dot – as Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle with her coat over her shoulders as a cape - fell on The Field and either broke or dislocated her clavicle.

Photo:Football on the Green

Football on the Green

Donated by Irene Williams

We used to go to the shops with mum, at first in a huge double pram but later walking. We wore identical clothing. I remember cloth coats with matching bonnets. I always had to have an extra sized bonnet as I have an extra-sized head! There were no supermarkets. Each retailer had a shop so we went from grocer to greengrocer to fishmonger. The grocer’s shop was called Sam Frost and I remember mum being mortified when Dot called him Sam. You just didn’t call grownups by their first names. The shop had sawdust on the floor and I remember Dot bleeding all over it once – she was given to spontaneous nosebleeds. Once mummy queued for ages to buy the first bananas that came in after the war. She was very disappointed when we spat them out. Another treat was the Triang man who used to cycle round, ringing a bell, to sell ice creams. His first post-war appearance was another cause for celebration.

It was very much make do and mend in those days. Mummy knitted and crocheted for us – including a very itchy swimming costume that sagged horribly at the crotch when wet. Our Aunty Dot – mummy’s sister – also knitted for us. One Christmas she made us both an elephant toy made out of a pair of Uncle Perce’s grey flannel trousers. We loved those elephants. In the corner of the front room there was a large, walk-in, shelved cupboard. Each child had a shelf. My brother Lewis’s held cigarette card albums. Dot and I played in the cupboard, especially after Christmas when we were given torches. The batteries were quickly used up and not replaced. Another play area was a porch inside the front door. I remember one occasion when a Sikh itinerant salesman came knocking and we fled to hide under the table. We played in the street a lot. There were very few cars so we could play ball games, hide and seek, or walk up to friends’  houses. It was a very free and independent childhood.

Meanwhile, back at home, Dot and I didn’t go to church but we did go to Sunday School. If one collected enough holy stamps to go into the holy stamp album, we were allowed to go on the Sunday School trip – a charabanc ride to Littlehampton. Sometimes mum and dad also took us to Littlehampton by train from Sutton Station. Our knitted swimsuits came out, moth holes and all. I have a feeling they would still fit me today as they were VERY stretchy. We took sandwiches. I learned that tomato sandwiches taste REALLY good if they’ve been carried around for half a day wrapped in the wax paper that our bread came in. Bread was delivered to our door daily by a man with a horse and van.

We celebrated the end of the war with street parties. Everyone brought out tables and chairs and we all sat together waving flags. Dot and I had our hair in bunches with red, white and blue ribbons tied into them. Fishpaste sandwiches and jelly and custard featured heavily in most parties in those days.

This page was added by Irene Williams on 22/10/2021.

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