Memories of Chris Cook

Need to check this with email 19.24. 19/4/2022, might have missed some out!

I was born in St Olaves hospital, Rotherithe
We lived in Lucy Road and Smyrkes Road Bermondsey, about half a mile from  Tower Bridge and Surrey Docks in the middle of London which was directly under the flight path of the German bombers.


At about 18 months old I can remember Dad walking me across the rubble of a huge bomb site close to our house, to a shack where a barber was still giving hair cuts. He put me on a piece of wood across the chair arms to raise me up in height.

I can recall being placed in a tin bath in front of the fire to be washed.

I think it was here that we had a shelter cage under the table which we used during air raids.  
I can recall being put in a box and stuffed under the bed as the bombs were dropping, I can actually remember smiling as they slid me under.. We had bombings every night, during the Blitz, and Mum & Dad, like many others, were saying they needed to leave London.  

We were so close to the centre of London and the constant bombings that we joined the big scramble to move further away, moving to a house in Belvedere.: this 20k to the east of Rotherhithe, almost on t the Thames , rhe south side of it  

Belvedere is very steep, the area being split into Upper and Lower Belvedere, we moved to Upper Abbey Road, Upper Belvedere. I was about 2 years old and can remember being carried round in a carry cot and left at Mum’s friends house, a quarter of a mile from our house, while she went to work.

While we lived at Upper Belvedere, I was 4 years old and used to go to the shop with mum.  She let me ask for things so I would recite the list and say what we needed, “tea, sugar, butter, marg, lard, cheese, bacon, eggs, biscuits”, the lady thought I was very clever ! 

I can remember riding round on a tricycle, around the outside of the house.  


Dad worked in the docks which was being heavily bombed as the Germans were hoping to disrupt the supplies coming into it. The docks got so badly damaged it was closed and Dad joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner, firstly at Woolwich. I can recall him coming along the road one day, with a friend, to visit on his way to Gravesend. The guns at Gravesend targeted the German aircraft as they traced the River Thames towards London. Later he was posted to Gibraltar and eventually into Germany as they retreated.


A house became vacant next to mum’s brother Uncle Jack and Aunt Beattie so we moved to 59 Lower Road Erith. Dad’s sister Aunt Ginny and Uncle Bill also lived in Erith in Willis Road.
Roughly a month after we moved to Erith a parachute mine was dropped near Upper Abbey Road, flattening acres of houses, including the one we had been living in.

He was bombed out of 59 Lower Road  

WAR memories 
Although we had continued to move further away from the centre of London and its extreme danger of the bombs, we were still moving along the river and vulnerable to the bombing.  
Erith is on the banks of the river Thames, and the German planes used to follow the river up to London. If the balloons went up the planes dropped their bombs onto the river in their panic to get away before the RAF planes took off.

There were two motor boats on the river with a drag rope between them, as mines used to be dropped in the river.


We had only lived at 59 for 8 months and while I was sleeping with Mum in the upstairs back bedroom, the house was bombed and I woke up to find the ceiling resting on my face. Before we could get out of bed firemen came up the stairs, cleared the debris off us and carried us out of the house. If we had been in Mum’s bed at the front of the house we wouldn’t have survived.


We had a very small one bar electric heater set into the bedroom wall which we kept alight on cold nights. I can still recall looking across at it as we were carried out of the room, it was no longer alight! 


They took us to hospital where a nurse examined me and brushed a small bit of ceiling board from my temple, this was my only injury!  

The roof and front of the house were badly damaged. Cousin Ron was in the house next door but was not so lucky as he was sleeping in the front of the house and a piece of shrapnel went through the wall into his leg.

On hearing of the bomb in Lower Road, Uncle Bill Dwyer (married to Jennie/Ginnie 1913) who lived the other side of the railway line, came rushing to see if Mum and I were alright.  The bomb had damaged the water main, it was a dark night and he didn’t see the huge bomb crater full of water just out side the house and ran straight into it, up to his waist.

The roof and front of the house were badly damaged, so we went to live in Willis Road with Uncle Bill,  Aunt Ginnie, and cousins Bill, Rita and Michael until our house was repaired.  At that time so many people were made homeless and we joined them, having lost most of our possessions, with no clothe or shoes to wear.  There were community stores of clothes & shoes and friends & relations passed things round.  No matter how tatty or too big we were grateful for anything.

Shelters
We lived next door to Aunt Beatie and we shared the drive between the houses. Although we had a brick shelter in our garden there was a metal Anderson shelter in between Ron’s house and ours and we all used it together, Aunt Beatie, Uncle Jack, Ron, Beatie & Maureen, Mum, Grandad and me.

One night Grandad wouldn’t come down into the shelter so he stayed indoors. There was a raid close by & he suddenly appeared in the doorway covered in soot, he wanted to join us after all ! 

The blast went through the house, blew the French windows out and Rusty our dog with them ! We couldn’t find him and cousin Ron eventually found him the next day in the ditch at the end of the garden, he had survived.

 


When parents were handed out “I got the Jackpot”. All of my life they were a wonderful Mum & Dad, a constant help and example.
I have often remarked that I have had the “best and luckiest life”. I escaped the Germans, had a happy and carefree childhood with opportunities to play safely and have local adventures. 

Clothing was scarce & Mum made most of my clothes, I vividly remember a swimming costume she made out of a knitted tank top ! 

Growing up in Lower Road, Erith 
I have vivid memories of my pre-school years, being taught by Mum.  I hadn’t been evacuated during the war, so Mum and I were together while Dad was away.

She bought books and taught me the alphabet & I remember having coloured pencils and drawing. I would sit in her bedroom at the front of the house which was cosy and looked out over the front of the house.

When dad returned from the war they continued to teach me all sorts of life skills.

Mum worked in 2 factories in Erith. “Seibels & Co” produced wooden parts for the Hurricanes and “Burdepts” parts for Spitfires.  She worked on lathes which was responsible & critical precision work, setting them up and operating them. She was also a shop steward there !

I was never scared growing up in the war as Mum would always say “when we win the war” 
A house became vacant next to mum’s brother Uncle Jack and Aunt Beattie so we moved to 59 Lower Road Erith. Dad’s sister Aunt Ginny and Uncle Bill also lived in Erith in Willis Road.
Roughly a month after we moved to Erith a parachute mine was dropped near Upper Abbey Road, flattening acres of houses, including the one we had been living in.

It was a newish house, which we rented and there were many factories close by which meant jobs for Mum. I was so lucky that the environment l lived in was perfect for children growing up, acres of fields and open ground at the back of the houses which offered a safe !?* playground where parents were happy for us to play.  So much freedom and so many places to play in. 
We didn’t have toys like kids of today, so we made our own entertainment, especially outside.


Erith was directly opposite the river from Dagenham where Lynne was born.  I can remember standing on the river bank looking across to the other side !!

Inge Kite lived next door, her mother was German, her father Australian. I’ve always though of her as my first girlfriend. They lived there for about 8 years then moved to Australia. 

Ted Groves then moved in, he also worked in the docks and Dad & I used to travel with him everyday. He also used to help a mate on the seafood stall in Woolwich market and Saturday evenings he would bring home any leftover seafood and give us loads.  Winkles, cockles, prawns, whelks, crabs, mussels and jellied eels.
One year he gave us a large Christmas tree from the market. I brought it home on my Royal Enfield motorbike, strapped to my back. 


I was learning to play the trumpet and mum would tell me to stop as it was disturbing the neighbours. There was a knock at the door and Mr Groves said “why has Chris stopped playing I like hearing him?” so I was allowed to carry on. 

Sid & Daisy Stone with my friend Dave, Donald & Sheila lived opposite our house in a” Frefab”  one of the new prefabricated homes that were being built for homeless families after the war. 
He used the Anderson garden shelter as his shed which contained loads of tools.

Sid had been a tank engineer in the war and repaired vehicles, he taught me a lot about vehicles & engines.
Sid worked for “Lings the Builders” next door to their prefab, as chief mechanic repairing their trucks & vehicles.

Jack and Daisy Martin, with Robin, Tony & ????? lived a few doors down from us, lovely people who had a soft spot for me. Jack was keen on football and he became a fan of mine following my progress.  He said “ I could always see that “cookie” would be the footballer out of you lot”. 

 I lived  in Lower Road until I moved out after I got married.


Grandparents living in flats


Mrs James was Dad’s landlady before he got married and they lived with her when they got married.  She lived in Jamaica Road just off the Old Kent Road, we had to go down steps to her flat. After the war mum and dad used to visit her and when they went to the pub I would sit outside with a packet of crisps, a normal things for kids in those days!  I remember she used to give me chocolate. 

Mum worked at Burndepts Factory & a friend’s dog had puppies and we had one ( I can still recall the house we went to). A medium sized, mongrel, Scots Terrier and we named him Rusty.  I was 3 years old and I grew up with him, he must have had 9 lives with the scrapes he got himself into.  

Our cat Sooty, was put outside every night. Dad built a kennel in the garden for Rusty & the first night we opened the door Rusty ran straight to the kennel & Sooty followed him. They got on well together, slept together at night and when we sat round the fire they would lie together on the hearth.

In those days there was little road traffic so dogs would roam around on their own.  In the back garden there was whole in the fence so Rusty could wander over the fields, woods and factories.  As we played all over the area he would follow us, often interrupting our games.

One day we were playing soldiers or cowboys & Indians, hiding amongst ferns and leaves in the woods. I was crawling along on my belly & suddenly Rusty was next to me wagging his tail ! I tried to push him away “go away Rusty “ as he was giving my position away to the other side.

On returning home one day I saw Rusty in the living room and he had blood on his ear.  He suddenly shook his head and sprayed blood all over the wall and into the alcove. We made a grab for him and took him into the garden. Mum made a bandage and stocking dressing which he wore till it was better.

I was about 6 years old & one weekend when the factories were closed, we swung ourselves round the iron railing and onto the long pier ( which we shouldn’t have been on ) to the river bank. We carried Rusty round the side and took him with us. 

We knew Rusty could swim and thought he would like to go in so we threw him in the river about 100 yards from the bank but he obviously didn’t like it ! we were shouting “go on Rusty” but I felt worried then incase he couldn’t swim that far and I was ready to jump in to save him.  He swam back to the shore and when I got home he was lying in front of the fire drying out.

We used to go swimming in Plumstead baths, one day as we looked out of the window Tony shouted out “there’s Rusty” and they all cheered. We were passing Abbey Woods, having gone from Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood about 3 miles from home. He was trotting along the pavement still heading away from home towards busier roads with more traffic. I was quite alarmed thinking he was lost (no mobiles in those days to cal mum to tell her!)

All the time I was swimming I was worrying about him and couldn’t wait to get home to tell mum. I rushed in find him laying in front of the fire! Where on earth could he have been?

Mum & Dad had bought me a football and I had gone to the park towards Bexley Heath, about 2 miles away with my mates. We knew you could play football in there and as we kicked the ball about, who should trot past but Rusty !! I was amazed and called out to him but he just trotted on.

One day as we were standing outside Jack’s shop, opposite the “black”  Rusty saw us and ran towards us.  We screamed to the bus driver as we saw Rusty run under the trolley bus.  The driver and conductor ran around the bus looking through the running board that prevented things going under the bus.  We could see Rusty running up and down under the bus, his nose pressed against the side panel.  He somehow managed to crawl out and he ran straight back home.

He used to roam everywhere, up to 5 miles away.  He’d come home wet where he’d crossed the stream at the bottom of the garden to get to the fields and factories beyond.

When I was in the RAF and came home on leave one day he had gone, died of old age at 16 years old.

WAR memories 
Although we had continued to move further away from the centre of London and its extreme danger of the bombs, we were still moving along the river and vulnerable to the bombing.  
Erith is on the banks of the river Thames, and the German planes used to follow the river up to London. If the balloons went up the planes dropped their bombs onto the river in their panic to get away before the RAF planes took off.

There were two motor boats on the river with a drag rope between them, as mines used to be dropped in the river.


We had only lived at 59 for 8 months and while I was sleeping with Mum in the upstairs back bedroom, the house was bombed and I woke up to find the ceiling resting on my face. Before we could get out of bed firemen came up the stairs, cleared the debris off us and carried us out of the house. If we had been in Mum’s bed at the front of the house we wouldn’t have survived.


We had a very small one bar electric heater set into the bedroom wall which we kept alight on cold nights. I can still recall looking across at it as we were carried out of the room, it was no longer alight! 


They took us to hospital where a nurse examined me and brushed a small bit of ceiling board from my temple, this was my only injury!  

The roof and front of the house badly damaged. Cousin Ron was in the house next door but was not so lucky as he was sleeping in the front of the house and a piece of shrapnel went through the wall into his leg.

On hearing of the bomb in Lower Road, Uncle Bill Dwyer who lived the other side of the railway line, came rushing to see if Mum and I were alright.  The bomb had damaged the water main, it was a dark night and he didn’t see the huge bomb crater full of water just out side the house and ran straight into it, up to his waist.

The roof and front of the house were badly damaged, so we went to live in Willis Road with Uncle Bill,  Aunt Ginnie, and cousins Bill, Rita and Michael until our house was repaired.  At that time so many people were made homeless and we joined them, having lost most of our possessions, with no clothe or shoes to wear.  There were community stores of clothes & shoes and friends & relations passed things round.  No matter how tatty or too big we were grateful for anything.

When the house was partially repaired we moved back in while it was still being worked on and I recall the scaffolding that was around the house.  This was ideal for us to run towards , jump , catch hold of the bar and swing from.  Tony Martin was not quite so agile and he missed the grab and fell on the ground !!

After the house was repaired the council had to repair the huge hole outside.  They laid tarmac in a long strip in front of 6 houses, we called it the “black” and thereafter it was where we played. 

Cousin Ron was about 6 years older than me and living next door we spent a lot of time together as families. He gave me a wooden ammunition box in which I kept my “shrapnel collection”. As kids we used to go round after the war into bombed buildings looking for shrapnel. I was very proud of my collection and pleased that Ron has outgrown it and given it to me.

We lived next door to Aunt Beatie and we shared the drive between the houses. Although we had a brick shelter in our garden there was a metal Anderson shelter in between Ron’s house and ours and we all used it together, Aunt Beatie, Uncle Jack, Ron, Beatie & Maureen, Mum, Grandad and me.

One night Grandad wouldn’t come down into the shelter so he stayed indoors. There was a raid close by & he suddenly appeared in the doorway covered in soot, he wanted to join us after all ! 

The blast went through the house, blew the French windows out and Rusty our dog with them ! We couldn’t find him and cousin Ron eventually found him the next day in the ditch at the end of the garden, he had survived.

I used to have meals with Aunt Beattie and the family while mum was at work. One mealtime I couldn’t eat it all but Auntie kept saying you have to eat it all, you need to eat everything.  I sat there struggling to chew and suddenly I was sick and it came back up, all over the table !!

Although many houses were damaged and prefabs were built, in one of the front gardens there was a huge bank of white roses against a fence.  I remember we all went to smell the beautiful fragrant roses.

We often used to see Spitfires and Hurricanes flying overhead, then everyone would come out of their houses and stand in the streets cheering and waving.

Mum used to take me to school on her way to work, across the church yard, running because the sirens were going. I’ll never forget the sound of the sirens or planes flying overhead.

At school there was a surface brick-built air raid shelter which only offered minimal protection, from blast, not a direct hit. We sat on long benches in the shelter and teachers would walk up and down teachings anything they could.  As soon as the siren sounded the “all clear” we’d go back to class lessons. My early learning years were quite disrupted really.

If the siren went & we didn’t get time to get to the shelter teachers told us to get under our desks.  I did that on many occasions. In the playground one day as enemy aircraft flew over, pupils were told to shelter under window sills ( which were only 1 inch deep !!!)  in case of bombing. 

Enemy planes used to follow the Thames on their way back from London to the coast and they would discharge any bombs or bullets as they went, over Erith ! 
As the sirens went, Mick and I had just left school on our way home when we could see a plane coming along West Street.  It was low, just above the church roof and we had to dive into the porch door way of a house.

When doodle bugs came overhead you could hear the terrifying noise. As soon as they went silent it meant they were about to drop  so everyone would run for shelter. One day, aged 5, I saw a Spitfire closely following a doodle bug.  As it went silent the aircraft was tipping the wings and turned it so it came down over the river Thames and not the houses, everyone watching cheered. 


My Mum worked in 2 factories in Erith. “Seibels & Co” produced wooden parts for the Hurricanes and “Burdepts” parts for Spitfires.  She worked on lathes which was responsible & critical precision work, setting them up and operating them. She was also a shop steward there !

Pictured here outside Burdepts with close friend Daisy on the right. 

After the war we would be playing on “The Black’ indicating & saying “this is where our bomb landed” 

In the early years of the war I was only about 3 and Mum called me to say she had something for me.  It was cheese, I’d never seen it before & didn’t know what it was. I loved it and after the war mum sometimes used to make her own cheese, from milk.

Food was rationed and shopkeepers got just enough food for the customers who had registered with them.

Sample 1943 rations of basics for a week for 1 person:
3 pints of milk
3 1/4Ib – 1Ib meat     4 oz combined of bacon or ham
1 egg a week or 1 packet of dried eggs (equal to 12) every 2 months
3 to 4 oz cheese     2 oz butter    2 oz cooking fat/lard
2 oz loose leaf tea        8 oz sugar

People queued for hours to get food and I can remember waiting at the butcher’s shop.

When we lived in Erith Mum would let me go to the Co-Op or grocer’s shop on my own with the list, “tea, sugar, butter, marg, lard, cheese bacon, eggs, biscuits”, she followed at a distance to make sure I was safe.

I remember when a delivery cart and horse, or a police horse, came along the road. Mum would send me out with a bucket and shovel to collect some manure. I would take a carrot out to feed the horse.

Bananas could not be imported so children up to 10 years old had never seen any.  One day at school the headmaster stood in the playground, held one up for us to see and said “this is a banana”.

I had school dinners and I was a “dinner monitor”. The teacher would remind me about 15 minutes before the end of the lesson to go to the large canteen where we had our meals, to get the tables ready, laying out the cutlery. 

Mothers picked up bottles of cod liver oil for under five year olds and concentrated orange juice (both provided by America) at clinics called “Welfare Centres” that were set up.

Many of these boosts for children were carried on after the war and  Lynne used to love the orange juice and remember going to the clinic to collect it.

Any children who were underweight were given cardboard cartons of malt extract to boost them.  I had a friend Johnny, who was given these free each week but he didn’t like it. I didn’t need malt so I was never given any although I loved it. When I went to play with him his mum opened a cupboard and it was full of them so she gave all of the kids some. 

Sweet rationing didn’t end until 1953 and children ran into candy stores and we all went to Jack’s shop to stock up.  I filled the saddle bag on my bike with sweets !


Like most people during and after the war we grew lots of vegetables in the garden.  At the end of the summer we picked the remaining green tomatoes and brought them indoors to ripen.  We had a bay window in the lounge and spread them round the pelmet above the five windows. Whenever I went in there I looked to see if any were ripe and I would eat them. Mum would call out to Dad, “ he’s eating the tomatoes again Joe”

We had about 6 chickens & a cockerel who went crazy if anyone went near his “ladies”.  One day the gate was open and he dashed out and chased me.  There was an alley way between us and Ron’s garden and if anyone walked along it he caused a row.

 We also had a few ducks over time, for their eggs.  The garden wasn’t very big and we filled a sunken washing “copper” with water for them to sit & swim !! in, they really liked that.

Rabbits completed our livestock.  One day a friend wanted to see one of my rabbits so I put our largest one in a box and took it to his house.  I put it on the table and they were amazed at its size.

People were encouraged to save food scraps to feed pigs. “Pig Clubs” were formed & they were allowed to keep half of the pig when it was killed.  At school there were “pig dustbins” by the gate & we would take scraps from home and drop it in the bins.

Clothing was scarce & Mum made most of my clothes, I vividly remember a swimming costume she made out of a knitted tank top !  Girls couldn’t get nylons so adapted by drawing a pencil line down the back of their legs to look like the seams of nylons.  I can remember watching my cousins in London doing this and wondering what on earth they were doing looking up each others skirts.

Either side of our new homes were rows of old terraced houses.  They were bombed or torn down after the war and prefabs were built.  Prefabs were supposed to be temporary accommodation but they remained for years. They quick & cheap to erect and provided homes for the homeless.

Late one evening, in the dark I was sitting on a neighbour’s front wall. They said “there’s a soldier at your doorstep” and I thought nothing of it for a few minutes. I looked again, realised it was Dad and I ran as fast as I could.  

For the birds make music and the trees sing 
And the wind joins song with the sea
All the world has a song of it’s own and so in our turn shall we

So sing- sing music makers 
A song for the joy of the singing    pause  “For the joy of the singing” 



My whole life I’d felt that I was ‘picked on’ to do things, to lead others or be called upon as the “responsible person to take charge”, this seemed to happen quite often during my lifetime.  I’d never put myself forward as a leader for anything, rather I was trying to keep a quiet, low profile. 

Boys from the senior school would come through our playground to get to their school. I had just come out of the toilets and a group of kids came and dragged me over to where a fight was going on. They were worried because the older boys, the Chambers brothers who lived in Mick’s road,  were prodding and provoking, looking for a fight.  The kids got me to fight them off, I don’t know why I was selected as I didn’t like fighting !?


The Days Before “Health and Safety”

Our Adventures & Challenges
Many of the things we got up to were just for “the challenge”, we would say “do you think we could climb that, jump down there, build xyz”
Thinking back now much of it was dangerous, our parents would have been horrified if they’d known half of what we did.

bomb sites


St John’s Church and churchyard

We spent a lot of time playing in the church yard opposite our house, across the main road which carried the traffic and trolley buses, an area considered by our parents to be close, enclosed and safe for 6 & 7 year olds to play in! 

There were very big trees you couldn’t put your arms around which we named, the 3 biggest ones we called zombies white, red & blue. We used to climb them and play in them.  Even now we would know if someone said “do you remember the red zombie”.  

One day we where going to climb a specific zombie and near the top as we climbed along its branches we were so high and far out over the road that we were actually over the top of the trolley bus wires.  We debated should we stay there or go back!  Although our parents knew we used to play there they would have been horrified if they’d know how dangerously close we were to falling into the road.

The church had 2 apex roofs, a spire and was very high. The drainpipe went up to the roof and was ideal for us to climb so we could get onto the roof. From there we would walk along the valley between the 2 halves of the roof to the spire. Getting down wasn’t so easy, especially swinging ourselves onto the drain pipe to descend.

The church was always open and we could go inside and look round. We knew that the staircase led up to the tower and one day we climbed the stairs, steps and vertical wooden ladder and out onto the roof.

I was in the church yard and one of the burial sites had a life sized statue of an Angel with its hand outstretched with a pointing finger. I turned, saw the finger and took aim with my catapult, imagine my grief when the finger toppled off into the grass, I never intended such vandalism. 

One day as we played and climbed about in the churchyard Tony fell and banged his head on a tombstone.  


Catapults
We were boys with little to play with, no TV or computers, and we wandered around looking for fun. 

In those days we never went anywhere without our handmade catapults. We were always on the look out for a good tree branch with the best angle to make a perfect catapult.  I’d be in dad’s garden shed making one, sanding it smooth, wrapping string around the handle.  We would go to the toy shop in Erith to buy the rubber/elastic that was used in model airplanes to wind up the propellor. Dave Stone had made a really good one that we all admired.

Catapults were hanging on hooks in houses and we made holsters with us. All boys played with them and were always on the look out for a target !! 



The Railway.
Bill’s house in Willis Road was the other side of the railway, although directly opposite our house. To get there you would have to climb the steps, over the bridge and down the other side.  Bill would find a hole in the fence and dangerously run across the live lines as a shortcut.  He would try to provoke me into doing it too, but I had more sense.

The railway ran parallel to our road the other side of the church yard  and we used to watch the frequent steam trains go by, either from ground level or by standing on the bridge that went over the track. As the steam trains went under the bridge the steam would engulf us.


River Thames

  

Promenade with a tall tower pics 
walnut tree Rd led down to the prom

The river bank was a big plus for us as kids to play along and learn from. We could walk for miles along the bank, even to Abbey Wood.  

We used to go and swim in the river.  We had huge inner tubes from lorry tyres that were inflated which we used to float around on. The water was clear but the river bed was muddy and as the tide came in it stirred up the mud and we wee standing it.

Mum came with us and we all splashed about having fun.  We came home covered in mud, nothing unusual in those days.

When I was about 6 years old, while we were playing along the stoney river’s edge, on a high tide, a sailor from a vessel anchored some way out in the river, sculled a small boat to where we were all playing. He asked “ does anyone want a ride in a boat” and I jumped at the chance, being fascinated that he only had one oar and which could propel us along.

He sculled away with the one oar and off we went towards the ship, we climbed up the fixed ladder onto the ship onto the deck.  I walked down one side and around the deck then back into the boat. Back on shore Mum had arrived to find me missing, looking horrified as I got back to shore, she asked where I’d been, “that man showed me how to scull a boat “ I replied.  A lucky escape?  or just a very different era and innocence that no longer exists today. He was a nice sailor giving a kid a treat.

man sculling

On the shore of the river we used to go down and dig in the mud to get small lead balls that we used in catapults. We would also pick up small pebbles to use. Dave was very good at finding branches with a “V” shape to cut into a catapult. It was that era for children to play with catapults and not seen as dangerous, the shop sold the rubber to make them. 

There was a railway that serviced the factories and ran along the river side. To stop people getting onto the pier there were locked gates and railings which we had to climb round to get on the pier. 



One day mum and dad wanted to go shopping but I didn’t want to go.  They said come with us and we went to the shops in Erith.  We walked past the bike shop but then turned back and went in. I had a bike but it was a second hand girls bike and I felt a bit conscious riding it. I was looking at all the brand new bikes and they said well go on then which one would you like for your birthday. I couldn’t believe it as I searched and picked out a “Philips Vox Populi”.  

It was on offer but it looked a bit small, I was still growing and thought it wouldn’t last long.  I mentioned it and dad got a spanner, adjusted the handle bars and saddle and said “how’s that?” I was so chuffed and was on it and off down the road before they’d paid for it!

We were always out on our bikes and one day a group if us were out, I was on my new bike. We were cycling along the river bank when we saw some boys vandalising and untying a boat. It belonged to Mr Carlton’s our neighbour. The boat was in the mud and would have floated away when the tide come in. We had to wait till the tide came in to tie the boat up so it didn’t drift away and by that time it was so late. Then we went to tell Mr Carlton what had happened. 

I didn’t get home till after 9.30 and in the dark.  Dad shouted at me “ what time do you think this is? where do you think you’ve been? and on that new bike! (they had been worried as we’d not come home) 
“Get to bed” “ You’re not having that new bike out again” Then dad felt guilty because he’d yelled at me while we’d been doing a favour for our neighbour.


Cycling
After the war the fears & dangers of air raids were over and we were free to go anywhere, I was probably about 10 years old. We spent a lot of time cycling, usually Tony & Robin Martin, Dave Stone & me. 

We’d be on “the black” pumping up tyres on our bikes and getting ready to go off.  Our parents would say, “where are you going to, the park?” 
“No we’re going to see Robin and Tony’s Aunt & Uncle in Kemsing” !! 
“Ok you be careful” and off we’d go.
 A mere, 21 miles through Dartford, Hawley, Eynesford and onto Kemsing. We often cycled there for the day to play in the countryside and lakes, it was quite a long ride.

 

One occasion we’d spent all day playing and aimed to be home before it got dark.  However, Dave got a puncture and as we couldn’t repair it we stuffed it with grass into t e tube to give it some body. As it started to get dark we realised that 2 of the bikes didn’t have working lights ( lights were battery power then and the batteries had died! ) So we cycled in a line with a bike with a good front light in the lead, then the 2 bikes with no lights followed by a bike with a good back light.

We were near Eynesford station when a policeman stopped us and sternly told us we couldn’t carry on as we didn’t have proper lights. We explained what had happened and he inspected the bikes, he didn’t know what to say when he saw he couldn’t do anything to help and we still had to get home.  He said “ok but stay in this line and be careful”. Poor Dave had a bumpy ride with a puncture and we travelled slowly hoping the remaining lights would hold out.

On one occasion we had cycled to All Hallows, 23 miles through Dartford, Swanscombe, Gravesend and A228. We went to play in the fair ground, shooting ranges etc. and it poured with rain all of the way home, so we arrived drenched at about 10pm !

We used to camp out sometimes and I recall stopping at Brands Hatch and pitching tents 
inside the grounds.  We were hastily moved on the next day & told we couldn’t camp there but we were still able to walk around anywhere inside.


The Ditch
At the end of the garden was the stream, which ran through the factories, was about a foot deep, and full of frogs, newts & sticklebacks, a haven of wildlife. 

We called it the “Ditch” and it had steep sides and a narrow stream running along.  It was safe away from the road and was one of our playgrounds together with the fields, sand pits & orchards. 

At around 8 years old we decided to damn the stream and we worked hard on it collecting wood, branches and twigs.  As it got deeper it got wider as the banks sloped and it opened it up for us to float a raft on it.  It was nearly big enough to swim in when a guy from the local factory came to check out why the water level had changed.  He obviously told us to stop and we watched as he and others dismantled it, a fair torrent escaped as they pulled it down.

When I was 5 or 6 Mum and Dad bought me a small yacht with sails which I used to float in the ditch. One day I went to the ditch on my own, I slipped in & went home wringing wet and muddy, I thought I’d get told off.


Snow

I recall that we used to have snowy winters in those days. We were living at Bill’s house, while ours was having the bomb damage repaired. One morning the adults came in and said “are you staying there in bed all day or are you coming out in the snow?” Our eyes opened wide in amazement and we leapt out of bed, there was a blanket of snow about 10 inches deep.  I was about 5, I ran outside, opens my arms wide and fell backwards “poomf” into the snow, a perfect “snow angel”. It was my first experience of snow and I don’t remember seeing snow like it since.

Dad spent ages making me a sledge with 2” wide metal runners. Other kids were out playing on theirs and I got impatient wondering what he was doing that took so long. 
I was about 7 years old and as soon as it was finished, on a good snowy day, I went to the top of Franks park amongst all the kids on their sledge. Conditions were perfect, dry fresh snow.

I laid down, held the handle bars at the front, with my boots hanging off the back. The sledge went with a whoosh, I couldn’t believe the speed, zooming past the other sledgers. 
I sped down the hill, past the bandstand, steering through the bashes and trees to the edge of the park, across a dirt road and onto Mayfield Road which led to the main road. 

I still kept going until I reached Lower Road with its trolley buses and cars. I had gone like a rocket without stopping, thank goodness there hadn’t been any traffic and Mum and Dad hadn’t seen me! I picked up the sledge and rather than walking half a mile back up the hill I went home which was close by.

Another time about 200 yards from home at the top of the railway bridge, I was in Lower Road on the opposite side from Jack’s shop.  The Manor Way was a big sweeping bend near the line of factories. There was a fence all the way round the bend to the left. I got on the sledge, went down the hill aiming to steer it round the gradual bend but it was very icy and compacted. I couldn’t turn it in time so I slid sideways off the edge of the kerb and went across the road. It tipped over and I realised how lucky I’d been as there was a lot of traffic on that road, a dangerous spot !


One evening about 10pm me, Ron & Bill he’d behind the garden wall and bombarded Mum & Dad as they returned from the pub. They returned the fire and we had such a snowball fight.

Sand pits
So much building was going on after the war, sand was in great demand and the pits were in constant use. Silver Birch footpath in Erith was about a mile’s cycle ride from where we lived, and there were some massive sand pits, which had been dug out over the years.  They were dangerous places and our parents would have been horrified if they knew we played there. 

There was a railway line next to the natural hill of sand (about 100 feet), they used to excavate/scrape the sand straight into the rail truck below and off they went.  The cliff edge  was as high as the church steeple, and a dangerous place to play.

As children we used to play there, climb and swing from trees, The whole area was littered with ponds that had been dug out over the years and mounds of sand making a very undulating expanse. There were lots of holes and ponds which we used to visit and play around, which were full of frogs, newts, stickle backs and even adders.


During one visit as we climbed up the sand cliff edge, which were like a huge sloping wall of solid sand, Robin Martin fell down and into a truck. 

There was a dirt track along the side of the pictures and we used to go to the pits which were about 60 foot high and close by.  The house where Dave Stone now lives is about 100 meters from the top edge of these sand cliffs.  


One day I had an accident as I had a short fall, trying to climb the rope, but  survived! As we played I climbed along a tree branch which took me out above the sand hill and the trucks below. I promise that I was very aware of the dangers and was cautious, but in hindsight I suppose accidents do happen, no “health and safely” at all in those days.

map &  pics


Orchards, wastelands
Close by across a few roads, under the bridge was an orchard which was fenced off.  However, being resourceful young hooligans, about 7 years old we got through the fence and enjoyed scrumping, apples, pears and plums.  

One day Robin and Tony Martin, Dave Stone and me were playing in the orchard and decided to explore a bit further, so went through to a huge piece of waste land with a high hump of soil. It was factory land and we shouldn’t have been in there but we’d often wondered what was over the hump so we climbed up it’s sides and peered over. Below was a huge 100 ft lake of putrid, bubbling waste, which was foul, discharged waste from the 5 factories. In those days it was acceptable to have a waste dump on factories own land and they hadn’t expected kids to be playing there.

A man had seen us and dashed across to us shouting”what are you doing up here”.  We were trespassing and we stared to run away. Dave and yelled “he’s got a gun”, never have we moved so fast to get away. He probably didn’t have a gun but just a stick.


Swimming 
We used to love swimming and would often go to Plumstead baths.  We’d get the trolley bus outside our house to Abbey Wood, the end of the line. Then we’d get on the Tram towards London, first stop Plumstead where we got off. 

There were 2 swimming pools, the first class and cheaper second class.  After a while we’d pay the extra for the first class as the diving boards were higher !

We’d travel light, trunks rolled up in a towel, our return bus fare in our pockets.
One day we were starving hungry when we came out we had to decide whether to buy food and walk the 6 miles home or get the bus.  We walked to the cafe, bought toast and dripping then walked home.

Barnhurst and Gravesend pools were open air pool with high diving boards. One chap was performing all sorts of somersaults and we thought, yes we could do that. Mick and I confidently climbed the stairs onto the wide open top platform, where people were sunbathing.  It didn’t look too high from the ground but when we got to the top it looked daunting.  However, everyone was cheering and saying “ go on, you can do it!” Eventually we dived off. 


Fireworks  - November 5th, in addition to being my Dad’s birthday, was Guy Fawkes night & a big event in those days. The first one after the end of the war the largest bonfire imaginable, built on a piece of land next to our houses where houses had been knocked down. It had taken weeks to build, using all sorts of materials from the demolished houses, wood & materials from the factories and was covered in a tarpaulin to keep it dry.  All piled up sooooo high, it was huge.

Sat on the top was a a guy representing Hitler, with bangers in his pockets, the crowd roared and cheered when he went up in huge flames and went off with a bang!! The children were so excited.

Guy Fawkes night and bangers were a big event in those days and we saved money at Jack’s corner shop in the firework club. It was exciting cashing the money for our stash of fireworks, mostly  “ Brocks” bangers of course, which were used to great effect! 

I kept my fireworks on top of the piano and one day a boy came indoors with me for something. After he’d gone I realised some of my bangers were missing so as I knew where he lived I dashed off to confront him, he said it was only a few, but I got them back.

After the war there were lots of places you could build a bonfire and plenty of wood from bomb damaged buildings. Everyone brought fireworks and the children would start to build the fire well in advance, adults joined in to create massive fires.

Along the fence at the river bank was a metal tube which proved an effective gun when rammed with shot balls and a banger, wow the shot went a long way.  We used to find the lead shots in the mud along the banks, they’d been there since ??..

There had been a small railway close by, which was no longer used and the discarded sleepers were ideal for the fire. We had started building the bonfire a few days before 5th November, when kids from West Street, probably the twins from a rival ‘gang’ lit it ! So we only had a few days to rebuild it.

One year a faulty firework went up then turned and headed towards the houses, up the garden and it looked like it hit the window.

Another event was in one of the gardens, when we placed a banger under an old tin bowl, when it blew up we never ever found it!

The church yard with the church and morgue was opposite the black. From the road there was a gateway, up a slope to a garage sized morgue close to the trees which we would climb and onto the roof. There was a large round window built into a 9 inch brick wall. We could step up on the window ledge and Robin, the leader of our gang, would sit in it as this was our meeting place. One year we put a thin “Brocks” banger inside the keyhole of the locked door  we lit it and ran round the other side under the round window. Instead of the usual big bang we heard a dull thud.
When we went back to the door the banger had blown a big hole in the door, and blown the lock out of the door. There was lots of damage! we just RAN away as quick as we could, we didn’t even look to see if there was a body in there.

There had been some large old houses close by that were knocked down. Straight after the war ended the ground was empty and to celebrate a huge bonfire was built on it.  Wood was taken from the demolished houses and from anywhere it could be collected, there was plenty of it after the war! An enormous effigy of Hitler had been made and placed on the top, with bangers in his pocket he exploded and we all cheered. 



We went to visit family who lived near Weybridge and I went down to the river with cousin Elaine. I was about 10 years old and could swim and dive well. There were boats going up and down, under a stone road bridge with buses and cars travelling over it. 

Wanting to show off I climbed onto the wall and dived into the river.  I’d ask Elaine if there were any boats coming and she said no. The water was clear but I couldn’t be sure of the depth.  As I entered the water a boat came under the bridge and just missed me !!  I don’t know who was more scared, me or the skipper of the boat.



Stables
The war had just ended and being inquisitive 7 year old kids we ventured all over the place and into derelict buildings. Close to where we lived was a disused stables, on the way down to the river. Many years prior it had been a busy place with horses, carts and a working black smith. It was derelict and hadn’t been used for years but the anvils and equipment were still there and highly dangerous.  

One day a policeman found us, told us off and told us not to play there again. He took out a pencil and book, said he’d  tell my mum and dad and asked me for my name and address. Thinking I was being clever I said 22 Beltwood Road (not my correct address) and gave him my name. It was actually where my teacher lived but I never heard any more, he was just chasing us out to keep us safe, although I thought he was horrible.


Sea scouts 
Along the river front there was an inlet and we would go down the steps to the river bank where a Thames sailing boat moored on the river. 

pics of boats moored on prom

I was about 10 and amongst other things I learnt how to tie knots, send morse code and semaphore signals, we would go below decks to learn and take tests to earn our skills badges. 

One day when I and a couple of the scouts had arrived before the officers we lowered the rowing boat into the water.  One of them said can anyone row it and I enthusiastically said yes.  Go on then they said so I jumped in and started to row out, going past the safe inlet where the sailing boat was moored.  I realised that I was in the main river, with a tide running.  I turned it round and had difficulty rowing it back against the tide, I was hot and exhausted when I got back !!

St John;s boys club


pic 0f a shop

Cinemas
When I was 5 or 6 mum would take me to the Ritz cinema in Erith. We would catch the bus from the end of our road and I would say “ can I pay for the fare”. The  tickets would get clipped by a machine which would stamp a hole in it and it went “ding”.


One day as the usherette showed us to our seats, she looked at me and said “hasn’t he got lovely eyes and long eye lashes”. At the back of the cinema the buses used to stop there and a small covered shack where the drivers used to get a cup of tea and toast. We used to have some and I thought it was a real treat. 

On the way home we passed the Electricity showrooms, with a huge metal grill over the windows. I used to try and climb up it, how inviting for any child, Mum would say “get down off there” .

I clearly recall going to the Odeon & Ritz cinemas with mum during the war to watch the newsreels.  I can remember seeing the Russians and men feeding long cartridges of 3.03 bullets into the wings of Spitfires. 

pics of cinema







             Picardy  Senior school   11-15 years

Mr Schofield Headmaster of Picardy, he was OK
Mr Challis Wood work
Mr Ridgeway Wood work
Mr Ponting Music
Mr Bird Metal work
Mr Hasted Science
Mr Brierley.                 Maths.     (He used to swear in class, which we all thought was wonderful       and won our respect)
Mr Hutchinson Maths & Sport

The school gate was right opposite the entrance to Frank’s Park. We shared a sports field with the Grammar School and had to walk through the park and out the other side, this was where we played our football matches.  Before that we made a long walk down the road, across the railway bridge, towards the river and into a large field with 4 football pitches.

Being close to the park, it was used for the cross country race. On the day of the race I didn’t put myself into it as I didn’t have any shoes to run in, Mr Schofield found me and said “why aren’t you running?” When I told him he said “I’ll find you a pair” which he did.  Tony Martin and I ran the whole course together, till he made a sudden burst towards the end and finished in front of me.  I came 8th.

At Picardy we had quite a lot of gypsies, in my my class too, so I knew what they were like and I wasn’t afraid of them. 

One day as we were going up the stairs boys started jostling and one boy jabbed another with his elbow who jabbed him back. Suddenly everyone was jeering and calling for a fight, namely me and this gypsy!  A small incident led to us being marched across the playground ushering along to the park, shouting “ to the bandstand, go on hit him, don’t stand for that”.

I didn’t understand how it got to this and I definitely didn’t want to fight, nor did he! I didn’t know him personally and we were both pushed into it. Fortunately after a few slaps the Park Keeper came along and broke it up.

The whole school met to elect new house captains. Students were nominating possible boys, my name was called out and I didn’t know what was happening and was surprised when I was told to go outside.  I thought I was in trouble but the others said everyone was voting for house captains. I was gobsmacked when we went back into the hall and my name was written on the board, I couldn’t believe what had happened. ( maybe kids knew me from the park fight and voted for me as house captain !! ) 

They had chosen me as Orange house captain, I didn’t think anyone knew who I was! (had they remembered me from the fight I’d had a West Street?) I was in a daze but Mum and Dad were chuffed. Larry O’Connell  and I were good friends who played together and were in some lessons together. Larry had been voted Blue house captain, Johnny Monk was Green and Alan Froud was Red.

Mr Schofield was Orange house teacher and unlike my experiences with Mr Neal, I was respected and trusted by Mr Schofield.


Our class went to London by train with Mr Schofield for a trip to visit the Great Exhibition?? There was a huge spectacular torpedo shaped tower that was suspended from cables.
Coming home somebody unscrewed  a light bulb and threw it out of the rail carriage window.  A person saw the bulb come flying out of the window and smashed. It was seen that a bulb in our carriages was missing so as I was a captain and in charge of that group when we got back he called me into his office and asked who did it, not wanted to grass on them although I knew who it was I said I didn’t know.

One day we were told to go to the Abbey Woods Park after school.  We wondered what it was for as it was such a long way to go.  The park was full of kids and we had to queue to the BCG injection, to prevent TB


Mr Ponting was the Music teacher and also our class teacher.  I was in the choir and Mr Ponting entered our class into a singing competition at Crayford Townhall. There were about 25 of us and we rehearsed in the gym. We sang the song “When the world is rent asunder”. 


“All the world is rent asunder
When the war gods take command
And the battles deafening thunder
Is echoed in every land

What a waste of wealth and wisdom
What a woeful waste of life
When the whole world should united stand
Waging war on strife

One great world wide brotherhood 
Linked by common cause, International charities, Universal laws
Breaking down all barriers, Bidding warfare cease
Bringing to this world in turmoil “Everlasting Peace”

I can still remember the words of many songs and how we used to warm up repeatedly singing 
“ oo, i, a, e” .

Football
Cousin Ron next door was about 6 years older than me and played for Slade Green FC. He got me into football, taking me to his clubs when they had trials.  From about 6 years old I played for the St John’s Boys club, a small team to get boys into football.

Picardy School was right opposite “Erith & Belvedere” ground and they invited boys to the ground for selection for a Colts team which they were starting. It was exciting for us to be asked to go & play on E&B’s ground & I was very keen on the Saturday as I went along with our sports teacher. 

8 year old kids from all over the place were there. We gave our names in, our school, the position we played and which foot we kicked with. I had a football of my own, which Mum & Dad bought me and  I’d been kicking a ball up against a wall with both feet for ages, kicking around with Ron next door.

I’d said I was a winger and I went on the left wing. When a ball came to me I kicked it into the goal mouth. I was only on the pitch briefly for a few kicks and I thought I’d failed when I was told to go and sit in the stands, I was very disappointed. However, as I was good at kicking the ball I’d been selected straight away! 

They formed a Colts team and I got into it with boys from the Grammar school & my school.  E&B FC was quite big at that time and were in the Corinthians League. As a Colt I play against Charlton, Portsmouth & Gravesend. 

We were lucky to have the “Black” outside our houses to play on. Lower Road was a busy main road with trolley buses and one day our leather football went under the wheels of the bus.  We picked the ball up, it hadn’t burst but it had been flattened and was rugby shaped. We were quite upset. 



Jack’s shop


Manorway factories 

Factories
Erith was right on the River Thames and provided perfect transport for numerous factories were along the bank.  From our garden and upstairs we could see all of the factories, small train & trees. 

Calendars Cables - They made steel cables and it was the nearest factory to our house, but there was great security, a tall wall around this factory, so we never saw much of it.  They specialised in the 3 inch cables that were laid across the Atlantic sea bed to the USA, recognised as an amazing feat of engineering.


BOCM - British Oil & Cake Mills.  They imported peanuts in shells and extracted oil.
Uncle Bill & Aunt Ginnie worked there and were able to bring home bags of nuts which were shared amongst the family. All my life I could remember seeing nuts in their home.

Sebels  wood factory ????
It was the first factory that Mum worked in

Burndepts   ???
Was where mum worked, she was also a shop steward there!.  There were very wide entrance gates and a smooth road surface.

Doultons
Clay & ceramic pipes, basins, toilets  manufacture.

Plasterboards   
Made sheets of plaster board !!!


Factory railway
There was a small steam train that serviced the row of 5 factories, slowly chugging along with its trucks full of equipment and products.  It crossed through the fields, passing through the grounds of the factories. We would cross the track, even as the train was coming as it was so slow and the drivers knew us. 

Fraser & Charmer was on the other side of the road and was a ?????



Greatstone holidays
Bungalow

When I was 8 years old we went on our first holiday straight after the war ended to Greatstone. 
Uncle Bill knew someone who had two bungalows near the beach, so we all went together, Uncle Bill, Aunt Jenni, Bill, Rita, Michael, Dad, Mum, me and my friend Dave Stone.  As soon as we arrived the kids ran straight down to the sea and jumped in, fully clothed! none of us had ever seen the sea before !!

It was 1946, straight after the war and I was 8 years old. We used to get a coach from Erith to New Romney and we walked with our cases the mile to ??.? Road where the shacks were. They were old, very basic with tin roofs but perfect for a two week holiday. There was a fantastic feeling of freedom, no bombs, no planes overhead or running for the safety of the shelter.

We put the cases in the shacks and walked across the sand dunes, where a gap had been made between the beach defences if barbed wire and enormous wooden piles sticking out from the sand. We didn’t know what the seaside, beach or sea would be like.  As we saw the sea the five children ran fully clothed into the water, yelling and cheering.  The “ Euphoria” we felt is indescribable the excitement, relief and sense of freedom. 

The gardens at the back of the shacks were huge and all looked out onto endless field and open space. All we wanted to do was explore. Bill was 10, Dave was 9, Rita and I were 8 and Michael was about 5.  It was isolated, no cars or other people and totally safe so our parents left us to roam and enjoy the freedom.

On our second day we walked to the end of our garden and jumped over the small ditch with water running along it and off across the fields which were endless. We lost track of time and walked almost to New Romney. There were little ditches and bogs crisis crossing the fields and we had roamed everywhere. 

As we turned and tried to head back to the shack we got bogged down, sinking in places up to our ankles. We were very scares as we tried to find a way through, having to keep turning back to find a safer route. Eventually we saw the shack and headed towards it.  We looked at each other as we walked up the garden, what a sight, we were covered in mud we’d been up to our knees at times. Mum came out, gawped and ran back inside “ come and look at this Joe, what a sight” she called. 

Goodness only knows how they cleaned us up.  The first day we’d soaked our clothes by running into the sea and today we’d covered ourselves in mud!!

We’d bought buckets and sturdy spades from the little beach shop, all made of metal and wood in those days, no plastic then. We couldn’t wait to get digging so the parents left us on the beach while they went to The Jolly Fisherman pub for a drink.

The 5 of us were enthusiastically digging a huge hole which got so deep we could stand in it. The parents came back and asked why there was only 4 of us?  we cheerfully declare the other one was in the hole!!  There was immediate panic, “what are you doing?! this is so dangerous, get out of the hole and don’t ever do this again !”


Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
This miniature railway with its Steam and Diesel engines pulling small carriages runs along the coast and was a familiar sight while we were on holiday. We used to come across the railway lines on our travels and would jump across the lines when no trains were coming. We’d wave and call out to the drivers and passengers in the carriages.

There were a few sidings where trains could pull off and one day we walked along a siding and came across a trolley that was powered by two people pumping up and down on handles. We had great fun powering it back and forth.

I can still remember the names of the engines-
Dr Syn,    Northern Chief,   Southern Maid,   Hercules,  The Bug
Samson,   Typhoon,   Winston Churchill,    Hurricane,   Green Goddess,   Black Prince

On one of our train trips one of the doors on our carriage wasn’t shut properly & it was flapping open.  We were approaching a tunnel and everyone was wondering what to do. I was small and scrambled through the gap between the roof and over the seats to get to the door. I closed it just as we went into the tunnel.  The ticket collector and other passengers cheered and I was a hero.

We were old enough to know the war was recently over so we were not surprised to see the beach defences at low tide.  There were huge wooden piles driven at 45 degrees into the sand to prevent enemy ships landing, invisible at high tide. 


Film Green grow the rushes






Later “prefab” houses were built on the ground. 
Dave Stone and his family lived in one of the prefabs but when a new one was built across the road they moved into there.  It was opposite our house and right next door to Lings, the builders. 

Queens Road,  Kent Road Bermondsey.     Old Kent Road
Although mum and dad had moved away from London’s Tower Bridge area, my grandparents and relatives still lived there. I can remember visiting them and travelling on trains. 
Uncle Jack, Aunt Beattie, Jack, Maureen, Ron, Beattie 
Mum’s brother Jack. Cousin Jack was killed in the war.

Uncle Tom, mum’s brother, cousin Pat.  Uncle Alf

House captains
Alan Frood.         Red
Johnny Monk.     Green
LarryO Connel.    Blue
Me.                      Orange

Dr Syn     Northern Chief.     Southern Maid.     Hercules.    Samson
Typhoon.   Winston Churchill.   Hurricane.     Green Godess.    Black Prince.   The Bug

Primary School Choir. I was 8 years old
Mr Brocklebank Choir Master, English & Arithmetic Teacher

To set the Angels Singing
Come music makers
Rise up a song
To set the “echees “ ringing
A song of the Truth
In the Heart of Youth
A song for the Joy of Singing
For the Birds make music and
The trees sing and
The Wind joins song at the sea
All the World has a song of its own
And so in ourTurn shall we
So Sing, Sing Music Makers
A Song for the Joy of the Singing (pause)
For the Joy of the Singing

All the World is Rent asunder
When the War Gods take Command
And the Battles Deafening Thunder
Is Echoed in Every Land
What a Waste of Wealth and Wisdom
What a Woeful Waste of Life
When the Whole World Should
United Stand, Raging War on Strife
One Great WorldWide Brotherhood
Rent by Common Cause
International Charities, Universal Laws
Breaking down All Barriers
Bidding Warfare Cease
Bringing to This World In Turmoil
Everlasting Peace

Working

My first job on leaving school at 15 was for the Paint Laboratory in Erith, an apprenticeship.
It involved testing paints and mixing chemicals.  I was sent one day a week  to the college in Dartford, which I travelled to on my bike. It was not a good paying job so I left after 8 months as the pay wasn’t good, nor any future prospects.


Lings the Builders
Right opposite our house was a driveway that led to Lings, the builders. It was so convenient !! and no travelling expenses. I was 16 and it was there that I learned all of my practical building skills.

I would be sent to work each day with either the plumber, plasterer, bricklayer or electrician, depending who needed the most help. I was very practical and picked up tasks very quickly and I enjoyed the work and learning the trades. It was also more money than the apprenticeship at the paint laboratory. Every trade wanted me to work for them and they would argue over who I would work for on that day and the “guvnor” would have to decide who needed me the most. 

I spent most of my time with Ted Miller the plumber. I became quite skilled and I would cut the threads on the lead pipes and fit them on radiators. One job came up in a church near Crayford that required a plaster and electrician and Mr Ling sent me to work with them, Ted wasn’t at all happy !

Mr Ling was a fan of the local Erith & Belvedere football team that I played for. One morning as Ted had loaded up the van ready to go I was requested to go to see Mr Ling and he wasn’t happy at the delay and wondered what I’d done wrong. I didn’t know that Mr Ling follow my football career and he’d called me in to talk about the weekend’s game, when I scored a great goal.

I had the opportunity to watch everything the was going on and learnt so much working there, I used to mix up cement & plaster and did some plastering & bricklaying. (plus I have to admit I enjoyed it when they fought over me and wanted me to work for them !!).  I was a fit 17 year old, working with them all and learning their trades. Cousin Ron also worked in construction and taught me quite a lot.

It was a hectic business and I was always busy, there were so many buildings that had been damaged in the war and needed repairs done.

I was working for Ted when I was called up and he was quite upset to lose me.  He’d been training me up and offered me an apprenticeship of 2-4 years if I’d defer my National Service, but I wanted to go into the RAF.

Their driveway was along the side of Dave Stone’s prefab.  His dad Sid had been a tank engineer in the war and used to do maintenance on Lings vehicles and equipment, driving lorries too.



I went into the RAF for my National Service. I was asked by several senior officers to stay in the RAF after my 2 compulsory years and although I loved the job I knew I would be going into the docks which was well paid in those days.  (I will try to find the text from the  National Service book that I made)

After National Service I worked in a TV shop until I could go into the Docks with my Dad.

I worked in various docks  till I retired with health issues, aged 64.  I’d worked there since I was 21 years old.

 

 

Hop Picking
Apparently in 1939 we went to “Hoppickers Encampment”  Yew Tree Farm, Broad Oak, Tonbridge. At one year old it was the first time I went with the family. 

Regularly after the war we would go to Kent for the annual September Hop Picking. Whole families from London would pack up everything they needed for 4 or 6 weeks in the country, picking hops for the farmers.  There were rows of small Hopping Huts, no electricity, beds of crude wooden slats, with large sacks filled with straw to sleep on. There were open fires outside to cook on.

Uncle Alf, Mum’s brother, lived in London and one year I went down with him to get the hut ready for the rest of the family, arriving the next day. 
I was about 12 years old and went to collect the water in 2 buckets.  Although the tap was about 4 yards away from our hut in the next field, you had to walk to the end of the field, go through the “kissing gate” and back along the field to the tap.
I decided to climb over the fence via the stepping stone, easy on the way over, not so coming back with 2 loaded buckets ! When someone came past I asked them to take the loaded buckets and in return I filled their buckets for them. 
As I took the buckets back to the hut I passed a group of “gypos” ( at that time gypsies were known as “gypos”) who were taunting me and calling me “pixie ears”. 
I put the buckets down and turned to them saying “come on then who’s going to be first?” They backed away and ran off in fear.
Uncle Alf had been watching from the hut, he smiled, raised his eyes and said” you saw them  off then !”

One of my Uncles was a “bine cutter”  They walked around on stills and when the bines of hops were ripe and ready to be harvested they would cut the bine at the top so it fell to the ground.  The pickers would then sit round stripping the hops into large hoppers.  It was hard work, rough on the finders but great fun for families to be in the open air, with their children & friends singing and enjoying country life, away from the smoke of London. There was always the trip to the pub in the evenings too. 

There is a museum called “The Museum of Life” where they display a scene from the hop picking days.  The huts, hops, hoppers, tools and people.  I think my Aunt Lylie and grandfather are in this photo displayed there.

 

 

Christopher Cook