To The Gasworks

We were watching something on TV tonight and the subject of coke came up.  Do you know that coke is the end result of coal that has been burned.  According to Wikipedia “Coke is a fuel with few impurities and a high carbon content. It is the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Cokes made from coal are grey, hard, and porous.”

Don’t know about any of that but I do know that it gave off enough heat to warm our apartment.

During and immediately after the war coal was rationed and as open fires were the main form of heating in most houses it was sorely missed.  I remember one day my Mother dressed us all in our coats, hats and gloves and took us outside the apartment.  There, sitting at our front door was a pram borrowed from a neighbour.

About a mile or so from where we lived was the local  gasworks that consumed enormous amounts of coal and then discarded the coke that was left.  One day Mother had heard that one could buy coke but that one had to go to the gasworks yard to collect it.  Hence the pram borrowed from the neighbour.


Gasometer in East London via Wikipedia

I remember it was a bitterly cold winter day – I think mid afternoon – and the four of us walked to the gasworks.  When we arrived we were met with a long line of women who obviously had heard the same rumour.   I seem to remember there were only women in the queue, I suppose all the men were away fighting.

The line moved slowly, oh so slowly for three little girls with nothing to do but stand around.  I remember putting my youngest sister into the pram and my elder sister and I wheeled her up and down the line, talking to strangers and showing off our darling sister.  I can’t imagine any mother allowing her children to do this today.  Talking to strangers and accepting candy from some of them.  And they were all glad of anything to relieve the monotony of standing in line. I think other children joined us in our perambulations.

Eventually we were at the head of the queue.  Mother asked how much she could have and was told two bags.  She paid whatever was asked (2 shillings comes to mind but I may be wrong) and the kindly man loaded the bags into the pram for us.

By this time it was dark as well as bitterly cold, but mother was in an exuberant mood.  She had bought extra heating fur us.  And I do remember that as we trudged back home she balanced our youngest sister on top of the coke bags while my elder sister and I skipped along the road.  Mother’s excitement was catching although at the time we really didn’t understand the reason for it.  But in the cold nights ahead we were very pleased that we had gone to the gasworks.

How strong those women were who kept their homes and families together while their men were away fighting for King and country.  I wonder if I would have been as resilient as my Mother in the same circumstances.

When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
Author Unknown

18 responses to “To The Gasworks

  1. oh I think you would have been equally resilient,my friend. And knowing you, you would have entertained the others with stories of strength and grace, just as you do now! Those were hard times for so many and I’m convinced a sense of community helped many get through it. That is perhaps what is most lacking in our times, a sense of community, of being part of a group that works together, plays together,survives together.

    • You are so right Joss – we hardly know our neighbours and as for the rest of our community. I think that these women gained strength from each other in times of terrible stress.

  2. People`s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship always inspires me. What a lovely tale to have in your family lore.

  3. I don’t remember that particular day and I think we would have done that
    once we moved to our house as it was up Queensbridge Road the depot. I used to go there on my own and get the tarry blocks. Yolu didnt go because it was too mucky for you and Christine as the youngest I had no choice. I realy do not think any of us could have done what Mummy did she was one of a kind.

    • Oh I agree little sister. Our Mum was one of a kind but then so many women stood up and became much stronger when they had to in the face of the hardships they had to face.

  4. I dont see Christine leaving any messages I hope she is alright.

    • Yes she is fine. I spoke with her for about an hour this morning. I also tried to call you but your line was engaged forever. Love J

  5. It’s hard to imagine all those families affected by war went through. Today, there is communication with loved ones serving, but not at that time. You also have your mother’s resiliency and determination.

    • Thank you Patti for that final comment. I appreciate it. I do remember that as children we thought that everybody lived under those same conditions.

  6. I can only guess at the privations of those times. Lately we have had power outages here and some without enough heat. My neighbor just told me her goldfish died in the bowl whilst the humans in the house were all bundled up confronting the brutal cold. Needless to say they are now invited here where we have a wood burning stove.

    • Hi Dor – of course we don’t have that numbing and killing cold here but I do remember when we lived in Montreal hearing of people who froze to death in their cars.
      Well done for inviting your neighbours to share your heat.

  7. What a great story. Women had to be very strong in those days and they passed that stength on to us.

  8. Fascinating story/memory. Times certainly have changed with regard to how children interact with strangers.

  9. What a wonderful heart warming story. The kind that warms the soul. Thank you for sharing!

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