Tag Archives: World War II


“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  you find the present tense, but the past perfect! ”
Owens Lee Pomeroy

You have no doubt read about my growing up in the East End of London, during and following the Second World War, and today I am filled with nostalgia for some of the things we had then.

Mother didn’t go to the supermarket for her weekly shopping.  She went to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and the grocers for butter cheese etc.  Butter and cheese were cut to order from a large slab that rested on a marble counter.  Cheese was sliced with a wire and butter cut with butter pats.

Model in Nottingham Museum

Model in Nottingham Museum

We were always amazed at the skill of the person cutting the cheese or butter at how close they came to the amount requested.

The shopping was carried in bags and baskets – no plastic bags available then – and taken home to be put away in the larder.  And growing up there were no refrigerators in houses, at least not in any houses near where we lived.

Milk bottles

Milk delivered every morning

Milk was delivered to the door in bottles.  These were washed and returned to the milkman the next day; so were our parents engaging in recycling without being aware of it.  In May last year, I wrote about recycling and how we and our parents recycled things without even knowing that was what we were doing  – That Green Thing.  There was no choice; it’s just how it was.

So back to the nostalgia.  Yesterday I was in a local store and espied a butter dish.  This took me way back to my early years.  The butter was brought home from the store in greaseproof paper and immediately transferred to a butter dish.  The one I saw was so like Mother’s that I just had to buy it.

2013-01-20 16-34-02_0002

I remembered how on Sundays three little girls would be taken by their Mother to the local sweet shop to choose how they would spend their 20z ration of sweets.  The sweets had to last the whole week.  Having chosen the sweets were then taken home and put into the sweet jar from where we were allowed one sweet after dinner each night and an extra one after lunch at the weekend.  Not for us the extravagance of a whole chocolate bar or bag of sweets.


Inside a typical 1940s and 1950s sweet shop, where most sweets were weighed out for each customer from large glass jars. Photo courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society.

When my children were small I carried on the tradition of the sweet jar; one candy/sweet after dinner each night and an extra one at lunchtime at the weekend.

When Father returned from the war, he would use his sweet ration to buy a Mars Bar.  He would take it home and proceed to cut it into slices to share with his girls.  For years I thought this was the only way to eat a Mars Bar.  And I did the same with my children when they were small.  It certainly made a chocolate bar go far.

Mars bar

Now if I want to I can eat a whole Mars Bar but I always slice it up first.  Isn’t it amazing how things we learned when we were young stay with us through life.

And then after the war when I was a little older I met a young man who was always buying me presents.  How lucky can a girl get?  Perfume, candies, pretty scarves and one day some Max Factor Top Secret.  Do any of you remember this product?  It was the early runner for today’s hair lacquer and we loved it. I remembered it during my walk down memory lane today.  How innocent we all were.

We didn’t have a car when I was young and so we walked, took a bus or the tube (London Underground) to wherever we were going.  Buses were frequent but we always had a fairly long walk to get to the bus stop – well the walk seemed long to young girls.  As a really small girl,  I thought a trip on the tube was the height of excitement.  To get to the ‘local’ tube station we had to walk through the local park AKA London Fields, then take a double-decker red London bus for a short ride to the underground station.  We thought nothing of a half hour trip just to get to the tube.  And later, when I had left school and taken my first job, this trip was done morning and evening each day.



No time To WaveGoodbye

If you have read any of my posts you will know that I am a Londoner, and although I haven’t lived in that fascinating city for some 50 plus years I still think of it as home.

I was born shortly before the Second World War broke out and have described how I grew up during the bombing by the Luftwaffe, thinking this was how all people lived.  And it wasn’t until many, many years later while talking to a German Pastor over coffee, that I realised that there were also German children growing up under the same conditions.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a post about evacuation but mainly about those children who were sent to Australia without their parents’ knowledge or consent – Oranges and Sunshine .  A plan that while made with good intentions (?) went horribly wrong.

Because we lived in the East End of London and the Docks were the target of the bombing, many children were evacuated to the country out of harms way.  But Mother decided we would all stay together; I think she didn’t trust strangers to look after her three precious daughters.  We did go to stay with an aunt in Nottinghamshire for a short time, but the aunt wasn’t Mother’s favourite person and we three were miserable so the stay was very short.

The plan was to evacuate the  school aged  children (without their mothers)  from the East End of London and areas around the docks in Liverpool and Glasgow and while it was made with good intentions it went horribly wrong in places. Mothers with children under school age, children and expectant mothers were  encouraged to evacuate.  Official figures put the number of evacuees at:

  • Schoolchildren (827,000) and their teachers
  • Mothers with children under five (524,000)
  • Pregnant women (12,000)
  • Some disabled people

Some of the evacuees had a great time, but of course, many were homesick and ran  back home.  Most hadn’t been away from their homes at all and many had never seen grass or cows.  It must have been a rude awakening.  And some were very badly treated.  They were used as unpaid household and farm help and many were kept in deplorable conditions.

The decision to evacuate was made by politicians and people who had no concept of how many children lived in the poorer areas of the land.  These decision makers were used to sending their own children (or at least their sons) away to boarding school at the age of 6 or 7 and they had no idea that this would be a totally foreign concept to most of the population.  But the decision was made.

Book cover

My very tattered copy.

In 1990 on a sunny afternoon in Toronto we were invited to accompany our hosts to a party on a launch.  Here we met Ben Wicks, a journalist now a Canadian  who had been evacuated when he was 12  and had decided to write about not only his own experiences but also those of other evacuees.  He posted advertisements in papers in the UK, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa asking for those who had been evacuated to contact him.  He had an overwhelming response.

The book brings history to life as told by the people who lived this experiment and makes compelling reading.  The twins who were sent to separate houses, the boy who slept under the stairs and had to have the fire lit and the kettle boiling for breakfast before the family rose in the morning and even then he only had what was left after the family had eaten, the brother and sister taken to a farm and who slept with the animals in the barn; and then there were those who were treated beautifully.  The two brothers who were treated as the two sons the couple never had and with whom the brothers kept in contact for many years, and the young girl who was given piano lessons.  One of the famous people who was evacuated is Sir Michael Caine  (aka Maurice Micklewhte).  Sir Michael’s  family lived in Southwark, South London, and he was evacuated when he was six and remembers being one of the “filthy kids from London with funny accents.”

In the book this greatest movement of people that Britain ever experienced is recalled  in interviews Ben Wicks conducted with those evacuees who made themselves known to him.  And Wicks noted that an important repercussion to the evacuation  was heightened political awareness of the injustices of the British class  system.


Musing on Monday

Years ago when I first visited the Golden Door I was weighed when I checked in and again when I was leaving.  I have no memory of what the weight was but I do remember one of the staff members saying that weight is set on a man-made scale and it is better to rely on how we feel and how we look rather than the scales.  Since that time I don’t  weigh myself and use his suggestion of how I feel and noticing if my clothes are getting a little tight.  Then I know  I need to take a look at what I am eating and the amount of exercise I am (or am not) doing.  They will weigh me going in and out of the Golden Door at the end of the month, but once again I will not ask them to tell me what I weigh.

On the subject of weight, and looking for something to write about in my blog,  I found an article in the Daily Mail Online today about the fattest man in the world.  Apparently, Keith Martin who is 42 years old weighed 58 stones and if my calculations are correct that equals 812 lbs.  Using the conversion rate of 1 stone = 14 lbs. He is reported to have eaten 20,000 calories a day.  He is now eating 1,500 calories each day.

Of course he has not been able to leave his home and he said in an interview that he specifically remembers the last time he left the house was on 9/11.  He also says his condition has driven him to the brink of suicide and now desperately is trying to lose weight.  In this he is getting lots of help from professionals who visit him regularly.

What a desperately unhappy young man this is.  His sister apparently lives with him and cares for him, but she has been getting hate mail about his problem, because apparently she shops and cooks for him.  Maybe what is needed is some education for both of these people.

Looking back to when I was growing up following the Second World War, there were few fat people and obesity was never mentioned.  Did we know the word then?  Food was rationed for several years following the end of the war but people were adequately fed.   Petrol too was rationed and private cars were few and far between, so people were forced to exercise. Father cycled to work each day and so kept fit.

Mother had no need to go to the gym (or the Golden Door) because she walked to the shops each day and carried the groceries home in two bags, perfectly balanced she used to say.

Washing was hung on the line to dry so there was plenty of bending and stretching.  I also remember as a young child, she took the rugs out, hung them over the washing line and beat them to get the dust out of them.

Sweeping the stairs is another thing that is clearly embedded in my mind.  Tea leaves were saved and were scattered on the stair treads and then swept down from one step to the next.  Again plenty of bending and stretching and the tea leaves seemed to attract the dust so that at the bottom of the staircase all the dust could be swept into a dustpan and deposited in the rubbish bin.

Houses were heated by open fires and so the fireplace had to be cleared and cleaned each day (bending and stretching) and coal had to be brought in regularly (weight-bearing exercises).

Later when we moved and the house had fitted carpets, quite a rare thing in the late 1940s early 1950s,  Mother had an upright Hoover vacuum cleaner that weighed a ton (in my estimation anyway) that she lugged around the house, up and down stairs so she got her anaerobic exercise without really being aware of it.

Then when I was a young mother we put our babies in their prams and walked to the shops most days for our groceries.  We lived at the foot of a steep hill which had to be climbed to get to the village.  So I had exercise a plenty.  And nobody even mentioned going to the gym or to a health resort.

I am not suggesting that we go back to that way of living, or even that life was better then, but I suggest that most of us were much more healthy than we are today.

And if that young man doesn’t pay serious attention to his health and what he is eating, he wont live to share his memories with his children and grandchildren.  Hopefully with the help he is receiving he will bring his weight and his life back under control.

“The more you eat, the less flavor;
the less you eat, the more flavor.”
Chinese Proverb

It Was a Very Good Year

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”
James Matthew Barrie

I can now divulge to all and sundry that I was born in 1938 – a very good year.  But alas, I have no memory of that year.  But I do know that this was not the only big happening of the year.

  • I just love the fact that I can now read newspapers from around the world on my PC.  Today I was browsing through the Edmonton Journal and found out that on May 2 1938 a special Public Service Pulitzer Prize was awarded to the Edmonton Journal “for its leadership in the defence of the freedom of the press in the province of Alberta.”  Read the rest of the article here.
  • Time Magazine coverAdolph Hitler was named Man of the Year 1938 by Time Magazine.
    The issue was published in 1939 when news of his activities was slowly seeping out into the world.  I wonder who determined he was worthy of this title?
  • The March of Dimes was established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The organisation was originally founded to combat polio (which disease plagued FDR) but has now changed and is set on improving  the health of mothers and babies.
  • Two landmark live recordings were made in this year. Mahler’s Ninth by the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter in the face of continuing unrest and harassment by Germany;  and Benny Goodman and his orchestra become the first jazz musicians to headline a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
  • Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia.
  • Anschluss: German troops occupy Austria; annexation is declared.
  • Our town book coverThornton Wilder’s play Our Town  premiered in Printon, New Jersey and had its debut in New York City in February that year.
    In this year Thornton won a Pulitzer Prize for drama for Our Town
  • First appearance of Superman in Action Comics – surely the original flying super hero.
  • Hitler declares his decision to destroy Czechoslovakia by military force, and orders the immediate mobilization of 96 Wehrmacht divisions.
  • “Peace for our time” said Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Great Britain on returning from a meeting with Hitler in Munich.  It is primarily remembered for its ironic value, as the German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the following day.  And less than a year later, following continued aggression from Germany and its invasion of Poland, Europe was plunged into World War II.
  • First ascent of the north face of the Eiger. [1,800 m (5,900 ft)] by an Austrian-German expedition and is one of the six great north faces of the Alps
  • The New England Hurricane of 1938 struck Long Island and southern New England, killing over 300 along the Rhode Island shoreline and 600 altogether
  • Du Pont announced a name for its new synthetic yarn: “nylon“.  Nylon was first used commercially in 1938 in a nylon bristled toothbrush but is more famous as the material used in women’s stockings.
    Nylon was intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and after silk became scarce during World War II it was used as a substitute in many different products  It replaced silk in military applications such as parachutes and flak vests, and was used in many types of vehicle tires.
  • Jews with Polish citizenship were evicted from Nazi Germany
  • Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds was broadcast, causing widespread panic.  Millions of radio listeners believed that earth was being invaded by Martians.
  • Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, throughout Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia recently occupied by German troops.  The name stems from the shards of broken glass littering the streets from windows of synagogues, homes, and Jewish-owned businesses plundered and destroyed during the violence.

So in some ways it was a very good year but in many others it was a very bad year.  The true beginning of the outrageous acts of inhumanity visited on one race by another. And all the bad things and happenings mentioned above can be put at the feet of  one man Adolph Hitler,who has been  described as a despicable human being, an occult inspired, mass murdering, tyrannical.genocidal monster.

There is nothing more to say.

London Pride


St Paul's Cathedral

The undamaged St Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by smoke

If you have read any of my earlier blogs you will know that I was born and brought up in London during the Second World War.

It is a well-documented fact that London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights in 1940/41 and more than one million houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 20,000 civilians were killed.  We had an aunt who went to visit her sister and after the air raid warning sounded decided to spend the night.  A very lucky decision because the next day when she and her daughters returned home, they found their house razed to the ground.

So I grew up surrounded by bombed sites where houses used to stand and I thought nothing of it.  I really thought everybody lived this way.  Well, I was only a few months old when the war started and seven when it ended in May 1945.

All through these bomb sites, a little flower grew.  Well, it grew like a weed and while it did have a Latin name – Saxifraga –  it was quickly renamed London Pride.  It came to represent the pride and the unstoppable nature of Londoners at the time.   Noel Coward wrote a song about it.  Coward later said that the song came to him when he was sitting on a railway station in London.   He looked about him and saw the flowers and the people going about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening and he became “overwhelmed by a wave of sentimental pride”

London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be……..

It is very sentimental and very outdated now.  But at the time it was a rallying song for Londoners during the dark days of the Blitz when people were mourning the loss of husbands, sons, family members and their homes.

And now I must admit that I love Noel Coward.  I have a couple of biographies and know the words to most of the songs he wrote.  Another great favourite is “I’ve been to a marvellous party” but that has to wait for another day.








































Even More Memories

London panorama

London Panorama from St Paul’s Cathedral

“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London so.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I think of her wherever I go. “Hubert Gregg, English songwriter,
BBC broadcaster, author and stage actor. (1914-2004)

I read this post from Monica’s Tangled Web and immediately was transported back in time to 1951.  This was shortly after the Second World War ended and Britain and her people were badly in need of some cheering up.

Large areas of London were still in ruins and redevelopment had hardly begun.  The powers that be thought a festival would give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress.  Labour Deputy Leader Herbert Morrison one of the instigators of the Festival, described it as a ‘tonic for the Nation”.

“As we look forward to the year 1951, each of us can share in the anticipation of an event which may be outstanding in our lives. The motives which inspire the Festival are common to us all – pride in our past and all that it has meant, confidence in the future which holds so many opportunities for us to continue our contribution to the well-being of mankind, and thanksgiving that we have begun to surmount our trials.” King George VI, 1949

The south bank of the Thames was decided as the perfect place for the Festival as large areas had been demolished during the Blitz and building began to take shape.  Much was written and told about the wonders.  And to a very young girl, they were wonders.

I clearly remember the Skylon.  A futuristic-looking, slender, vertical, cigar-shaped steel structure seeming to float above the ground.  All that held it in place were those thin wires.  We all thought it was magical.

But it was controversial with some claiming it to be dangerous and apparently, questions were asked in Parliament regarding the danger to visitors from lightning-strikes to the Skylon, and the papers reported that it was duly roped off at one point, in anticipation of a forecast thunderstorm.


I think the Dome of Discovery was the centrepiece of the Festival and it dominated the site.  Together with the needle-like Skylon it became the instant visual symbol of the Festival.

King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughters the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret rose attended the opening of the Festival with 14,000 invited guests.  The Festival was opened to the public the next day.  Here is a British Pathe recording of the day.   It’s very crackly but if you can ignore that it really is a piece of history.

Festival of BritainThe Festival was a resounding success even though some criticised the event as a waste of public money.  The South Bank exhibitions attracted 8.5 million visitors in five months.

In spite of its popularity with the public, the cost of dismantling and re-erecting the Skylon elsewhere (£30,000—£642,979 as of 2011) was deemed too much for a government struggling with Post-War austerity.

The exhibition was dismantled in 1952 and the Skylon was removed and common lore has it that it was thrown into the River Lea.   However, after a public outcry, it was revealed that both the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery were dismantled and sold for scrap.  In any event a truly ignominious end to such symbols of our future.

And this year the 60th Anniversary of the Festival of Britain is being celebrated.  According to the Guardian Newspaper “To pay homage to the event that helped usher London and the rest of Britain out of the postwar doldrums, the Southbank Centre is hosting a four-month jamboree boasting everything from gardens sprouting from the concrete buildings to a museum chronicling the original festival.”

How clear it all is in my memory.  And how exciting for the young children who had known only the deprivations of living through a war.  Suddenly there were celebrations and excitement.  Wonderful.

“But now the days grow short,  I’m in the autumn of my years and I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs,  from the brim to the dregs.  It pours neat and clear.  It was a very good year.”  So sang Frank Sinatra – It was a very good year.


Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner

“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I love London so.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I think of her wherever I go.
I get a funny feeling inside of me,
Just walking up and down.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I love London Town.” Hubert Gregg, English songwriter,  BBC broadcaster, author and stage actor. (1914-2004)

Lore has it that the song was written on one particularly grim day, after seeing the German Doodlebugs devastating London.  It was apparently composed on the back of a theatre program, and later became a very popular song –

Song sheet

The song was first sung by Bud Flanagan in 1944 at the Victoria Palace in London.  Although the Second World War was ended by the time Bud Flanagan sang the song (and made it his own) it quickly became a morale booster for Londoners in the stringent times following the war.

I am of course aware, that time and distance put a rosy glow on most things.  When I left London to start my meanderings following my Scotsman around the world, London was a great place to live.

According to Peter Ackroyd

“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”  London: The Biography 2000.

Even after some 50 years away I still consider myself a Londoner.  I refer to London as home.  So why would that be?

I grew up in London.  Only 5 miles from the centre of London and almost within the sounds of Bow Bells.  The definition of a Cockney is to be born within the sound of Bow Bells but as we are told by Wikipedia: “A common thought is that in order to be a Cockney, one must have been born within earshot of the Bow Bells. However, the church of St Mary-le-Bow was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. After the bells were destroyed again in 1941 in The Blitz of World War II, and before they were replaced in 1961, there was a period when by this definition no ‘Bow-bell’ Cockneys could be born”.  So I am not a Cockney by any definition.

London in the 1940s and 1950s was a very different place to what it is now.  I have written on my memories of growing up in an earlier post.  See Memories are made of this.  Life was much slower then and I know that it was much more innocent.

Double decker bus at Finsbury Park

Photo via Flickr

Treats were going to the movies (known to us as the Pictures) as a family on a Friday night.  We had no car so we went by bus – I even remember the bus number 653.  I looked it up and it still runs to Stamford Hill and Finsbury Park where we used to go to the movies, only now the route number is changed to 253.

And at that time the movies ran continuously.  You could go in at any time and watch the movie from that point forward.  The phrase “this is where we came in” could be heard around the cinemaThis put a certain spin on the movies.  You always saw the end before the beginning unless you were extra clever and managed to get there before the film started.  Then you would see Gaumont Movietone Newsreels and then the movie.  And of course you would see the newsreel between the ending of the movie and it’s beginning.  How mixed up is that?

Because the cinema was darkened for the movie, an usherette showed you to your place.  As the idea was for her to find you two, three or in our case, five unoccupied seats, the other cinema goers had to accept the light from the torch shining on their faces.  These usherettes also sold choc ices and cigarettes all through the film.  One had to view the film through an absolute fog of cigarette smoke.  Remember in the 40s nobody knew (or at least hadn’t been told ) about the dangers of smoking.  Just about everybody smoked.

I started to smoke when I was about 18 .  All my friends did so and we thought we were so very sophisticated.  I had a Dunhill cigarette holder – how pretentious is that – and eventually a 14K gold Dunhill lighter.  I still have the lighter but where is the holder?  Oh and stop press.  An identical lighter being sold on eBay has a bid of $US560.  Why don’t I sell it together with the silver one I bought for my Scotsman?

The movies were very innocent as well.  There was very little violence and no sex.

I remember seeing:

  • Somewhere over the Rainbow and being terrified of the witch.
  • Fanny By Gaslight – I don’t remember much about that.  We tried to see it twice or three times but each time we had to leave the cinema because one or other of us was sick.
  • We saw Casablanca – how I loved and still love that movie. I really wanted to be like Ingrid Bergman when I grew up.  I guess I was about 4 or 5 when I saw that one.
  • The Red Shoes had all the pathos that appealed to Mother who was a young woman at the time – about 30 I would guess.  The theme was the old one – young ballerina had to choose between her dancing and the man she loved.   This was just a little over the heads of three girls aged between 7 and 11.
  • Meet me in St Louis was another one I remember.  I just loved Judy Garland (again) singing Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley.
  • And I guess my mother had a particular fondness for Judy Garland movies.  Because we also saw the Easter Parade.

Goodness how long ago it all was.  But what very happy memories.  And now I ask myself how did I get here?  Nostalgia overtaking me again I guess.

At the end of the movies, we used to get another bus home and walk, more often than not skipped with Father holding hands with my eldest sister and me, down this dark tree-lined street home, to hot chocolate and bed.  What great evenings and fantastic memories.

The street on which we lived was lined with these fantastic horse chestnut trees.  Unfortunately, many of these trees around Britain have succumbed to the disease.  Read this – Hope for British Horse Chestnut Trees.  How sad if future generations of children will not be able to play ‘conkers’ with the nuts as we did.

Horse chestnuts

But the story of playing conkers must wait for another day.

Well, that’s the end of the ramble for today.  See you all tomorrow.

I never saw a discontented tree.  They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.  They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far! ”
John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, 1838 – 1914