INSIGHTS ON IVOR
The air raids intensified particularly during the Battle of Britain. It was thrilling for us boys to watch the Spitfires and Hurricanes engaged in a life or death dogfight with the German planes. The vapour trails left by the crisscrossing aircraft left beautiful
patterns in the blue summer sky which belied the deadly battle for survival above us.
My sister Lily decided that she wanted to ‘do her bit’ to help the war effort so she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and worked in London helping on, what was called the Ack Ack guns. These weapons were deployed in an effort to shoot down the German planes attacking London. It was around this time that Ealing Borough Council sought to encourage the evacuation of children away from the London area to safer areas of the country. It was a voluntary scheme but my parents thought it wise to send their three youngest, Bernard, David and me. Pupils at Greenford County School, which Bernard and David were, were being evacuated so my mother asked the headmaster if I could go along with them. He agreed, so, in October 1940 she took us all to the school and watched us board a coach, complete with our gas masks in their cardboard box over our shoulders, leave Greenford for a secret destination. It was fortunate that Bert was home on leave at the time and was able to give Mum support at this necessary but emotional time. Naturally my parents found it very strange to return to a house now silent, devoid of the sound of family laughter and bustle. It was a couple of days later that an official letter arrived telling them that we were now being taken care of by a family in Torquay, Devon.
When our coach arrived at Torquay all the children were offloaded and taken into a school. We were greeted by many local residents who were willing to take one or two evacuees into their homes. Of course there were three so we had wait until a family willing to take all of us was found. It was around 9 o’clock when such a family arrived. We were then taken by car to the house of a Mr and Mrs Hawkins who had a young daughter and a grandmother already living in the house. Upon our arrival Mrs Hawkins sat us down to have something to eat. All was fine until her daughter bought a cup of cocoa into the room and accidentally spilt some of it over Bernard’s coat. Not a very auspicious start. We were very tired from our long journey and soon packed off to bed. David and I were not happy bunnies at all and once in our room we sat down and wrote a letter to Mum and Dad saying so and asking if we could come home! Needless to say the letter wasn’t sent. Bernard was fine and soon attended a local school whilst Dave and I explored the local fields having the life of Riley – I often wonder who is this Riley fellow, is he related to Larry, who it is said is always ‘happy’? - for a few weeks. Anyway our carefree life came crashing down when Bernard came home one day and told us that we were to report to school the next day.
In time we settled into our new life in Torquay and enjoyed trips to the beach and sea. Dave and I remember one particular day when I was standing on a rock in the sea dangling a piece of string which had a small lead Farmer Giles type character fixed to it (or so I thought) when tragedy struck. Why on earth I was doing such a strange thing I have no idea. It seemed a good idea at the time I suppose. Anyway, suddenly a
big wave came crashing in and I was left with just a piece of string with Farmer Giles lost at sea. We often wondered where he ended up. Even though the many people who welcomed the evacuees into their homes were recompensed by the Government, it should be remembered that they deserve our thanks and recognition for the vital part they played in helping the war effort. Our landlady Mrs Hawkins had a strict method of food distribution at mealtimes. For instance at tea time she would lay the table and point to the contents on each plate. It might be a plate with cakes on it and another plate with scones lying invitingly there and a third plate containing slices of bread and butter. She would point to one of the cakes on the first plate and utter the firm instruction ‘‘there’s one of those each’ and the same method and instruction was issued on the next plate holding scones. But when she reached the bread and butter plate she would show generosity and boldly declare ‘there’s two slices of bread each’.
Now this was fine for Dave and I but Bernard was a growing boy and needed much more sustenance. So, he resorted to creeping downstairs at night and raiding the kitchen for any tasty morsels he could find.
In 1941 my parents decided to visit us. They caught a night train that passed through Bristol. A German air raid on Bristol had just finished when they arrived. Several engines and carriages outside Bristol station were alight and there were palls of smoke around. This delayed them which resulted in them being two hours late arriving at Torquay. We had a lovely day with them and in an effort to take our minds off their necessary departure back home to London later that day they took us to the cinema where we saw Gulliver’s Travels.
As the time went on and the bombing raids eased it was decided it was safe for us to return home. Bernard by this time was thirteen and wanted to stay. He wanted to change his billet and found one with a friend of his but the lady couldn’t take his two brothers. So David and I left the green pastures and seascapes of glorious Devon – and a wet and never to be seen again, Farmer Giles, and returned to Greenford. I remember, for our homecoming Mum had got a treat for our tea, a tin of pears which were very rare. We were glad to be home again and soon adjusted to our old life with friends and familiar surroundings. I became interested in sport, particularly football and saw my first professional football match when Brentford played Clapton (now Leyton) Orient at Griffin Park – Brentford won 4-2. I remember three of the Brentford players, goalkeeper Joe Crozier, and the two full backs Bill Brown and George Poyser. Brentford and Queens Park Rangers (QPR) at Loftus Road, Shepherds Bush were our local teams.
---End of Part Ten---
INSIGHTS ON IVOR
At around this time I also became very interested in going to the cinema or ‘pictures’ as we called it. I would pester my Mum for the few pennies it cost. We had two cinemas in Greenford, the Granada – opened by singer/comedian Gracie Fields in 1938 – which cost the princely sum of sixpence to see two films, a ‘B’ film which was usually shorter in length, followed by the main feature film plus a cartoon plus a newsreel plus a ‘trailer’ advertising next weeks films and sometimes, arising from the depths at the front of the stage, a mighty organ would appear and the onboard organist would serenade the audience for about 15 minutes. The one I remember most was a very well known organist called Robinson Cleaver. He was born in 1906 and at 9 years of age played his local Parish church organ. In the early 1930’s he was the solo organist at the Lonsdale Cinema in Carlisle. He became the organist at the Regal Cinema at Bexleyheath in 1934. He later played at other Granada cinemas in places such as Welling, Woolwich, Dartford and Tooting. His wife Molly was a pianist who would sometimes play duets with him. Robinson Cleaver died in 1987.
I remember him for one simple fact that as he ascended from the depths he would be playing his signature tune – which I can still remember – and half way through it he would insert a few bars of the sailors hornpipe and as he did that passage he would put one hand behind his back just as sailors do when performing this traditional merry dance. Isn’t memory a funny thing when one can remember such an inconsequential thing as that?
The Granada also had occasional talent shows which were presented by a chap called Bryan Michie. There was another man, named Carroll Levis, who presented a similar show called Carroll Levis and his Discoveries. When my brother Bert was home on embarkation leave, prior to being posted to the Middle East, he decided to enter the show. Naturally Mum, Dad, Lily, Bernard, David me plus a few neighbours all attended the show and we were full of pride when Bert walked on in his Army uniform with his saxophone and played three songs. I wonder if any readers remember these old numbers, ‘It’s a hap-hap-happy day’ ‘It’s a lovely day tomorrow’ and one of Bert’s (and mine) favourite songs of all time, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’? You can imagine how we all felt when Bert won the contest. It really was a hap-hap-happy day for us all.
If all of that was too much for you then you only had to walk around the corner and lo and behold there was another cinema –I use the term cinema loosely as this establishment was quite different in opulence to the Granada. The name on the front was The Playhouse but it was better known locally as The Bughouse. But although the quality inside was not up-to-scratch which meant we weren’t itching to get in but itching to get out, it made up for that by only charging four pence to enter this interesting emporium and the films shown were of the same quality as the Granada.
Quite a few of the films we all saw during this time were war stories and it’s interesting to relive some of them nowadays as many crop up on television or can be purchased on DVD’s. Some I remember include, Went the Day Well, Dangerous Moonlight, Millions like Us, Cottage to Let (George Cole as a 10 year old evacuee from London), Hue and Cry, Next of Kin, One of our aircraft is Missing, In Which we Serve, The First of the Few (Leslie Howard playing the part of the Spitfire’s inventor, R.J.Mitchell), Thunder Rock, and to lighten the mood there was Somewhere in Camp (with the Northern comedian Frank Randle), Abbot and Costello, The Three Stooges, Disney cartoons like Donald Duck, Goofy and the wonderful Will Hay with his side kicks, Graham Moffat and Moore Marriot.
If, when watching a film, an air raid suddenly occurred a warning would appear on the screen informing the audience and anyone wishing to leave the cinema would do so whilst the film continued on the screen. At first most people did leave and hurry home but in time many became a little blasé and remained in their seats often, quite ironically, watching war films!
In those days films were checked by the British Board of Film Censors and given a rating according to their content. A rating of U (Universal) meant the film was suitable for all ages. A rating (Adult) signified a film not suitable for children under the age of 12 unless accompanied by an adult. The last rating was H which was used for Horror films. Not my favourite. I think there was enough real life horror going on all around us without paying money to see more.
When I used to pester my Mother for the money to go to the pictures I was under 12 years of age which meant if the particular film I wanted to see was rated an A film the only way in was for me to hang around outside the cinema and ask any adult approaching the cinema entrance ‘Please will you take me in’. This pleading question was delivered in my most polite voice accompanied by my dazzling smile as I offered up to them my entrance fee. How could it fail I thought? After all, this approach was common practice amongst us boys and usually worked but sometimes there would too many of us hanging around outside the cinema with the same aim. So then it would be necessary to move further away up the road from the cinema entrance and try to catch any person you thought might be heading for a night at the pictures, and approach them before your mates could. Many a completely innocent, minding their own business and perhaps heading home or going shopping, person had quite a shock to be suddenly accosted by some boy asking to be taken into the cinema when all they wanted to do was to get home and put their feet up.
The Second World War was in full flight by the beginning of 1941. The absence of so many men into the Forces caused the Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, to introduce plans to mobilise women to take on vital jobs in industry. There were already thousands of women in the Armed Forces but now thousands more responded to the call to the Home front. Whether single, married, widowed, young or old the women of Britain proved that they were ready, willing and very able to more than do their bit for the war effort.
In March 1941 there was a shock announcement when it was disclosed that Germany’s Luftwaffe planes had made an attack on Buckingham Palace. The planes dropped Flares first to light up the Palace before incendiary bombs were unleashed.. Fortunately they all missed the Palace. As Queen Victoria might have said ‘We are not amused’.
On May 9th 1941 a gigantic breakthrough occurred when Royal Navy Destroyers, HMS Bulwark, Broadway and a Corvette, HMS Aubretia, attacked and captured the German submarine U-110. This in itself was a victory but when the British Naval boarding party entered the submarine they found something which was far more valuable. It was an Enigma Cipher machine plus all the relevant codebooks relating to it. This was such a massive coup and one that Churchill and many historians estimated could have shortened the length of the war considerably and thereby saving thousands of lives. Later in my life story, when I was in the Royal Air Force (Signals) I was fortunate enough to see first hand an Enigma coding machine which is on display to the general public at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. If you ever get the chance to visit Bletchley Park – especially the ladies, of whom there were many working there intercepting and decoding the hundreds of coded Top Secret messages being received daily - I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.
At about the same time as the above event another shock arrived when Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, surprised everyone by parachuting into Scotland. He broke his ankle upon landing in a field. He claimed he had a message for the Duke of Hamilton, whom he had met briefly at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Although I heard about this on the BBC news I had no idea that at the time of Hess’s arrival there was a young lady living with her mother in a cottage on the Duke of Hamilton’s Estate. The young lady was Ethel Stuart and she remembers the day well. She had gone out in the morning and upon her return the place was swarming with Police and troops. At first she was refused entry but after she convinced them that she did live in the cottage she was allowed in. Ethel later decided to follow the example of many other like minded women and joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) where she worked alongside Wing Commander Kenneth Horne and Squadron Leader Richard Murdoch, two well known popular radio artists. She also became a pen pal, writing to a soldier serving in the Middle East at the time. I know all of this about Ethel for she eventually became my sister-in-law through the fact that the soldier she wrote to was Herbert Hodgson, in other words my eldest brother Bert!
As for Rudolf Hess, after his attempt at trying to make peace between Germany and Britain he was judged to be mentally unstable and was jailed in the U.K. until 1945 when he was transferred to Germany and stood trial at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. He was found guilty of war crimes and imprisoned in Spandeau jail until his death aged 93, on 17th August 1987. An interesting addition to the Hess story is that the father of the popular singer Olivia Newton-John was a code-breaker working at Bletchley Park during World War II and according to Olivia was responsible for the capture of Rudolph Hess!
Away from the war, a fuel shortage hit Britain and the need to conserve water by using less when bathing was encouraged. Hotels were marking a ‘Plimsoll’ line on their baths. People were asked to take fewer baths (which went down well with us kids!). The suggestion was that anyone taking a bath should not use more than five inches of water (that was about four inches more than we kids used anyway). It was reported that even the King followed these guidelines (five inches I mean not the kids measurement). It was even suggested that shared baths would be a good idea. (I say, Carruthers, that’s carry things a bit too far don’t you think? After all, one’s got to keep up standards old boy, what what!). Soap rationing meant that one tablet of soap per month was the normal ration unless you were a coal miner who got more. Shaving soap was not rationed but difficult to obtain, as were razor blades. The women had their own problems with shortages of cosmetics. This reduced them to using cooked beetroot juice for lipstick and soot for eye makeup.
The new utility cloth allied with a limit on the number of styles available meant fashion was very plain and because due to the shortage of material ladies hemlines were always rising, which bought the colour back to the cheeks of many of the men. Ladies also suffered another blow when a ban was imposed on using any embroidery on nightclothes and underwear. The men had no double-breasted coats, no sleeve buttons and no turn-ups on trousers, all part of the rationing programme.
Anyone lucky or rich enough, to own a car was only allowed petrol if their journey was essential. Driving for pleasure was banned. I remember the posters which clearly stated ‘Is your journey really necessary?
It was also around this time that a group of people met in Oxford. They were exploring ways of bringing supplies of food and clothing to War torn Europe. This humanitarian idea blossomed and grew until eventually it became known world wide as Oxfam (The Oxford Committee For Famine Relief).
At this stage of the war the Government released figures showing that the total cost of the war so far was £9.050 million. This was more than the entire cost of the First World War.
When my brother Bert was with the Eighth Army in Egypt he was chatting one day to another soldier, a Welshman from the Rhondda Valley named Richard Price. Bert discovered that Richard also worked at Sanderson’s Wallpaper Manufacturers factory in Perivale and furthermore not only knew our sister Lillian (See Part Seven) but had taken her out a few times. Some time later Richard was sent home on leave and called round to our house, just to tell our parents of his chance encounter with Bert, and as luck would have it, Lily opened the door to have the surprise of her life. Well, all good stories should have a happy ending and Bert and Richard’s is no exception. Bert was demobbed in 1946 after six years of Army life, four and half years of which were in the Middle East and North Africa. I remember the day he came home. Obviously after being in the Middle East for four and a half years he was very brown, a fact which Dave and I couldn’t get over whereas Bert was totally surprised as to how much we, especially me, had grown taller. Dave was nearly 10 and I was under 8 when Bert had last seen us. I remember he took us swimming the next day to the indoor Public Swimming baths at Ealing. Seeing him standing up on the top diving platform all brown and a picture of health made us feel very proud. Naturally his safe homecoming was such a relief to my parents. I remember him and Mum hugging and crying and, later in the day, watching Dad cycling home from work and being greeted by Bert at the garden gate. It was, quite naturally, a very happy and emotional time for all of us.
Because the war had interrupted Bert’s working experience in the printing trade he was very keen to get back and expand his knowledge so eventually he got a job and settled back into civilian life. He also bought a motor cycle and I well remember one summer Sunday afternoon when he took me for a ride. As it was a warm sunny day I left the house with suitable clothes for such a day only for Bert to order me back to the house to put on a sweater and a coat. All my protestations were in vain so somewhat reluctantly I did what I was told and, suitably attired to pass inspection, I climbed onto the pillion seat and off we went from Greenford past Uxbridge heading out to Denham in Buckinghamshire. Later we stopped for a rest and some light refreshments amid the peaceful and welcoming branches of Burnham Beeches before heading back for home. It was then that I, inexperienced in travelling on the pillion seat of a motor bike, had a rude awakening and realised why Bert had ordered me to don the appropriate warm clothing. The summer sun decided it had had enough for the day and whilst it was somewhat red faced as it gently descended over the horizon, my face was white with the bitter cold as I descended lower down the pillion seat and clung onto Bert for warmth and dear life.
Thank goodness in time Bert decided to change to a car and bought a second hand Austin 7. Being in the Royal Army Service Corp he gained a lot of mechanical experience working on lorry engines so every evening after work he would use this knowledge to good effect by tinkering with his car endeavouring to rectify any faults and ensure it was road worthy. For this nightly ritual he would often enlist my help to ‘hold that’ or ‘hang on to this Ive’ - I was Ivor to my parents and my sister Lily but to my three brothers I was, and still am, Ive - whilst he was grappling with some mysterious (to me) and obstinate engine component which refused to do what it was intended for.
Eventually the big day dawned when Bert decided the car was ready for a trial run so once again I was detailed to help. This time there was no sitting on the back of a noisy motor bike and getting frozen in the process, instead I was promoted to chief pusher of this refurbished ‘gleaming’ Austin 7. With me at the back pushing like mad Bert would wind down the window of the drivers door put his hand through to steer the car as he also pushed whilst running alongside the car. When sufficient speed was gained he would jump aboard and endeavour to jump start the engine. After quite a few fruitless attempts Chief mechanic Bert decided the car needed more speed before a jump start would succeed so between us we pushed the car around a couple of streets from ours and halfway up the next road which had quite a steep incline. The idea was that when we got to the halfway point up the incline we would turn the car around and with Bert doing his running and steering act and good old Ive - in reality, it was young Ive, I only became old when I finished pushing - at the back pushing like mad this would produce a speed and momentum of such velocity that the car engine had no chance against such odds and would reluctantly leap into life when Bert applied the jump start action. Was it a success I hear you ask? Well up to a point it was but only up to a point and that point was reached when both Head mechanic and Chief pusher decided they were worn out and more tinkering was required to avert possible injury to Head mechanic Old Bert and Chief pusher who was by now, not so Young, Ive.
In 1943 my father had started working for the Hazel Press in Wembley, a year later my brother David joined Dad at the same press where he became an apprentice compositor. I remember them telling the story of how one evening when they were cycling home from work they heard the dreaded drone of a doodlebug. When the noise suddenly stopped they quickly abandoned their bikes and hit the ground. They were lucky because the rocket went on for another mile and hit the Glaxo factory in nearby Greenford. Another story I enjoyed hearing them relate concerns where they used to have their daily lunch. During the war the Government had organised thousands of eating places which were named ‘British Restaurant’. For the princely sum of between nine pence and one shilling these emporiums provided, for your delectation, a very basic meal.
The food was whatever was available during those hard times. Cold spam sitting sorrowfully amongst soggy and lumpy mashed potatoes floating in watery cabbage was often the only choice. This mouth-watering delicacy was usually followed by apple pie, which was mostly pastry, searching for some apple and then, not finding any or very little, covered in embarrassment, with anaemic looking custard made from powdered milk and water. For those of a faint heart, or stomach, having more respect for their inner workings, would reject the custard option whereby the server would call out ‘Pie in the nude is it?’
Meanwhile Bert joined Dad and Dave at the Hazel Press and in a bid to further his career started attending evening classes. My other brother Bernard, not keen on entering the printing trade, was also attending night school three evenings a week following his chosen career to becoming a Quantity Surveyor. I was still only a mere lad of twelve whilst all of the above was going on and would listen to all their stories at evening mealtimes.
Another emotional milestone came when Bert and his pen pal Ethel arranged to meet for the first time. Under the clock at Kings Cross railway station in London was the agreed rendezvous. It wasn’t long before they, like millions before and after them, found out their answer to the question posed by Cole Porter in his song ‘What is this thing called love?’ It’s hard to define, it just happens, a feeling that this is the right person. They quickly knew that their letter writing days to each other were over. They fell in love and were married in 1947 in the private chapel on the Duke of Hamilton’s estate at Dungavel, near Hamilton where Ethel had been brought up. My parents plus Lilian, Bernard and of course, Bert made the trip to Bonnie Scotland. After their marriage Bert and Ethel bought a house in Greenford and later had a daughter.
Meanwhile Richard (Jack) Price was also now back in Civvy Street and returned to work at Sandersons in Perivale. He renewed his friendship with Lily and they too eventually married, also in 1947. They later had two children, plus grandchildren and lived happily ever after, finishing their days in Scone, Perthshire, Scotland where their youngest son and his family still live.
Referring back to Rudolf Hess for a moment you might be interested to learn that on the same night (May 10th) of Hess’s arrival in Scotland, London suffered the worst air raid of the entire Blitz. The bombing carried on through the night. It is estimated that around 1,500 people were killed and 11,000 houses were destroyed. Bombs hit the Houses of Parliament; Big Ben was marked but continued to record the correct time. Both Westminster Abbey and Hall were hit as was the British Museum and Waterloo Station. Even St. Paul’s Cathedral didn’t escape. Damage was done to the High Altar, Crypt and many of the stained glass windows.
But as the saying goes, even in tragedy there’s often humour and that was vividly demonstrated on this night of horror with a typical example of British humour shining through. The well known actor, Ballard Berkeley (the Major in Fawlty Towers) was a Police Special Constable on this dreadful night of Incendiary bombs raining down like fireworks, giving off their bluish and white flames upon exploding. He recalled seeing a man put a steel helmet over one bomb and watched it become red hot, white hot before disintegrating. There was a newspaper seller standing stoically at his usual corner calling out the familiar cry of ‘Star, News, Standard’ but, as it was Cup Final Day, he added the words ‘Cup Final Result’ to his call. Similarly he witnessed a prostitute walking by holding up an umbrella as she sang ‘I’m singing in the rain’ Thank goodness for such people in times of crisis.
---End of Part Eleven---