INSIGHTS ON IVOR
I well remember that fateful September day in 1939. With my brother David and our gang we were out playing near the railway lines, as one did in those days, we were probably trying to repel Sitting Bull and his Apaches at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Suddenly a woman appeared; she had an anxious look on her face and a sense of urgency in her voice as she instructed us to quickly get off home to our mothers. Wondering what on earth was more important than our historic battle; we mounted our trusty steeds and high tailed it back to the old homestead.
The general opinion was that this war would be over in a matter of months. My eldest brother Bert was nineteen and called up straight away. He went into the Royal Army Service Corps, taking his sax and clarinet with him. He thought it would break the monotony! Later he was shipped overseas and served with the Eight Army under General, later Field Marshal, Montgomery in Egypt and Libya. Whenever it was safe to do so Bert would take his clarinet and would wander off to find a foxhole in the desert and practice. The odd squeak emanating from the clarinet, would occasionally echo across the desert sand causing laughter from his comrades back in the camp. Talk about the Desert Song!
My father was appointed Air Raid Warden for our area which meant that every time the siren sounded he would patrol the streets blowing a whistle and telling everyone to take cover. Not that there was anything to take cover from in those first few weeks. His work was slacking off at the Raven Press when out of the blue he was told by Robert Maynard that he had had a request from the Gregynog Press in Wales to loan him back to them to finish a couple of books. Maynard agreed to the request but said it was up to Dad. After much discussion with my mother and all the safety precautions details were sorted out, such as should the air raids get worse then he would return home immediately, it was decided that Dad would go back to Wales for two to three months, returning every weekend.
During our time living in Perivale it gradually became obvious that the lack of nearby shopping facilities was becoming too much of a burden on my mother. She would prepare breakfast and packed lunches for Dad, Bert and Lily and then breakfast for Bernard, David and me. We three younger boys also came home for lunch and later for tea. After that the three working members of the family came home to a cooked dinner. Remember in those days we didn’t have a fridge to keep food safe so Mum would have to walk to the local shop everyday. As there was a bigger variety of shops in Greenford, and Mum could catch a bus for the two-mile journey, it was decided to move there. So in May 1940 we left Perivale and moved to 21 Wedmore Road, Greenford, a three bedroom semi-detached house with a bigger garden. This move made life a bit easier for Mum.
Of course it should be said that during these days we had no television, computers, smart phones and the only Tablets we had were the ones you swallowed for medical reasons. All the news came to us via the Radio or wireless or at the cinema with Pathe or Gaumont British newsreels. The BBC broadcasts were the lifeblood of communication to the country. Every News bulletin was eagerly awaited and listened to by all the family. In addition to providing this essential service the BBC also raised the country’s morale by broadcasting a variety of entertainment programmes. Millions gathered around their sets every Thursday evening at 8.30 for their much needed weekly ration of laughter. The show that provided that was called ITMA (It’s that man again) and starred comedian Tommy Handley. To hear a recording of that show today sounds very old fashioned and to be truthful a bit ‘corny’ but believe me it was a life saver in those dark and frightening days. There were plenty of programmes dedicated to popular and classical music also. One programme, broadcast twice daily was called ‘Music while you work’. This was a happy-go-lucky non-stop medley of well known popular tunes which had the listeners singing along whether in their homes, offices or in the factory’s. One hit song of the time was ‘Deep in the heart of Texas’. After the first eight words, ‘The stars at night are big and bright’ were sung you clapped your hands four times and sung the next line, ‘Deep in the heart of Texas’. This clapping of the hands was a recurring feature of the song which was fine until in some factories the workers instead of clapping would pick up their hammers and bang out the four beats on their benches or machines causing damage which didn’t amuse the management. Another popular show was ‘Workers Playtime’ this was broadcast at lunchtime from a factory ‘somewhere in England’ (this was a phrase deliberately used to avoid the enemy knowing exactly where it was coming from). Anyway the show was sent out live and the comedian would always find out in advance the name of the manager or foreman of the factory and use it in some comical way bringing brought forth laughter and good natured jeers from the workers.
The other star who must always be remembered was singer Vera Lynn. Many people thought her voice to be a bit ‘slushy’ but personal taste should not be allowed to detract from the wonderful work she did. As the ‘Forces Sweetheart’ she regularly broadcast on the BBC with her programme ‘Sincerely Yours’ and travelled overseas to entertain the troops particularly in to Burma to sing for what was called ‘The Forgotten Army’. She was a vital link between the troops and their loved ones at home. At the time of writing this (2016) I am pleased to say Dame Vera (as she is now) is still alive, aged 99. I still enjoy listening to her for, like Churchill’s stirring speeches, hearing her singing those wartime recordings of ‘Yours’, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ and ‘I’ll be seeing you’ takes me right back to those dark days.
In July 1941 the BBC introduced its new V for Victory sign. This brilliant idea took the form of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony –daa, daa, daa, daa, This was ironic to say the least, considering that Beethoven was German, and now part of his music was being used against his own countrymen. The BBC broadcast these four notes to occupied Europe and it proved to be a great morale booster to the resistance workers giving them encouragement and also engendering a spirit of defiance to the enemy which resulted in them chalking up V signs on doors and walls.
After the tragedy of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, air raids became a nightly occurrence. Due to my father’s three month period away working in Wales he found on his return that he had lost his warden’s post, but he quickly stepped in and became a ‘fire watcher’ both at work and in our street.
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