A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 3
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
IT MUST BE TIME TO GO HOME
I thoroughly enjoyed my life in Manchester and the Howell family apparently adored me, nothing was too much; they catered for my every whim, but one day they overstepped the mark. I was too young to have any understanding of their feelings for me or of their intent but they engaged a solicitor to instigate proceedings with a view to adopting me and obviously they had to notify my parents. Apparently my mother was terrified that they might succeed so she came up to Manchester the day after she had been contacted and said that she wanted to take me straight home, she was distraught. After some intervention by the solicitor and the authorities who had been involved in my evacuation process, as well as the school I was attending and input from some of the local people, my mother eventually agreed to let me remain with the Howell family for about two weeks so that they could come to terms with my impending departure. A couple of weeks later my mother returned to Manchester, this time with my sister Kathleen to take me back home. I was sorry that I would not be able to go to Mr Howell’s big shop in Manchester any more, but he had taken me back to say goodbye to all the girls upstairs. While we were there I asked him what the flying money containers were, so that I could tell my mother about them and he promised to tell me later. After a tearful farewell at the station, Mr Howell asked if he could look at one of my shoes, he borrowed my shoe and put a piece of paper into it and gave it back to me. I climbed aboard the train quite happily and apparently went down to say hello to the driver and fireman before heading back to my London home. After we got back to our home in Leyton I took my shoes off at bedtime and found the bit of paper he had given to me. The piece of paper said the money containers were a part of a Lanscom cash transporter and that the one in his department store was called a Lanscom wire line carrier. I hid it away just in case I got told off for having kept this secret letter, because these people had been trying to steal me away from my own real family in London, even though I had actually liked them.
Later on when I was back in London, I saw some other machines like that, but not the same as the one in Manchester. The Howell’s kept in touch for many years in fact my mother and sister went to visit them on a few occasions, but they never took me with them for in my child centred and guileless way I had completely forgotten my part time parents. Rather sadly I chanced to be passing through Manchester many years later and decided to pop in and say hello to them so I phoned my mother and asked for their address, she could only remember the name of the Street and so I went there and knocked on a door. When a man answered and I asked if he knew where the Howells lived and explained my quest, he called his wife who came out in tears. They invited me in for a cup of tea where she explained that by a quirk of fate, she had been the nurse who had cared for Mrs Howell through years of illness and who always told her stories about the time they had cared for me and how she always wondered what had become of me. Mrs Howell had died the week before I turned up. The lady insisted upon driving me to the home of the Howell’s daughter, whose name escapes me now, but in the event when we arrived there it turned out that she had gone out for the evening, but we would have had little to say really as too much time had passed. I had enjoyed my life in Manchester and my mother had come to visit me and my sister who was with other people in Manchester. My sister had been very unhappy at the place she had been sent to though, so after a couple of months it had been agreed that it was best if she was returned to London and so my mother was sent to collect her. I had remained quite happily with the Howells, until they engaged the solicitor to see if they could adopt me, but they had engineered their own downfall! The Howells were distraught, but my mother was overjoyed, she had been so worried about losing me . It was the end of 1943 and I had just turned four, we were reunited as a family; surely things must get better, I was heading home to London! After all of this trauma and turmoil what else could possibly go wrong?
The Germans must have been informed that the “Special Child” had now arrived back in London…..For in January 1944 the Luftwaffe were kitted up, “Operation Steinbock The Baby Blitz” was launched against London, this time the bombing of London went on relentlessly for five more months. It could be said that I had been well and truly welcomed back home!
BACK HOME WHERE I BELONG
My return to London and specifically to 652 High Road Leyton, had involved a period of adjustment, I needed to get used to my own family and our own flat once more, as well as then re-learning about the area all around us and all of the people my family knew and especially my sister and her friends. Kathleen being now aged about eight was much older and bigger than I and had settled back to living in London and going to a school with other children who lived around us though they were all strangers to me. I spent about a month at home with my mother just getting used to my new environment before it became time for me to spread my wings and to step out into a big New World. Luckily my sister attended a combined primary school for 5 to 12-year-olds, so I was enrolled at her school where she was old enough to be able to take me to school after the first few days when my mother had come with us to make sure that I felt secure and had completed all of the registration processes. My new school was probably about a mile and a half away from our home and was totally different to the school that I had been to in Manchester. The thing that I noticed immediately was that there was a high brick wall running along the front of the school with a large gate at the left and another at the right end of the wall. The boys went into the left gate and girls went into the right gate at the opposite end and once through the gateway came into a large tarmac playground, where there was a dividing high wire fence leading from the inside of the wall all the way across the playground to the main school building. There was one entrance for the girls at the right end of the building and a separate entrance for the boys on the left of the building so that they entered the corridors separately and each group of children made their way along the corridor until they reached their classroom doors so that the girls were lined up on one side of the door and the boys on the other. The classroom teacher was always standing outside the door and would let the girls in first and then once they were seated, bring the boys in. It seemed quite strange at first but worked extremely well and ensured that there was no jostling or teasing between boys and girls. In the younger classes boys and girls mixed once inside the classroom with generally a boy and girl on each double desk for the lesson or lessons, but when they came back out of the classroom the girls left first turning left down the corridor and then the boys turned right down the corridor so that each group went back out into their own playground. This procedure started on the ground floor so that the youngest children went out to play first, followed by the children from the next floor and then the next until all of the children were outside. This process was repeated for playtimes and at lunchtime to ensure that the youngest children were always safely outside before the more boisterous older children, who often bumped and jostled their way down the stairs in order to be among the first out into the playground. The younger children were also taken into school dinners and fed, then let out into the playground before the older groups went into the dining hall. At the end of the school day the older children were generally let out first so that they could disperse before the younger children were let out to meet their parents who were waiting for them outside. In my case it was my sister that waited to take me home as I think that my mother was working as a nurse; I was always hurried along by my sister as she was waiting with her friends and wanted to get back home with them because they lived near us. I only remember her best friend whose name was Carol Ramsey and I can remember her because of the way in which she remained connected to us later. Our route home from school ran fairly parallel to the underground railway line but then the road turned right and then left where there was a large embankment where the railway line went up until it was about twenty or thirty feet above our road. There were great arches cut into the embankment which supported a bridge over which the railway line ran and there were huge doors set into the arches. There were workshops and storage places inside the doors which were sometimes open so that we could see inside them as we walked home. Our underground station was actually on top of that bridge which ran over the main road where our house was. After safely dropping me off at home my sister would go across to Carol’s home which was a flat on the top floor of the block of flats opposite, or Carol would come to our place and she and my sister would go out into the back garden to play. The girls would normally stay at each other’s home for tea, depending upon whether my mother was at home or still at work. I soon befriended a boy from our school who I mentioned at the start of my story; his name was Guy Taplin and he lived only in the next street from us. Since his father owned and ran a furniture shop full-time, Guy would spend most of his free time with me and a small group of friends that evolved around us. Despite being the youngest and smallest among them, I had an inquisitive and quite adventurous mindset that appealed to them which, coupled with the fact that I had spent a couple of years in some place that most of them had never heard of and certainly never been to, gave me the kudos to become accepted as their leader. I took them all away into forays and adventures outside of our immediate vicinity even though it might only be a couple of streets away, thus opening new and previously unexplored territory. I introduced them to a Park that only one of them had ever been to before, and later to the archways and into some of the workshops, where we chatted to the people who were working there and sometimes they asked us to run errands or take messages to other units along the road, so we were useful. Greatest of all we went to clamber over and around some of the buildings in the area that had been bombed by the Germans. Among the rubble we occasionally found treasures like toys, a broken doll or bicycle, some shattered pottery or even bits of furniture and sometimes we were lucky enough to go to a place that had only recently been bombed and was still partly smouldering and which therefore yielded new treasures. It was only in places that the policemen and fire wardens and ambulance crews had already been to, so the places were now left deserted. We were too young and innocent to understand the suffering and pain of the people who had lived and died there and just thought of it as an adventure playground. The members of our group changed over time as some were told not to mix with us or others moved away, but there were always others to replace them. Carol and my sister Babs – whose actual name was Kathleen – were some-time members as were some others of the original group, but Guy and I were permanent. Two of our favourite games would be to go up onto the top floor flats where Carol lived and run along the outside corridor knocking on the doors as we went past and then going down the stairs at the end and back along the corridor below knocking again as we went until we reached the ground floor and ran off around the corner into the main Street. The other game was to climb up onto the roofs of the garages in the courtyard behind the flats and then run across the roofs which were made of corrugated asbestos. One of our gang fell through the roof and was badly cut, another suffered a broken arm on a different occasion and at least a half of us were shouted at or given a clip around the ear by angry parents or garage renters. This game was just annoying to the adults but all exciting to we children, although nobody realised at that time that the asbestos was actually quite dangerous. Our meeting place was generally the Anderson shelter which belonged to my parents, as long as we kept it tidy and didn’t abuse our use of it. On the occasional lucky day one or more of the parents would bring some fruit or biscuits and some drinks for us to share although this was not very frequently as all food was rationed. Since this was another adventure for us, being a gang that had our own picnic area, it gave parents some respite and the knowledge that we were all together and in a safe place, it also let the parents off actually needing to directly provide us with meals. The arrangement worked well for the parents who got some peace and quiet and for we children, who had our freedom from adults.
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