I was evacuated at 13 from Bromley to a safe area of Folkestone. I
only stayed a few months because my birthday was one week after
the beginning of the war. In those days you had to earn your keep
when you reached 14. All the work was in factories. I went to work
for Johnson and Philips in Charlton, grinding castings for electricity
supplies. Terrible job, so dusty – a hovel of a place. The worst stuff
was the copper. It smelt sweet and worked its way into your
fingernails. I worked til I was 17 and joined The Home Guard, and the
Sea Cadets. It was the only thing for a boy to do in Bromley. My
father had been invalided out of the Army and went into the Navy,
so I asked him which I should join and he said not the Army, so I
joined the Navy and stayed in it for 3 years.
In the 30’s I used to be a choir boy. Up to 14 of us went down to the TB ward in the Chest Hospital, where they were all in different stages of dying. They had a church which held 200 people. We’d go down at at night and sing from 11.30-1.00. Afterwards they laid on a big feast for us boys. The nurses would put chocolate in your pockets. I’d go home with my pockets bulging, and eat it all for myself! Seeing those folk so ill as a lad made a deep impression on me. I was brought up in a religious atmosphere – Roman Catholic, Baptist, Salvation Army, and I thought, “What’s going on? Why can’t all that praying do something about it?” In the end it was the scientists who cured TB. Streptomycin. Now that was a miracle. I’m not anything now.
I met Iris on the dance-floor at Burton’s Dance Studios in Eltham. In the Navy there was nothing much to do. No money. On leave I went to a Snooker Hall, below the dance floor. I don’t know why but one day instead of staying on the 1st floor I went up a floor and thought “I might as well go in here”. And there was Iris. I was a good dancer and wanted to dance properly. She just wanted to flop about – not bother about the steps. But she was so lively! We’ve been married for 55 years.
We heard about the war ending when we were loading troops in Bombay. Captain came in and said “3 cheers, war in Europe over. Carry on working.” We saw a film on the Pathe News – it showed lots of people eating food. It was demoralising as we had so little to eat. We lived on corned beef - boiled, fried, etc etc. Everything was diced hard. Used to make me heave. Not much food or material was sent to the Far East. It all went to Europe And there was no mail getting through. We had to stay on the Island mopping up.
I was a telegraphist and there were 3 of us continually working on 24 hour shifts. When there was any trouble we were all up. We were the forgotten Army. Everything was centred on Europe. I finally got back to England in 1946 and went back to work in Johnson and Phillips which eventually became part of British Telecom. Then I married Iris, but that’s another story!