Bombs dropped in the ward of: Charlton
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Charlton:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Charlton
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Mike Hazell (BBC WW2 People's War)
I used to love working over the Easter Weekend even though it meant extra hours of overtime and no day off for two weeks or longer. Very few employers gave their workers a paid holiday every year but London Transport did. Of course, like everything else, it was done at each garage or depot on a rota basis and the less fortunate among us had to take our holiday outside the summer months. The holiday rota stretched from 1st March to 31st October and we all volunteered to do rest day working throughout that period to cover duties of those on holiday. Provided the services were kept running, the authorities were very lenient, especially if a husband arrived home on leave and the girl’s holiday was still months away. Either her holiday would be swapped with someone due to start the following week or a call would go out for volunteers so the week’s holiday would be covered, day by day, with rest day workers. The girls would invariably put a cross alongside their name on this list to signify that they would do the duty without pay and several of the men conductors would do so too, although the extra pay of time and a half for rest day working was a very great sacrifice for those among them with families to keep. Of course, we all knew that the same would be done for us if the occasion arose but, even so, it was really a great deal of comradeship that bound us all together. I only wish the same spirit prevailed today - regrettably it does not.
Unfortunately the lighter evenings encouraged people to go further afield for their evening drinks too. Instead of slipping round to their local and staggering home at closing time they would take a tram ride or travel a short distance from pup to pup along the road until they found themselves miles from home. Then I would have to memorise where each of them was going and shake them awake or stop them in mid-song when we reached their destination. Some were so drunk it is a wonder they ever made it and my heart would be in my mouth when I saw them half climb and half fall off the platform and lurch through the traffic. Of course, there wasn’t the mass of cars on the road as there is now, petrol was strictly rationed for business journeys and only the well to do could afford cars anyway. But, even so, alighting from a tram in the middle of the road in the blackout always involved some element of risk. To enable us to be more easily seen by other traffic we had a broad band of white shiny material (similar to plastic) above the wrist on the left arm of our jackets and overcoats which could be wiped clean with a damp cloth. The whiteness gradually turned to yellow as the months went by till we wore white again after our yearly renewal of uniform.
The crews would sit in the canteen on meal breaks and swap stories involving drunken passengers - some amusing, some pathetic and others not pleasant at all. I still remember a few of my own. One dark night, along the Old Kent Road we were hailed by a young sailor who, somewhat dismayed to find he was talking to a woman conductor, asked if I would mind him bringing his mate along. He explained that they both had to get to Woolwich and from there a train to Chatham where they were due to join their ship at 7.30 a.m. “I’m afraid my mate is a bit under the weather,” he said, “but we’ll be in dead trouble if we don’t catch that train. I’ll look after him, Miss; I promise he won’t be any trouble if you will take us to Woolwich.” Well, with my Bill in the Navy I always had a soft spot for sailors but “under the weather”! - his mate was so drunk he was almost in a coma, propped up against the wall of a pub, dead to the world. They both had fully packed four-foot long kit bags with them and a small suitcase each too. So we loaded the luggage on first and I took it under the stairs so they didn’t have to buy luggage tickets (no string!). My driver came round to find the reason for the delay and he must have felt sympathetic to the Fighting Forces too because he leant a hand, between us, we managed to carry the unconscious sailor into the lower deck where we laid him out on the long seat. Regaining consciousness for a few seconds he opened his eyes, said, “Goodnight, Mum,” and lapsed into oblivion again. I dissolved into a fit of giggles - he was about ten years older than me anyway - and his young mate broke into a torrent of apologies - he was only about nineteen years old himself and a teetotaller into the bargain and so scared they would both be turned off again if his mate upset anyone. Of course, we had lots of passengers between the Old Kent Road and Woolwich but everyone understood and sympathised with the two blokes on last night of their leave, going out to sea the next day to face the elements - to say nothing of the German U-boats. When we reached Woolwich half a dozen passengers got out of their seats to assist the sailors and luggage off the tram and safely on to the pavement. Two chaps volunteered to help with the source of all the action (now slumped at a foot of a lamppost with an angelic smile on his face). They had both taken tickets to Plumstead but assured me they could take a later tram or even walk home if necessary after seeing the two sailors safely on their train. I waved them good-bye with many thanks and hoped another lovely crowd would do the same for Bill should the occasion arise!
Another drunken sailor provided an episode which was not so amusing - to put it mildly. To begin with, he insisted on trying to go upstairs - a manoeuvre I judged to be unwise - if not impossible in his state. After several stumbles, lurches and not a few strong words he finally made it to the top deck with me in close attendance behind in case he should fall backwards. I sighed with relief when he collapsed on a seat and I returned to the platform. We were running late, having stopped for a while in an air raid and the driver was really pushing it along. So down the empty road we rattled, swaying and lurching as usual till we reached Woolwich Ferry where I had to swing the pole and fasten it down while we took up the plough. As I regained the platform I heard a shout from the window over the platform and I looked up - and the sailor was sick all over my face and head. Now the smell of vomit is nauseous enough under normal circumstances but when a man has been drinking both beer and spirits, and it is literally right under your nose - it is indescribable. It was in my eyes and hair and dripping down on to my shoulders and all down the front and sleeves of my tunic. I dashed round to my driver nearly crying and he tried to wipe away most of the foul stuff with an enormous red and white spotted handkerchief, but it was obvious I couldn’t face the passengers or continue my duty in that state. So he told me to climb up onto the driver’s platform while he went round to ask all passengers to alight and wait for the next tram. When we explained the reason the passengers went up and dragged the sailor off the tram, telling him just what they thought in no uncertain terms.
Then away we went, down the road, non-stop to Charlton works where all the trams were serviced. There was a hurried consultation with the Chief Engineer and I was escorted into the washroom. I was on entirely male territory here as no women were employed at Charlton, so the engineer and my driver posted a man on the door to keep everyone else out. Then they helped me off with my tunic and set to with a sponge to clean the worst off while I washed my hair. They went outside while I took off my blouse and washed it and wrapped myself in a clean overall several sizes too large. While I was escorted into their canteen my tunic and blouse went off to be dried in the boiler room and, two cups of tea later, I returned to the tram fully dressed and clean and dry again. We had to make out a full report when we reached the Depot and I was told to bring in my uniform the following day (we always had two uniforms every year). Within three days it had been replaced, but I imagined I could still smell it for ages afterwards.
That little sliding window over the platform was the only one that a passenger could open or shut himself - the rest were all wound down or up with a turning handle kept in the locker, so if someone asked for a window be opened, everyone on that side of the tram had to be consulted, as they all opened or closed together. Our passengers must be a very tolerant crowd because I don’t remember anyone objecting when I asked.
The only other story I remembered telling didn’t involve a drunk at all. We were cruising along near the Elephant and Castle one summer evening when a man dashed out of a side street just short of a request stop and ran into the road, waving to the driver who pulled up for him. As he swung on to the tram the passenger shouted, “Ring her off, mate - quick!” The reason for his state of panic soon hove into sight around the corner; a really tiny middle-aged woman in a flowered apron and man’s cap and brandishing the biggest rolling pin I’d ever seen. I had rung the tram off by then and the expression on her face, at seeing the tram pull away with her man safely on board, was really comical - she stood there, rolling pin in one hand and the other arm shaking a clenched fist till we drifted out of sight. Well, I’d seen dozens of cartoons depicting the angry wife greeting her drunken husband with a rolling pin at the ready behind the front door - but never met a woman who chased him out with one! What did he get on his return I wonder?
Another time my driver and I provided an inspector with a good story to laugh over and it came about like this. One quiet night we were cruising along with no passengers on board, my driver on this night was a jolly sort of chap whom I had worked with several times before, and he slid open the connecting door to enquire if we had anyone on board. “No - we’re as dead as a doornail,” I replied - the usual expression when referring to an empty vehicle. “How would you fancy learning how to drive?” said he. Would I - wild horses wouldn’t have stopped me - so I ran through to the front platform to receive my first - and last - lesson on driving on a tram.
Now the tram driver stands behind the control box four feet high and controls the tram with an iron lever, somewhat resembling a spanner, which is always called a “key”. This key fits around a nut on top of the box a turned through a series of notches, each notch bringing more power and thus increasing the speed of the tram. To pull up and stop, the key turns back through the notches until all power is cut off and a brake engaged and finally a handbrake is applied by turning a big wheel alongside the box. Driving a tram is as simple as that - no steering - no gears - a child could operate it. I stood there, proud as Punch, bringing a tram to a halt at every stop, becoming quite proficient in bringing it nicely in line - with the platform outside the stop - and then gliding off again - so that when we reached some traffic lights the driver even let me pull up - wait and pull away again entirely unaided while he lit a cigarette. We were some yards beyond the lights when a voice behind us remarked, “Not bad, gel - we’ll make a driver of you yet.” At least I had the sense to bring the tram to a halt, while the driver gasped and threw the cigarette over the side, then we both turned to find a Road Inspector standing behind us.
Just in case it had escaped our notice, the Inspector totted up our list of crimes while busy writing on his board: No 1 The connecting door was unlocked - No 2 The back platform was unattended on an empty vehicle - No 3 The driver was not at the controls - No 4 The driver was not in possession of the key - No 5 The conductor was driving without a licence No 6 The driver was smoking on duty and No 7 We were now (looking at his watch) four minutes late. Points Nos. 1,2 and 7 merited nothing more than a severe reprimand but Noose 3 & 4 were serious crimes and Nos. 5 & 6 were not only breaking company rules but were police offences too. We were really in trouble and no mistake. But it must have been our lucky day because, after a telling-off which lasted several minutes and left me feeling about three inches tall, the inspector showed me the board which he had been writing on while detailing our various crimes. On it he had written “Tram Correct” and told me to sign it - bound us both to secrecy and told us that if it ever happened again he would be down on us like a ton of bricks. Then he pulled a packet of fags from his pocket and gave us one each! “Just got back from hospital,” he said, “Our first and it’s a boy - after fifteen years wed!” So it was his lucky day too! He jumped my tram several times after that and neither of us ever mentioned the night his first child was born and I drove the tram. That boy must be thirty-five years old now, although that makes me very ancient indeed.
Contributed originally by Thurza Blurton (BBC WW2 People's War)
SOME MEMORIES OF MY WAR
I have a store of memories of the second world war. Here are a few of the most unforgettable.
When the war started, I lived in Lewisham, South East London, with my parents and older sister, Connie.
She and I were 'called up' for war work. And Dad volunteered for the A R P (Air Raid Precautions). He was a Member of the Light Rescue Division. This was responsible for administering first aid to the injured after they had been dug out by the Heavy Rescue. Dad had a terrific sense of humour and kept us and those around from going insane, by the funny things he said.
Mum did as much for the war effort as the rest of us. Like many other mums, who kept the 'home fires burning,' so to speak. She always had a hot meal ready for us when we got home, which had to be eaten quickly before the Sirens sounded, warning us of approaching enemy aircraft. We'd have to run down to the Anderson air raid shelter in the garden, which was affectionately called - 'the dug-out.'
Sirens sounded. Some nights (and days) if the warning went while we were having a meal we'd pick up our plates and hurry down to the shelter with them.
On one particular occasion, though terrified, Mum made us laugh by putting the plate on top of her head to protect it from the bombs.
Dad was on duty at Greenwich one night and we other three and our Scotch terrier, Judy were in the 'dug out,' Bombs were dropping fast and furious. They were chucking everything down that night. 'even iron bedsteads,' Dad said afterwards. Which reminds me of when the government confiscated all the iron they could lay it's hands on for the war effort. They took the railings from the front of our houses. I don't think any of them were replaced.
But as I was saying, on this particular night, the three of us were chatting in the shelter. We talked about this and that to try and take our minds off the bombing. Mum told us what had been happening that day. In the afternoon there was a raid including incendiary bombs. Mum went to the front door to see if any passer-by wanted to come in until the ALL CLEAR sounded when an incendiary landed on the doorstep. Mum picked it up hoping to throw it into the road, (I don't think she intended to chuck it back up!) but an Air Raid Warden shouted at her, "Put that 'bleepy' thing down, you silly 'bleeper'". Mum dropped it, rushed indoors and shammed the door. Luckily, the bomb didn't flare up, but burnt a hole in the doorstep, where it remained until the house was bombed all together. But that's another part of the story.
Anyway we had a good laugh when Mum told us all about it.
Another night we were in the shelter when heavy bombing was in progress. Suddenly Connie screamed.
Mum said, "Don't worry love, we're all here together. (Meaning if we got killed, we would all go together).
"It's not that," Connie cried pointing to the pile of blankets which served as our communal bed, "There's a mouse in there." To say we were terrified, was putting it mildly. We scrambled through the opening of the shelter and stood leaning against it, too afraid to stay inside with the mouse. We stuffed our fingers in our ears, because the noise was more deafening out in the open.
Dad found us there when he came off duty.
"What are you doing out here you silly 'bleepers,?' he asked, "It's not safe, get back inside."
"There's a mouse in there," we said in unison.
Dad got rid of it and we all scrambled back into the shelter. Dad said, "If Hitler had dropped a load of mice instead of bombs, he'd have won this 'bleepy' war."
Dad used to tell us what happened while he was on active duty; not the really bad things, though there were plenty of those; like how, who and where they'd been killed. One night, Dad was attending to a wounded family who'd been rescued from it's demolished Anderson shelter.
Dad tried to comfort an elderly lady. "Don't worry love," he said, you'll be alright, the ambulance is here."
"My leg, my leg," she cried, "Where's my leg."
Dad called to one of the other men, "Tourniquet wanted here, leg off. " It was difficult to see exactly what had happened it was so dark. The men daren't use torches, the light would be seen from the air and make a perfect target for enemy bombers.
The injured were carried on stretchers and into the
ambulance. The lady wearing the tourniquet was still shouting about her missing leg. Her husband tried to soothe her. Then he whispered to my dad, "Did you find her leg?" "They're looking for it mate, " Dad answered, knowing there was no chance of finding it. Just as the driver started the engine, the lady's husband said, "It was propped up against the shelter just inside the door."
"What was?" Dad asked.
"Her wooden leg," he replied.
In the factory where I worked, there were humorous notices stuck around the walls to keep up our morale. One read: 'You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps.' And,
'If an incendiary bomb falls through the roof, do not lose your head, put it in a bucket and throw sand on it.' This was meant to be serious. There were other notices, not so polite.
The night that's etched on my memory for all time, was in nineteen forty one, the day after boxing day. It was a dreadful night. The bombing was particularly horrendous. South East London and the surrounding districts were continually being blown up and so many fires that some people described it as the second great fire of London. Dad was on duty at the time, not only heavy bombs were dropping but incendiaries as well and as we had to put them out, we couldn't go into the shelter; as fast as they were extinguished, more flared up. After sometime when things had died down a bit, we were exhausted, so we went indoors to make some tea. Suddenly, Judy, our dog, barked at us and crawled underneath the kitchen table.
"Why is she doing that?" I asked.
It must have been a few seconds later we knew why. We didn't hear the bomb, it was too near. The first thing I knew, was coming round after being knocked out. I felt sticky all over and slowly realised it was blood which seemed to be everywhere and I was spitting out debris and trying to remove glass from my face and clothes. This was difficult to do when you can't see what you're doing in the dark with debris and bombs still dropping around.
I mumbled in the darkness, "I've been injured."
Mum answered, her voice barely above a whisper as she was still dazed, "So have |."
We waited for Connie to reply. But she didn't. Then Mum's voice again, "Con, Con, you alright?"
No answer. We feared the worst. We waited and waited. Then at last we heard my sister's muffled voice, "My head feels as if it's been cut, but I'm O K"
'Thank God," Mum said.
Mum wasn't sure where she'd been injured, but everywhere was hurting.
Even though I was twenty one years old, I was a bit childish
at that moment.
"What about the doggy, she warned us about this?"
Then we heard a little bark as much as to say, "I'm still alive."
"Arrrhs!" were heard.
We had to wipe the dust from our eyes before we could open them. We were all covered in glass, which was responsible for most of our injuries. We groped around trying to find our bearings in pitch dark and talking to each other all the time, mostly about our dear Dad and praying that he was alive. We weren't in the dark for long. There was a whoosh! and flames shot up in front of us, revealing a deep crater where the front of the house had been. We grabbed tight of each other as we stumbled through the rubble. There was another whoosh! Flames surrounded us. We heard afterwards that the gas main had been hit.
Judy stayed close to us as we picked our way over the rubble to find a way out. It was a miracle she was unscathed, because the table she had sheltered under wasn't there any more.
"Come on," Mum said, "We'll try and find a way into the back garden." How we managed that is still a mystery, because there was another crater where the back of the house had been.
But eventually we managed to find the garden and were relieved to find the dug out still intact and stayed there what seemed hours as the bombing continued. We took some comfort from the sound of the Ack Ack guns fighting back, on Blackheath and in Greenwich.
"Perhaps someone will soon come and rescue us," Mum said hopefully.
"I wonder what's happened to Dad," we kept saying.
Then at last, we heard a voice call out, "Are you in there?" It was our wonderful Dad. It was a dreadful shock to him when he came home and found his home in ruins and wondered if we were still in the land of the living. As Dad began to make his way among the rubble the warden in charge tried to stop him. "There's no one left in there he shouted, "You can't go in it's too dangerous.
"You can't tell me what to do, my family is in there somewhere. You can't stop me 'I'm Light Rescue," Dad shouted back, pulling rank.
I can't describe the look of relief on all our faces when we found our family was still in one piece, (well almost) And we kept thanking God.
As Dad was helping us out of the shelter, Mum said to Dad, "Your dinner's in the oven, it's your favourite, boiled bacon." She must have been joking.
"Oven!" Dad cried, "There's no 'bleepy' oven there."
Trust Dad to give a funny answer as well. That's what our family were like, no matter how bad the situation we'd see the funny side. It's the worst situation we have ever been in. We all laughed hilariously. It was really hysteria, but it was better than crying and feeling sorry for ourselves. The tears came next day, when we found we had no home left.
Dad was our rock of Gibraltar, not only did we love him to bits, we felt safer when he was with us.
Anyway, Dad attended to our wounds as best he could and took us to the nearby first aid station. Then a make-shift ambulance, a grocery van, took us to the hospital (a school in Greenwich). After we' d been attended to, we spent the night trying to sleep. Connie and I were given a children's wooden form to lie on. We didn't get any sleep. It was too uncomfortable. My left arm was in a sling and the other side of my body, my bottom had been jabbed with a needle,
with something to keep me quiet because I couldn't stop talking.
Mum laid on the table usually used for another purpose,
I won't mention what. Then when the 'ALL CLEAR' sounded Dad and our little dog walked all the way from Lewisham to Charlton where his sister lived. Next day, we managed to salvage one or two bits from the pile of rubble that had once been our home. We found the left-over piece of pork from our Boxing Day dinner and the rest of the Christmas cake Mum had baked and iced, she'd saved up the rations for months for this.
Dad went to Greenwich Town Hall to beg some clothing coupons, telling the man in charge that we only had what we stood up in.
Then a cousin took us in his van to the auntie at Charlton and she took us in until we found somewhere else to live. It was the day of my uncle's, her husband's funeral. He was a Signal man at Victoria Station and had been killed in an air raid while on duty, so we all comforted each other. At auntie's house we washed the pork under the tap and dusted off the cake and ate them.
There were many casualties that night in South East London, A lot of fatalities including our neighbours.
This following memory is a 'favourite' of mine. Amongst the ruins of our house was a thin column of bricks that had once been part of my bedroom wall.
It reached up into the sky and there was still a scrap of wallpaper stuck to it; clinging bravely to this, was a small picture of Jesus surrounded by children of all colours and nationalities. This was given to me in 1934 when I left school at the age of fourteen. I have taken it with me every time I moved home. It's always hung on my bedroom wall above my head.
Copyright Thurza Blurton. Mrs Thurza Blurton
5 Mosyer Drive
Kent BR5 4PN 01689 873717
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on 18th July 1919, in Bellevue Hospital, New York City, U.S.A.
My mother, Emily Elizabeth Ada Boyle, formerly Inseal, had married a Canadian war-wounded soldier named Patrick Boyle, whom she met in Hampstead. He swept her off her feet and they were married within six weeks of the meeting. The stories of taking her to the United States of America helped this whirlwind romance, but the fact was that he was born in Glasgow. His mother was Scottish, his father Irish. He had brothers and sisters of whom I know nothing except that they all did very well. One was an actress and one a doctor. I know nothing about my grandparents on the 'Boyle' side either, my father having been disowned by his family, this being due to his 'drinking.
He went to the U.S.A. when he was about 17 years old and worked in Hotels. His birthday was 20th July and he was 10 years older than my mother. He joined the Canadian Army at the outbreak of World War 1. He was a charming, good-looking man with blue eyes. After being wounded in France he came to England and was admitted to a hospital in Hampstead. This was when he met my mother. She did not know about the drink problem until sometime after their marriage, when, by then, she was living in a tenement flat at 47, Amsterdam Avenue, New York City, miles away from her parents and loved ones and expecting her first child. My mother had a very strong character, and having discovered what a fool she had been, set about making a life for herself. She found a job with a lady named Lillian Ellis, who was at that time The President of the American Red Cross in New York, and had a lovely house in Greenwich Village.
My mother was 20 years old 'when she first went to work for Mrs. Ellis doing her housework. She also arranged English teas in the afternoons for this lady's friends. This became very popular, so mother suggested having the English garden tea parties in the afternoon for the public. These parties were held I Mrs. Ellis's beautiful garden, and so helped to raise money for The Red Cross. This type of thing was unknown in the U.S. at that time, but very soon became very popular.
Mrs. Ellis was very kind to my mother; she let her continue working for her and arranged the booking of the hospital where I was born. I was named Lillian after Mrs. Ellis and she was my Godmother.
My father, when drunk, was very violent and punched and kicked my mother even when she was pregnant. Mrs. Ellis pleaded with my mother to leave him and suggested she should come and live in at her house, but my mother was so sure she could change him and that when her baby was born he would be different, but after I was born things were just the same. He would be charming when sober for a number of months, but the first drink after a stretch of abstinence would se him off again and he would spend every penny he could. His wages would buy drinks for all his buddies; he had to be the life and soul of the party. Then he would return home penniless having spent the whole of his wages. What had not been spent on drink had been stolen by those so-called friends who would take advantage of him.
Mother worked hard after I was born, taking me with her. Mrs. Ellis gave her a beautiful swansdown pillow to put into a Moses basket for me to lie in.
My brother Bill was born 15 months after me, and things did not change very much. Now with two children and a drunken husband and the main bread and rent provider, my mother was determined that she would save enough money to return to England. Each time she saved a few dollars my father would steal it for drink. Eventually my mother found a safe place to save some money; this was in a cocoa tin in the food cupboard. She had to be careful he wouldn't find it, so she sometimes left a little somewhere else for him to find, thus preventing him from searching further.
He knew that from time to time my mother received money from England, as No.8, Maryon Road, Charlton, had been left to her in the will of her aunt. This house was rented out and her cousin, Henry Stockvis, collected the rents, and attended to the repairs etc, then sent the remainder to her, and of course when it arrived, my father used to be after her for some of it.
Thus the savings in the cocoa tin slowly built up and by the time I was 4 years old, she had saved enough to book the passage for herself and two children to return to England. Without him knowing, she packed her case and when he was at work, she left her flat in New York and caught the boat.
I do not remember New York at all, but I do remember being on the boat, and a steward giving me a rosy apple every day. Many relations met us at Southampton, and this I also remember.
At first we lived in a flat in Vauxhall Mansions, Vauxhall. My grandmother also had a flat in these old Victorian buildings. There was a big yard at the back where all the children played, and it was not far from the river, so when mother took us out walking it was along by the river wall to Battersea Park, or across the river to the gardens at the side of the Houses of Parliament.
My mother was a very good woman. She would always try to help people; she had a very good brain and had been clever at school. She was the eldest girl of ten children, four boys and six girls. Her mother was a lovely Buckinghamshire lady, and an excellent cook. Her father was a clerk on the railway. He was very fond of the ladies. He died at the age of 48 years.
Mother had always felt she would have liked to be a barrister, in those days an unheard of occupation for a woman, and this just shows what strength of character she had.
Once back in England she started enquiring as to how she could get possession of her house in Maryon Road, so that we could live in it. It took quite some time, but as she had children and was in need of a garden she eventually got the bottom part of the house. The top still being let gave her a small income.
Of course, it was not long before my father came to England, promising once again, that he would give up the drink. For a while all was well and another baby was on the way, my brother Jim. Very soon my father started drinking again and my mother was expecting her fourth child, my sister Dorothy. By this time my mother decided she had had enough and applied for a legal separation and my father returned to the U.S.A. Mother decided it was easier to tell everyone that her husband was dead, rather than say he was a drunk who had returned to America.
She settled down and worked very hard to get money for food, as she had no settlement from my father. She let rooms, cleaned for other people and took in washing; this helped her to make ends meet, and kept us well dressed. We have a lot to thank our mother for her selfless devotion to us. She loved her four children and protected us like a mother hen protecting her chicks.
At first we all went to Wood Street School Woolwich. We used to come home every day to a cooked dinner, then return to school in the afternoon. Even so times were very hard. I hated Mondays. Mother washed all the shirts for the Charlton Football players who lived with Mrs. Haring at 19, Maryon Road. She also did washing for Mrs. Stephens, the builders in Hill Reach. The boiler was alight at 6am and the house smelt of washing all day. It was bubble and squeak for dinner with cold meat from the Sunday roast. When I came home in the afternoon after school, I had a big pile of washing-up to do as mum was washing and scrubbing all day, so washing the dinner and tea plates was my job. I loved taking back the neatly ironed shirts for the footballers along with Mrs. Stephens' sheets and pillowslips. I always got sixpence for myself for taking them back, and that was a fortune in those days. Sometimes my brothers would take them so they could have a turn at getting the sixpence. We could always get three pence for cleaning doorsteps, so there was always a way of getting pocket money.
I was 7 years old when my sister Dorothy was born and as my mother was usually working, I was left in charge of my little sister. I used to take her to Maryon Park, but when it was time for us to return home, she would start screaming and lay on the ground throwing tantrums. When I told my mother, she said 'take no notice of her and leave her there' and sure enough when I started to walk away she would stop crying and come running after me.
My mother was very proud of us all, and kept us very well dressed. She stressed upon us, that in spite of having very little money we were just as good as anyone else in the road. There were quite a number of wealthy people around us. Next door but one lived a toffee-nosed family with one daughter who went to a private school. This family were inclined to look down on my mother having no husband and always having to go to work. But as the years went by they changed their attitude, and more than once came to mother for help and advice.
I went to St. Thomas' Church, was a brownie and a guide. I was confirmed when I was 10 years old and a Sunday school teacher at 15.
During these days mothers became friendly with a single man lodging next door, where she would work now and again. He was very unhappy there, as the lady took in many borders, but did not really look after them. One day George asked my mother if she had a room he could have as he was fed up at No.10. Anyway after a few months "thinking about it" she told Mrs. Stewart, who needless to say, was not very happy about mum taking one of her lodgers. 'Uncle George' came to live in our house. He always came on holiday with us.
Every year my mother took all four of us to Ramsgate. We had a room with Mrs. Tunnicliff in Ellington Road. She used to have rooms and attendance, which meant that we bought the food and Mrs. Tunnicliff cooked it. George used to have his evening meal with us, but he used to stay in a local pub called The North Star for bed and breakfast.
George coming to live with us made life a bit easier for mum, although she still went to work, and had a regular income from George. He worked at Tate & Lyle in the golden syrup department. He was able to buy 7lb tins of golden syrup cheap, so we always had plenty of treacle tarts and boiled suet puddings with golden syrup on them. Thus the regular incomes made life much easier for us all and we had a very happy childhood.
I went to Wood Street School until I was 12 years old, then on to Maryon Park Senior Girls until I was 14. I did not take the Junior County Scholarship, because I had to look after my little sister when mum was working, and was frequently absent from school. My brother Bill passed his scholarship with honours and went onto Grammar School.
When I left school I wanted to be a nurse, but could not start training until I was 18 years old. I had a couple of jobs as a Nursemaid, then went to "Cuffs", a drapers shop in Woolwich, to do an apprenticeship as a shop assistant. This was a two-year course, and when I had finished I went to "Chessman's", another large store in Lewisham as an assistant in the trimmings department. By the time I was 18 it was crisis time and war was imminent and I was more determined than ever to be a nurse.
I tried several hospitals with no success. Then one day I saw an advertisement I the paper wanting 18 year old girls for Modem Mental Nursing, so I wrote and got an interview at Bexley Hospital in Kent. The matron, a Miss Bevan, who was the sister of "Ernest Bevan" a very important Member of Parliament, he introduced the "Bevan Boys" ho worked in the coal mines during World War II.
The interview went very well and I was accepted. It was August 1938 when I left home and started training to become a nurse. My mother was very worried about it being a Mental Hospital, but I was so keen to become a nurse that I did not care what sort of hospital it was. I said, 'just let me go, and if I find it is too much for me I can always leave". I can remember to this day the thrill I had when I put on my uniform for the first time to present myself at Matron' s office to start my first day. Miss Peglar, The Assistant Matron, took me to my first ward, which was Ward L1. We had long dresses, which had to be 12 inches from the floor, in blue and white striped material, long sleeves with a stiff round collar that almost cut your throat fastened in front with a pearl topped stud. Stiff cuffs round the wrists, black lace up shoes, and black stockings. White caps that had to be made up in a special way. We had to learn to do this - it was pleated on top and made like a butterfly at the back, it was a real work of art. Not everyone could get the knack of making a good job of it. I had always been interested in making things and took to making these caps very efficiently, so I was never without friends. I always had someone knocking on my door asking me to make their cap up for them.
We had no training before hand, and everything was learned on the wards by trial and error. My first ward was a ward for elderly ladies with senile dementia. The two charge nurses were both Irish, one named MacGarry and the other Mannouch. Our hours of duty were 6am to 2pm which was called "A" shift, and 2-m to l0pm was called "B" shift. Then there was "c" shift, which was night duty from 10pm to 6am. But we did not do "nights" while we were in our first year. We had 1 and a half off each week, and it was planned so that we had 3 whole days off every two weeks and on return to duty the shift would change. I enjoyed the work, and made friends with a girl named "Winnie Matthews" She came from Grays in Essex. I had only been there a couple of months when war was declared, and our hospital had to be split by half to give room for general patients. This meant every ward had to double up, so instead of having 50 patients it had to be 100. This was really terrible. The beds were all along both sides and up the middle. Beds were also put in the side rooms, which were usually reserved for nurses. We all had to take a turn of sleeping by the wards in case of trouble at night. These nurses' rooms had to have two and three together instead of a room of your own, because the spare rooms were being used for patients. We also had to double up in the nurses Home to make room for nurses who were joining the Civil Nursing Reserve. Winnie Matthews and I shared a room in the Nurses Home.
To return to my first day on the wards, Nurse MacGarry took me with her and showed me where everything was, and when she was giving injections or doing dressings, explained everything to me. That very first day an old lady passed away. I was so surprised that it was so peaceful. I helped do the "last offices" and was not frightened, and was very interested in everything that was shown to me.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
About the third day of my first week Nurse MacGarry went for her lunch break and I was alone on the ward. There were 75 patients on the ward; most were up and about and sitting in the Day room. At one end of the ward we had 10 sick old ladies who needed nursing care after having had operations. Staff Nurse MacGarry told me to stay with these patients and not bother about the others, as they were all able to look after themselves. She had been gone about a quarter of an hour when I noticed one lady appeared to be restless. She had had a Mastectomy (breast removed). I went to look at her and found she had pulled all her drainage tubes out of her wounds. As MacGarry had not told me what to do in an emergency, I went to the telephone and rang matron. I told her what had happened and asked her what I should do. She was so nice, and came along to the ward, rolled up her sleeves and told me to wash all the tubes and put them in the sterilizer and boil them and gave me more instruments to boil. She then rang the Doctor. When Staff Nurse MacGarry came back from lunch, there was I, a very junior nurse in her first week of training, helping matron and the doctor in replacing all the tubes. Matron congratulated me on my quickness in calling for help, and that I had not panicked. I had just got on with the job as if I had been nursing for years.
I always got on very well with Staff Nurse MacGarry and if ever she was doing special dressings, she would always ask me if I would like to come and watch or help her. This is how I learned basic nursing skills. The worst part about this type of nursing was the counting. There were always a great many patients at one time, and we had to count the patients into the toilet block, then lock the doors, then they had to be counted back into the ward again. Every ward, toilet, and bathroom was locked. Round your waist you wore a rope belt with a bunch of keys attached.
Another day I was alone during a lunch break and a patient had an epileptic fit. I had never seen one before, and did not know what to do, but one of the other patients said "It's alright nurse, I'll see to her", and put a gag in her mouth and told me to see that she did not bang herself against anything. I was amazed how all the patients helped each other. They also did all the work on the wards, and some patients who could be trusted were allowed to work in the kitchens, laundry and sewing rooms. The constant counting caused a great deal of stress. Counting knives, forks, spoons at every mealtime etc, etc. After six months my friend Winnie Matthews went home on a weekend pass and did not come back. I rang her mother and she told me she was having a nervous breakdown and could not return. I missed her very much as we had spent our off duty time together playing tennis and hockey for the hospital.
The work we had to do with so many patients was terrible. One weekend I went home and my mother was on holiday, and my grandmother was staying in our house to look after my brothers. She brought me a cup of tea one morning and found me counting the wallpaper patterns. She immediately sent for our family doctor named Doctor Wilson, who was also a very close friend of my mother. He advised me to transfer at once away from the Mental Hospital and continue my training at a local hospital. This hospital was called "The Brook" which was a fever hospital. Half was for general patients, and the other half took the overflow from the Military Hospital next door called "The Herbert Hospital". As the war was on and beds and nurses were needed after the retreat of Dunkirk, I had no trouble in arranging the transfer. Doctor Wilson got in touch with matron, who asked me to return to work one month's notice while she arranged the transfer. So after 11 months at Bexley, I reported to The Brook Hospital. This episode probably prevented me from having a nervous breakdown like my friend Winnie. She was ill for a long time and gave up nursing altogether and married a Naval Officer.
At the Brook Hospital, I lived in, and had a room in the Nurses Home. Now at last this was real nursing. We had lots of wounded soldiers from Dunkirk. They were brought direct from the beaches in France to Dover by boat, then from the boats into Green Line coaches which were converted into ambulances straight to us at the Brook. We worked ten to twelve hours a day. In my set I met Ursula Watts, a girl from Hastings. We became friends, and as she could not get home often she used to come home with me. We used to stand on a bridge between the two Nurses Homes and watch the R.A.F. Battle of Britain spitfires coming back from a raid doing the victory rolls in the sky. Being a fever and general hospital we had to take the casualties from the bombing, along with the local children with infections. We did get a few lectures, and a few practical lessons from Sister Tutors, but we really learned most from the sisters and staff nurses on the wards that we worked on. We never knew from one day to the next what we would be doing. Although we were allocated a ward we were moved according to the urgent need at the time. One day would be a general ward, another would be de-lousing children who had been sleeping in shelters, or we were looking after babies that had been abandoned. There was a ward full of healthy babies who had been left in Churches, on doorsteps or on Woolwich Common.
We all had our own room in the nurse's home with a home sister named Sister Hays to look after us. One day she confiscated my portable gramophone. I had bought a record of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Unfortunately my room was right next door to her office and she got so sick of hearing it being played over and over she marched in one day and took it away, and I never did get it back.
Altogether it was a very happy life. All our food was provided in our respective dining rooms. Sisters had their own dining room, nurses in training had a separate section in a large dining room, the other section was for staff nurses. Matron had her private room and the doctors had another place to eat.
All our laundry was done for us. We only got £3 per month, but I remember buying a lovely dress for only five shillings. We had our own sitting room for trained and untrained staff. We used to have little dances in our sitting room. No men were allowed in the nurse's home, but you could make an appointment with the home sister to receive visitors in the visitor's room and were allowed a tray of tea from the servery provided it was booked in advance.
It was great having my home within walking distance because I took all my friends home. My mum always made us welcome, and gave us whatever was going, such as home made cakes, scones and jam tarts with a pot of tea.
It was the year of 1939 and things were pretty quiet. We nursed soldiers who were ill with flue etc. Children with their childhood complaints such as measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever and diphtheria, the latter being the worst. We had a strong wooden table in the ward where the doctors used to do tracheotomy. I remember a lady doctor named Dr. Coutts. She was a wonderful doctor and excelled at this particular operation. A child would come in with diphtheria, the type in which the neck swelled and the child would go blue and be unable to breathe. On the table they would go, and in seconds a tiny vertical cut would be made and a small tube passed into the trachea and the child was able to breath again. Dr. Coutts was by far the fastest and neatest at this operation. In the early days I saw many of these operations each week, but with the discovery of immunisation and antibiotics, diphtheria faded out. I thought about Dr. Coutts many years later, when I saw some of the ugly scars some doctors left and their pathetic attempts at doing tracheotomy.
Before continuing further on my nursing memories, I must tell you about the rest of the family. I was the eldest, 15 months later brother Bill came along, then brother Jim and the youngest was Dorothy. My grandmother on my mother's side was called Emily Jeffs, who was married to Joseph Inseal. She had ten children, six girls and four boys. We were very close to my grandmother. She lived next door to us in Maryon Road. Two of the houses, Nos. 6 and 8, had been left by my grandfather's aunt, to my mother and her sister Doll. It was at No.6 that my grandmother lived along with her daughters that were left. World war 1 took three SODS. The fourth son joined the Army. One daughter had been adopted by my grandfather's brother. My mother took over No.8 when I was 5 years old.
When World War II came, my brother Bill went into the R.A.F. Brother Jim went into the Guards. When Dorothy was 14 years old she went to work in an office at "Siemens". I had, by then, started nursing.
An Anderson shelter was built in the garden and a surface shelter was built for the public opposite the house, by the wall of the pub which was called The Woodman. During the Christmas of 1939 the nurses were invited to a dance at the RA. Gun site 161 Heavy AA Battery on Woolwich Common. Six of us went from the Brook Hospital to this dance, and during the evening I met Bill Ewins (later to become my husband). Our first dance together was a "Boomps A daisy", not very romantic, but this was the first dance of hundreds we were to have together. After a two-year courtship we were married on the 18dI December 1941 by special licence at Greenwich Town Hall. I continued to work at the Brook Hospital, but just before we were married, I found a job with more money at Charlton Lane First Aid Post. We were having lots of raids by now. My friend Ursula married Robin Cork, who she also met at one of the dances. She did, however, know him previously, as he came from Hastings where she also lived. One night while on night duty there was a very bad raid. Bombs fell on the Brook Hotel and some large three-storey house next to the Hospital. When Ursula looked at the house next morning after coming off duty, the whole of the front of the house was down and she could see her bed on the third floor from the street. She came and stayed in my mother's house for a few weeks until she could find a flat. .
The First Aid Post where I worked was run by the medical staff of Charlton Football Club. Our boss was Jimmy Trotter who was England's football trainer. This was a different life from the hospital. I was in charge of the theatre and had to always make sure everything was ready for any emergency.
Now that I have retired, looking back on my 42 years of nursing, enormous changes have taken place, and the conditions when I started in 1938 were very different by the time I retired in 1980. Before 1940, if nurses married, they had to resign. We were not allowed to use Christian names to each other, and when we were very junior nurses we used to do all the cleaning of sluices, lavatories, light shades, walls, ceilings and metal beds etc. We only had carbolic and lysol as cleaning material, and had to soak our duster in this and dust everything in sight. Every morning when we were on early shift we had to pull every bed forward a few feet, the domestic would sweep and bumper the floor, then we would dust the back of the beds with our damp dusters and push the bed back. The beds had been made by the night staff. If you were not dusting or carbolizing (as we used to call it) we were making up the green soft soap for the enemas. The soft soap was dissolved in boiling water in a big white enamel jug. It was made every day ready to lay up the trolley, along with the jugs, rubber pipes and funnels. There was a special way to lay up every trolley for each different procedure.
We had to clean and polish the bedpans and urinals; they were enamel and stainless steel. We had all the horrid jobs and a few that I remember were washing the bandages made of flannelette which were used on splints and for various other things. Some of these bandages were very soiled and had to be soaked m Lysol then washed with hard white soap, hung up to dry, then rolled ready for use again.
Lots of the children brought into hospital had fleas and lice and we had a foul smelling oil to put on their hair, then we had to put a bandage made into a cap on their head, these bandages also had to be used again and again. Also, horror of horrors, cleaning the metal spittoons (I heave now at the thought of it.)
Another job was dragging screens about. They were heavy metal and had pretty cotton curtains on them. One screen did not cover half the bed, so it usually took three of these screens to completely hide it, leaving enough room for you and your trolley to do your work.
When sister arrived at the door at 8am - one hour after us - every bed would have been made, comers neatly pleated, castors of the beds turned in and the openings of the pillowcases away from the door. Sister had a table in the middle of the ward, and we used to gather round her with sleeves rolled down and cuffs on, ready for her to give us our instructions. We were not allowed to take notes then, everything she told us we had to remember.
Night duty was worse because you had to accompany the night sister when she did her round; this was about an hour after being on duty. You had to tell her the name and diagnosis of every patient) without notes of any kind. The first night on the ward was the worst, as you had to get to know every patient yourself. During the night we also had to fill drums with gauze. This had to be cut and folded in different sizes, roll cotton wool into balls and larger rolls of cotton wool. Before packing rubber gloves we had to wash and powder them. All this had to be done when I first started nursing, but as the years went on things became much easier with the invention of disposables (C.S.S.D.). These changes were due to the N.H.S. which started in 1948, the Salmon Report of 1966, and re-organisation in 1972. Each time I returned to work in hospitals over the years the changes were very much for the better and life was made much easier for the nurses. Earlier the prejudices and injustices that went on were terrible. One example was when I was going to become engaged to Bill Ewins. His mother had arranged a party for us and I had booked the weekend off well in advance, bearing in mind we were only allowed one weekend off per month. On the Friday morning, the day before my weekend off, I was told I could not have it as the "off duty" roster had to be re-organised owing to a senior nurse being off sick. I went home in tears to my mother and told her I could not go to my own engagement party. She said "You will go and you will take it. Don't worry, I will ring the hospital". So I took the weekend off. My mother had telephoned but on Monday morning I was sent for by Matron, and given a right ticking off. I told her the truth, and said I had requested and been granted the weekend off weeks before. She told me I was ridiculous to get engaged when there was a war on.
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