Friday, August 22, 2008

Sydney George Hill – This is your life!

The following is an extract from a personal memoir by Mr. Hill of 15 Warfield Road, Bedfont; loaned to Hounslow Library Local Studies for copying, 1st August 2008.

This (‘Castledene’ house and petrol station, junction of Swan and Twickenham Roads, Hanworth, see Old Photographs of Feltham Bedfont and Hanworth, no.63) is where Val and I lived when Raymond and Sandra were born. Danny and Joan lived with Gary in one room, about 15 feet by 15 (bottom right hand front of photo). Mum lived in one room about 12 feet by 12 (rear left hand of side of photo) and Val and I lived in the two rooms upstairs (left hand side of photo).

Most of my childhood was spent during the war years. Being children, at times it all seemed like a game; apart from when the sirens sounded and the anti-aircraft guns started firing. It was hard to distinguish between bombs falling and anti-aircraft guns. At night we would stand by the back door and look towards London and the whole sky would be red like a sunset, and the fact that there were no other lights due to the blackout made it even more dramatic. The German Luftwaffe decided to send the bombers over at the same time every night, which was 7.30p.m. They would go away at 9.30 p.m. My father made up mine and Danny’s bed under the stairs with scaffold planks as protection, and we got into bed dreading 7.30 coming.

During the war one of my mother’s jobs was as cook at the The British Restaurant. This was place which was opened to feed the population. It was a large building which stood on the land which is now Tesco’s in Feltham High Street. Lots of people from all walks of life would go there, such as school children, for a meal. Danny and I went there and a lunch would cost 9d. It was quite a task to make any food interesting since things were on ration and you had to make do with what was available. Mum’s specialty was “Nelson tart” which was concocted out of dried fruit and other “secret” ingredients and put into a pastry tart. It was quite a treat and became famous in Feltham.

Later in the war she also worked at the G.A.L. (General Aircraft Limited) which was a big factory and workshops attached to what was then Hanworth Air Park, now Hanworth Park. They were involved in the repair and maintenance of Spitfire fighter planes and it was a hive of activity with the Spitfires taking off and landing over Feltham.

The test pilot who was attached to the works was a man called Woods, his nickname was “Timber”, and now and then he would wait for all the people to be leaving the works in droves, down Browells Lane, then he would swoop down very low over them, and they would all dive for the ground. Then he would come back waggling his wings and everyone would be shaking their fists at him. He must have thought it great fun!

Mum was the pastry cook in the canteen at G.A.L, which was very hard work since about 2,000 people worked there, but I suppose, on looking back, they were all part of the team which helped fight the “Battle of Britain”, which was the turning point of the war.

Everything was on ration during the war, food was short and everyone kept chickens and grew their own vegetables. People were always very friendly and helpful and there was always plenty to talk about. The papers would print the latest war front maps showing the advance or retreat of the allies. We would stand in the gardens watching the dog fights between the Spitfires and the German fighters. When a German one got shot down, everyone would cheer. We thought one had been shot down one day because it went into a dive and everyone cheered, but then it came out of the dive and went off and we heard later that it had machine gunned thee children coming out of a school. Even the police on duty were fainting.

During the war there were always lots of soldiers around, together with sailors and airmen, and a lot of American troops. They were well paid and had good food and their uniforms were flashy, so all the girls went for them, which made our boys very jealous. People would ask them into their houses for tea and most people had American friends. The Canadians were very well thought of and we knew a couple of them.

Feltham was a garrison town where troops were kitted out at the army depot before going overseas. We would be sitting at home and a knock would come at the door. When answered there would be a sergeant with some soldiers asking how many rooms we had. When mum said three bedrooms and two living rooms, the sergeant would send four soldiers in and they would be billeted with us for about fortnight.

They used to come into the house with their kitbags and rifles and you could hardly move, but it was all very friendly and quite exciting.

I went to Cardinal Road School, which was about 1.5 miles from home. Quite often whilst on the way to school the sirens would sound for an air raid and we would go into the nearest air raid shelter, we always carried a gas mask with us in a small cardboard box over our shoulder and we would be in trouble if we got caught without it. Our teacher’s name was Miss English and she was 20 years old and very pretty. Occasionally, her boyfriend, who was in the RAF, would drop into the school and they would kiss and cuddles in front of the class. We would all sit there watching with our mouths open! Most of the day was spent down the air raid shelter.

On one occasion I helped myself to a large bottle of cochineal (red food coloring) from Woolworths. Only a minute amount was needed to color food, and I put the whole bottle in the Feltham pond, which turned red and was the talk of the town. They must have thought it was some terrible omen!

We were always looking for souvenirs of the war such as shrapnel (parts of shells or bombs) and one day we took a short cut to school which meant jumping across the electrified railway lines as we often did, then crossing the allotments. During the night there must have been an incendiary raid and hundreds of small bombs weighing about 5 pounds each were dropped by the German planes. They contained phosphorous which burned fiercely for a while and then exploded sending burning phosphorous everywhere. The allotment ground was soft where it had been dug over, and the devices had not “gone off”, so we got very excited about finding them. We pulled up six each (there was Danny and myself, and our friends the two Askew brothers), which made a total of 24 bombs in all, found some string and rope and tied them up and made our way home dragging them through the streets. How no one saw us I don’t know, as it was a trip of about a mile.

When we got home we put the bombs down the bottom of our respective gardens and when the Askew’s parents got home and found them, all hell broke loose.

The Air Raid Police were called in to evacuate the houses while the bomb disposal squad took the bombs away, and we were never allowed to take any more “souvenirs” home.

A big treat for us was going to the cinema to see the Saturday matinees, showing such things as Flash Gordon the Space Man. We would never have believed that man would travel in space for real in the future.

We would also have a weekly visit to the cinema to see a “big” film. The more popular the film, the more people wanted to see it, and the bigger the queue. The tickets were 9d, 1/3d and 2/3d, and sometimes we would have to queue for an hour in the rain. We would stand there wishing we could afford to go in the 2/3d, or sometimes we would go round the back of the cinema and sit by a back door and listen to the sound, trying to figure out what was happening. One of the things we did was “bunking in,” in other words, getting in without paying. We would have a collection to pay for one ticket and when the chosen boy was inside, he would make pretend to go to the toilet and then open the emergency door to let the others in. This was always risky because the door man and usherettes were always on the lookout. The hardest cinema to bunk into was The Playhouse in Feltham, which stood at what is now the entrance to Tesco’s. We found a window open which was into the toilets, and although it had bars up, Harry reckoned he could squeeze through. The four of us managed to squeeze through one by one, but unbeknown to us, the doorman knew what we were up to , so he waited behind the door until we were all in, then he burst in and said “caught you – now get out the way you came in”. As we were squeezing back out of the window, he proceeded to kick us all up the backside, so we never tried again!

Another thing we were always doing was scrumping. We knew where every fruit tree in the district was, as well as all the orchards. It was quite a treat to have an apple or pear and we would go to all sorts of lengths to get some. All the householders knew this, so they were well guarded by fences and wire etc., but we had ingenious ways of getting the fruit.

One of these was getting fishing net with a long pole and passing it under an apple on the tree from over the fence and knocking it off with a stick into the net.

We also thought it was a treat to “have a ride” on something. We used to hang on to the back of lorries as they were delivering round the houses. There was a railway line which had a siding on the main railway and a separate line running into the army depot via the High Street. It ran for about a mile and sometime we would jump on the back of trains for a ride. One day my friend Brian Bateson, who lived just down our road, was riding on the back of a train when it reversed. He fell off and was chopped up in front of my other friend Lenny Askew. Lenny was struck dumb and did not talk for about a fortnight from the shock. Quite a few boys from the estate got killed. We used to play around the railway lines and cross them every day on the way to school. It was an unprotected crossing. We also used to play and swim over the gravel pits, making rafts etc.

It was about this time my mum was always saying she would like a café, but my dad would say don’t be silly, we don’t have the money. One day she came home and said she had found a shop on the Great West Road in Heston and the estate agent said she could have it rent free for six months if she could repair the bomb damage, which was mainly the ceilings, so Dad, Doris and a friend made all he necessary repairs and Mum and Doris opened the café with cups and saucers from home. Before long, because mum was a good cook, it became very busy. Sometimes a convoy of troops would pull up and it was packed out. Years later, in 1979, Sandra was taken to an Italian restaurant by her boss, and I told her it was the very same shop where we had our café.

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a caretaker of a synagogue in Streatham with his second wife (my dad’s mother died) and we started to live in the flat above the café and my Dad let granddad live in the house at Feltham.

They thought it was wonderful to have a house with a garden. The café got so busy that mum decided to open next door as a restaurant and Doris lived in the other flat with Harry Craske and her daughter Drucilla.

This is a Memory of Heston

By this time bombing was almost over, but the Germans started to send VI’s over, which we known as doodlebugs. They were pilotless planes packed with high explosives and you could stand outside and watch them in the air. Once they ran out of fuel the engine would stop and everyone would run for cover and they would crash to the ground. One night we heard one overhead and the engine stopped so we rushed under the stairs. Dad said “hold hands this one’s ours” then there was an almighty bang and all the windows blew out and the walls shook like an earthquake, but we were O.K. The following day the very same thing happened, it was a very near thing.

An unexploded bomb landed in the garden and the bomb disposal squad was called. They evacuated everyone as they were disarming the bomb but it blew up and killed all five of them.
When the VI’s stopped, the Germans started firing V2 rockets at us. These were less frightening since you did not hear them coming. They travelled faster than sound. One landed on Packard’s, which was just down the Great West Road, and they were laying all the bodies out on the grass verge as Danny and I went past on our bikes.

I remember at one time during the war looking up to see the sky full of Flying Fortress bombers which seemed to full the sky. It was the first of many daylight 1000 bomber raids going to Germany. When the Germans saw them coming, they must have been terrified. We also saw waves of planes towing gliders, along with other bombers carrying paratroops. When they reached the French coast, they released the gliders and that was the start of the D-Day invasion of Europe.

Wartime in Feltham, Middlesex

We had been bombed out of our home in St. George’s Buildings, in the Elephant and Castle. So, off to Feltham we went.

This was only till we could get a place of our own somewhere. It was now September 21st 1940, two days before my birthday. I little realized how long I would stay in Feltham.

We boarded a train at Waterloo Station. Feltham could have been the other end of the earth for all I knew and I gazed at all the greenery as we as we flashed by in the train. London was soon left behind. Once we passed Barnes there were only odd rows of houses and both Peter and I marvelled at the miles of grass and trees, Bedlam Park paled into insignificance when compared to open spaces like these.

Feltham was still a village at that time. It had some estates of brand new semi-detached houses with gardens both front and rear. We left the station, passed a few caravans and then crossed a huge field along a little track that ran round an immense lake that I learnt later was a disused gravel pit. There were many gravel pits in Feltham. We stopped at a neat house with a green door, a garden in front and a huge back garden too.

We only stayed there three days. Feltham had a number of nearly new houses, all empty, as well as lots of picturesque old houses. It was easy to find a house we liked. We liked all of them and were spoilt for choice. We soon settled on 107 Hounslow Road, a big family house with a big garden and a field behind it. The field had horses in it! At first we had scarcely any furniture but Dad’s Boss said he could borrow the horse and cart they used to deliver windows with and the driver volunteered to drive it down to our new home on a Sunday. Dad rode all twelve miles from the Elephant up beside the driver with what they could rescue and we had a semblance of a home again.

It was strange at first. I was used to the noise of air raids which, at the time, Feltham had very few of. I was not used to living in a modern house like this. I had been brought up amongst rows of small Victorian terraced houses and large blocks of flats. The Elephant had been a busy place with shops everywhere. The quiet of our new home with no trams (made in Feltham!) going past the door took some getting used to.

The furniture had to be cleaned before being used. It was covered in dirt and brick-dust and the big book bureau that they had somehow managed to get out of our flat had all its glass broken and its back, which had been against the wall, was full of bomb-splinter holes. Dad soon mended the glass, but the back of the bureau had those splinter-holes to the day it was sold.
The one thing that arrived before the furniture was the gas cooker. Dad was dismantling it and bringing it piecemeal down to Feltham, a bit each night on the train from Waterloo. We no longer had to cook on the iron range, known as a Kitchener; we had a proper gas cooker and a place to put it. We had a purpose-built kitchenette with a gas point to fit it to and we also had electric lights! We had never had electricity laid on before and Pete had great fun switching lights on and off every time he entered or left a room.

But back to the cooker! First came the burners, next the grill and so on. That grill was the cause of a panic in the train carriage when it came down. When a raid started, as it always did, the train came to an abrupt halt and the one dim electric light bulb, which was all that illuminated the carriage went out. The passengers all sat in the blacked-out carriage, silently praying to themselves, waiting for the bombs…This particular night a stick of bombs came down, thankfully too far to do any damage but with one accord everyone in the carriage threw themselves to the floor.

A sudden yell rang out. “Oh my God! I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!”

Everyone was shuffling around in the dark trying to find the wounded man and they carefully laid him on the seat. “Where have you been hit?” they said. “In the foot! In the foot! Oh my God! They’ve blown my foot off!” he groaned. Unable to see a thing in the dark they carefully felt around his legs only to find both feet firmly attached. “It’s all right” they assured him. They’re both still there, there’s no blood! You must have banged it“.

While the train’s lights were still out, Dad cautiously picked up the offending parcel and quietly tucked it under his overcoat. He sat there hugging it the rest of the way home.
Furniture was at a premium. Being bombed out of our old home entitled us to enough “points” to furnish most of the rooms in our new one and the “Utility” furniture we were supplied with was quite ample for our needs. The new furniture was “new” in style also and was well made for the times. It was marked with the Utility brand. This was like two little Dutch cheeses with a narrow slice taken out of them. Even now, in some house-clearance shops and charity shops you can still come across some Utility articles today!

I started to attend Longford Senior School. Ashford County School was the nearest Grammar School. Unfortunately, it would not accept me because I hadn’t been resident in Middlesex when I passed my scholarship examination. I was born in the Elephant and Castle, in South East London and had lived South of the river. In Middlesex my scholarship counted for nought.
Wartime schooldays in Feltham were still very short and punctuated by frequent trips to the air raid shelters. We continued our lessons in the shelters and I was getting more schooling than I had had for a long time. But the incentive was gone. I knew I’d be leaving school at fourteen and now I had no chance of going to University, as I’d hoped to. Hitler had put paid to that.

The lessons were very different from those I’d become accustomed to in London. Longford seemed to concentrate more on sports. Unfortunately I had no interest in sport; gardening was also one of the school’s favourites. I learned how to grow long, straight carrots.

The trick was to time your journey to school just right, so you would get to the school gates as the siren sounded, then about face and dash home like mad so that we got to our field before the teacher on duty at the gate could usher us into the school shelters. My memories of that period seem to consist of dashing to and fro between Longford School and Hounslow Road.

We had a Morrison Air Raid Shelter. It was like a huge iron table. We erected it in our back downstairs room against the centre wall of the house. It had a thick steel mesh on all four sides. At one end the mesh lifted off and we all crawled in with our Thermos flasks and a sandwich or five, the ever-present gas mask, the dog and we spent our nights in relative comfort.

We had this type, mainly I suppose, because we had had such faith in our old deal kitchen table that had saved us when a bomb landed on our buildings in the Elephant and Castle. But we had now added a thick black curtain all the way round the shelter. We knew just what damage flying glass could do.

At the end of our garden there was a big field with a hatch-work of trenches about four feet deep criss-crossing it. These were originally intended for foundations for an estate of houses that eventually became Field Road, off Hounslow Road. The war held up the building of that estate for several years. The first houses to be built there after the war were pre-fabs.

We ran wild in that huge field, about eight of us. Oh, and two horses, which we left severely alone. They didn’t bother us much. Most of the time they were out pulling Mr. Dillon the Greengrocer’s cart; except one of them, the mare, used to occasionally run wild in the field and we would all scatter and cower in one of the trenches till she quietened down.

There were plenty of places around us just made for youngsters. Toys were scarce in those days. A stick became a gun if you looked at it right, and we spent our time as Tom Mix or Buck Rogers and there were enough trees about to give us a good game of Tarzan, the youngest always became Cheetah. We made full use of what we had around us.

And then a new threat entered our lives. As the tide of war began to turn slightly more in our favour both the Nazis and ourselves began to realize Germany wasn’t going to bomb us into submission. Sending over bomber planes was proving too costly in men and machines. So they turned to a new weapon they had devised, the Flying Bomb. These “Buzz- Bombs” or “Doodle-bugs” as we swiftly named them, were a small, pilotless jet plane.

The first one to reach London came over on June 13th 1944. They were launched from Pas-De-Calais in France from secret ramps they built there and they flew in a semblance of a straight line till they ran out of fuel. When they crashed the 2,000 lbs. of explosives that they carried caused devastation.

The R.A.F. pilots soon worked out a very risky but effective way of dealing with them. They would fly alongside them, edging closer till their wing tip crept under the wing of the Doodle then give a flip and throw the Doodle off course so it crashed early.

This manoeuvre took place over Kent where the bomb would, hopefully, explode relatively safely, thereby saving many lives. The Doodlebugs had no pilot so the Germans obviously intended to kill men, women and children, indiscriminately.

The first time I saw one I was in our back garden. We knew nothing about this new weapon yet and when I heard this strange, coarse-sounding engine I scanned the skies. You could easily recognise a German plane from an English one. The German engines had a kind of a droning sound while the English ones had more of a roar. But this one sounded wrong. Suddenly I saw this strange little plane and it was on fire at the back. It came over our roof and flew straight up the garden. Then the engine stopped without even a splutter and the plane nose-dived somewhere in the distance, beyond Feltham Lodge.

I dashed up the garden to our back door and called out to Dad. “Dad! Dad!, I just saw a plane crash, over there!.”

As I spoke excitedly another one followed the first and did exactly the same. It dived down to crash just as the first one had done.

That was the first time I saw a buzz bomb. They became fairly commonplace after that. They did a terrific amount of damage though but we soon learnt that if you heard one cut out and it was overhead you were pretty safe; it was going explode somewhere else. Only if it cut out before it reached you was there any real danger.

Then the Germans developed another, more potent, terror weapon. This was the V2 rocket. A rocket-propelled bomb packed with high explosives, far more deadly than the buzz bomb because nobody could hear them coming. There was no defence against the V2. So until the launch pads were discovered and bombed or over-run by our advancing troops they caused great damage and loss of life. But as there was no shelter that you could take to escape from them they didn’t interrupt normal life to a great extent. If you heard a buzz bomb cut out before it reached you, you ran like mad for shelter. The rockets, no one knew about them till they exploded and by then it was too late.

Soon came the time for me to leave school. The leaving age was fourteen in those days and I left Longford happily to become an indentured apprentice Printer, a job I came to hate. Dad told me I would reap the benefit of my job when I finished my apprenticeship. Which was true. But try telling that to a teenager when his friends were earning ten pounds a week in an aircraft factory.
I worked in the machine room of a small jobbing printer’s in Bedfont Lane. It was a small shop that had been converted into a print shop on the corner of Manor Lane, The Caxton Press. The windows at the front and side were covered in wooden shutters but still had the glass behind. We worked in there through the air-raids that were still happening because the noise of the machines covered the noise of an air-raid and nobody told us there was a raid on and there was no shelter in any case. One day we came out of work to find a shop on the corner, five doors from ours, had been partly demolished by a nearby bomb and we hadn’t known anything about it.
There were four lads working at Caxton’s, no men were employed there except for one old man, he was the Compositor - the typesetter. He was so deaf he wouldn’t have heard a bomb if it had dropped on his head. And one other man; he was in the Auxiliary Fire Service and was so seldom at work he might as well not have bothered.

Living was very hard during the war years, apart from the bombs. We never had enough to eat; everything was on ration, except vegetables. The clothes you wore were rationed. The food you ate was on ration. Some foods you never saw again until the war was over. The furniture you sat on was on a points system; you only got the barest essentials and all stamped with the ubiquitous Utility mark. We had a certain priority here as we had been bombed out, but that only got us the bare essentials

Mothers worked miracles to feed their families with leaflets telling you how to make things like “Woolton Pie”. This was invented by a politician named Lord Woolton. It was mostly made of “Pom”, a desiccated potato meal. It tasted nothing like a real pie because “Pom”, an American invention, tasted nothing like real potatoes.
I’ll bet Lord Woolton never ate it!

Women dashed for the shop when the word went round, “Reeves have got meat in” and then stood patiently for hours in long queues that wound into the distance only to get to the shop front just in time to see the shutters go up and be greeted by “Sorry love, that’s it for today, maybe next time”.

We were lucky to have Grandma. She could work miracles with stuff that before the war would have been consigned to the bin.

But there were so many things that had disappeared from our lives completely: oranges, we hadn’t seen one since 1939; bananas: there was a song about a banana… “Bring me back a banana, sailor boy”, but we never saw one.

Submitted by Bill Cole.

Pig bins

Metal dustbins, known as ‘pig bins’, were chained to many of the lamp posts, into which people put any waste scraps of food excess to the needs of their own rabbits and chickens. Lttle came from our house, where we were exhorted to “eat your dinner, or we won’t win the war”. We did, and we did, but have been given little credit for it since. One door down from us, two brothers and their families were neighbours, and had combined their gardens into one large one. At the bottom they had a sizeable pig sty, and I can remember parcels of pork being traded at the door. Once when a group of young pigs escaped onto the street, somebody phoned the police, only to be puzzled by their response of “Are they boys or girls?”, caused by them mis-hearing ‘kids’ for ‘pigs’,

Strange coincidence

Interestingly for a company which made such a contribution to our war effort, Minimax were, and now still are, a German owned company, founded in 1902 in Berlin, where the legendary cone-shaped fire extinguisher was developed. By 1906 Minimax was the main worldwide manufacturer of fire extinguishers - with foreign companies in Europe and the USA. It came to Feltham in 1910, taking over one of the first aircraft factories in England. Even more intriguing is the fact that the Secret Service HQ from 1924 to 1966 at 54 Broadway, known as the ‘Broadway Buildings’, had a fake plaque outside which said ‘Minimax Fire Extinguisher Company’. A strange choice, as the Germans, more than anyone, would have known that it was not. Next door at 55 Broadway was the Head Office of the Unioin Construction Company (UCC) of Feltham which before the war had manufactured the Feltham Tram and Underground carriages for the new Picadilly Line extension, whose premises were taken over by General Aircraft for Spitfire and other aircraft repair during the war!

This seems to be such a curious coincidence, ie apparently two (one bogus) Feltham firms with HQs next door to each other in central London that we could do with corroborative evidence
In addition to the famous fire extinguishers, they developed a portable fresh water distiller, known as the ‘K.M.’ Capable of producing 5 pints of fresh water per hour from sea water, it was issued to all British Merchant Ships, and to those of the Allies, and increased survival times in life-boats from 14 to 60 – 70 days. By 1945, 15-20,000 had been produced. The factory had its own Home Guard Section, and the strongest National Savings Group in West Middlesex.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What I remember most about my childhood in Feltham during the war was my Dad never seemed to be at home. If he was, he appeared to be tired, and I have seen him fall asleep while eating his meal.

He was a goods train driver for the Southern Railway, as they were then known. He drove a steam train out of Feltham Marshalling Yards, and I know he often took supplies into the army depot, crossing Feltham High Street on the special line that ran near to the Red Lion public house.

He also did runs to Eastleigh and Southampton, working, sometimes, all night and through the following day.

Dad never told my Mother much about his work, and after he died before reaching retirement age, a letter was found from the Railway Company, thanking him for volunteering for driving ammunition wagons. We often wondered whether he knew what he was carrying, my Mother never knew. Unfortunately, Mother died shortly after Dad and the letter was lost.

Another war time memory of him was arriving home from the railway just in time to sit down for his Christmas Dinner with the family; and off again, back to his engine. How he loved those steam trains.

We lived in Shakespeare Avenue and he told me about standing one night, talking to our next door neighbour and a V1 doodlebug bomb coming towards them from what he called the Glebe Land. They both thought, this is for us! When it turned and went back the way it came. Who, I wonder was the unlucky person when the engine cut out and it exploded near them.

Like most families we kept chickens and rabbits in the back garden, and my job, whilst Dad was working, was to check on the young chicks, which he usually bought in Kingston Market. When old enough, they went into the run in the garden, so that we had good supply of eggs. One neighbour kept ducks as well and another had a pig. I am sure he must have had special permission to keep it. It frightened the life out of me one evening, while I was putting my cycle into the garden shed, when it suddenly started honking loudly