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.


Unknown said...

This was fasinating reading for me as I grew up from a baby in a Bungalow in sunbury road feltham and was born in 1932 so my young childhood was spent during those war years And many of the things written I can relate to.I will always remember that one day when a german plane spept over the high street and my Mum pulling me along trying to reach the shelters by the pond.well he didnt machine gun us thank god.I live in sunderland but have never forgotton my roots in wonderful Feltham.

Unknown said...

Just found this while "googling". Sydney is my father and I typed up his memoirs so was thrilled to see them posted on here.

carol said...

Wonderful, found this by accident, my mother worked in this Windmill Cafe and restaurant with Harry Craske and it was in this cafe she met my father (1950)... he was renting a room above the cafe at the time

Unknown said...

My Dad, Sydney George Hill, who wrote these memories, sadly passed away in November 2013. Thankfully I still have his book of memories. Carol, would love to talk to you about the cafe and family as still have a living cousin who is Harry Craske's daughter.

Unknown said...

Carol, would still love to hear from you!