Posts Tagged ‘1940s childhood’

The famous and frequently quoted opening line of L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between (‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’) could not be a more apt summary of this autobiographical account of the author’s childhood during World War Two.


Told with a great deal of humour and totally without self-pity (there is no danger of this descending into a ‘misery memoir’) these stories will make you laugh, cry and wonder at just how different – and grindingly hard – life was for millions of people during this period in the last century.


The author recounts her experiences of living in a house without electricity, gas or running water; scavenging for coal along the railway lines; and being evacuated to live with strangers during the war, an unthinkable proposition in today’s world.

A snapshot in time

The stories and experiences recorded here make for fascinating and enjoyable reading, but they are also a valuable social record – a snapshot in time of ordinary people living in extraordinary times that should not be forgotten.

This autobiography also includes some of the author’s later family memories. The Lee and Bennison families included some real characters – you will enjoy meeting them.

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braisedmince_91963_16x9My Mum and Mrs Bennison soon became good friends, and helped each other out when they were short of money or food.

Hilda loved to spend time in our house, and would always stay to dinner when Mum cooked minced beef. I suppose she liked all the company. She was a very attractive girl, quite well-built and looked older than her years. Hilda was to become a great friend and wonderful sister-in-law.

imagesH30OZZZEOne day, Mum told me to go over to Mrs Bennison’s and borrow a cup of sugar. That was my first meeting with my future husband, Ron. I was only fourteen and at the time Ron was twenty. He asked his Mother who I was and she said I was one of the Lees from across the road. Ron’s reply was: “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

I went back with my cup of sugar not knowing that my future life had just been determined.

Ron was demobbed from the R.A.F. and found work in a pharmaceutical factory. He started coming over to our house and by the time I was fifteen we were going on days out with my sister, Mary, and her boyfriend and future husband, Jim.

Ron and I were engaged when I was sixteen and we were married in 1951 when I was seventeen. We lived for a while with my Mum and then moved to live with Ron’s Mum. It was very hard to find rooms in London at that time so we were delighted when we had the chance to rent two rooms at the top of a three-storey house in Islington.

One room was quite large and the other quite small. There was a cooker on the landing and a tiny sink two flights of stairs down where the only lavatory was.

237CAB2900000578-0-image-28_1416914901607Below us lived Mrs Rosyn, who was quite old, and her son. On the ground floor was Mrs Brown who was well into her eighties and looked like someone from Victorian times with her long black clothes and her hair in a bun. Her kitchen was like ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. She had an open fire burning all day, whatever the weather, which she cooked her dinner on.

A couple of times she caught her clothes alight when she fell asleep. The walls and ceiling were black with smoke and there was dirt and grime everywhere. The table was never cleared, and there were flies all over the food.

imagesM2MM130UAt the time we did not have a fridge, so it was very hard to keep food fresh. If I was doubtful about any of our food, I would throw it in the dustbin. One day, I put a small joint of rancid beef in the dustbin and just happened to look out of the window when I saw Mrs Brown taking the meat out of the dustbin. There was soon a strong smell of beef cooking.

Our two rooms were soon looking lovely. Ron had decorated them and we had all new furniture, bought on hire purchase. We were very proud of our small home. I decided that I would make the rest of the house look more wholesome and proceeded to scrub the six flights of stairs and wash the banisters and lavatory.

main_networx_cleaning_1After changing my bucket of water many times I reached the passage way on the ground floor. I picked up the door mat to shake when Mrs Brown came out of her kitchen and asked what I was doing. She then proceeded to lecture me on what part of the house was mine. She said if anywhere needed cleaning she would do it. I was quite upset when I went back upstairs. I had worked hard and looked like a chimney sweep – and that was all the thanks I got.

We had many problems while we were living there – burst pipes in the winter, trying to keep food fresh in the summer, and doing our washing in the small sink on the lower landing. However, we spent some happy days in our first home together.

I have now been married for Sixty-four years to my caring, loving husband, Ron.

I am also blessed with my two beloved daughters, Marilyn and Deborah, and their respective husbands, Tony and Neil, who could not be more caring and thoughtful. I am so proud of them all.

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Painting by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

Painting by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

At first it seemed that the family had settled in and was on good terms with Mrs Winter and Alf. However, things soon began to take a turn for the worse.

In fact, this was the beginning of what must have been the worst years that Mrs Winter and her son had ever spent in their home. They were used to peace and quiet, but there was no chance of that after Mrs Bennison and her family moved in.

There were now an extra five people living in the house – Mrs Bennison, her husband Fred, their two sons and a daughter.

Mum said: “I think it’s a bleedin’ cheek having strangers billeted in your own house, I bet the government wouldn’t have anyone in their houses.” Poor Mrs Winter was certainly unlucky with the family she had to share her home with.

Mrs Bennison’s eldest son, Fred, had just been demobbed from the army. The other son, Ron, was still in the R.A.F and on leave when they moved. He had a few months left to serve, and would then be home for good. The daughter, Hilda, was about ten, a lot younger than her brothers and still at school.untitrafled

Mr Bennison worked as a barber, and always looked well dressed. He was tall, slim and handsome, and quite a vain man. He was proud of his hair, which was a steely grey colour and quite thick, and always glistened with hair oil.

His moustache was grey which I thought looked distinguished, but he did not like it and blackened it with shoe polish. He was a heavy smoker, and unfortunately, an alcoholic, and this led to arguments and shouting at all hours of the day and night.unpolitled

Mr Bennison was a very timid man and frightened of any form of authority. When he was later told that the police had to intervene to get access to Mrs Winter’s house, he was horrified.

Mrs Bennison, on the other hand, was different altogether. She had no fear of any authority and relished arguments with anybody, usually winning them. Her build was quite large, but her legs were slim and shapely. She had black hair, and when she smiled there were gaps in her teeth.

Although Mrs Bennison was the most artful person I ever knew, she was also one of the most generous. She would help anyone in need and give them her last penny. How Mr and Mrs Bennison ever married is a mystery to me, as they could not be in the same room for two minutes without an argument.

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