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Posts Tagged ‘wartime childhood’

The first time I saw my future mother-in-law, Alice Bennison, she was leaning over and shouting abuse through the letterbox of the house opposite.

untitlewidIt was 1947, and we had been living in Holmleigh Road for a few months. Since the end of the war the lack of housing had become acute, and local councils had the authority to requisition any rooms they thought were vacant. This applied to private houses as well as council property.

The flat they had allocated Mrs Bennison was the whole top floor of a private house, and this included the only bathroom in the house.

The owner of the house was an elderly Jewish lady named Mrs Winter who lived there with her son, Alf. Mrs Winter was a small, frail woman with hunched shoulders. Her hair was still dark, which contrasted with her pale skin. She spent many hours peering from behind the lace curtain of her street door, but I never saw her out in the street and she never spoke to anyone.

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Alf was a tall thin man with dark hair and a long nose, like a beak. He was a very gentle and quietly spoken person, and showed endless patience towards his Mother. Alf was more sociable than his Mother and would always speak to my family. Mum said that he had a lot to put up with as he cared for his Mother as well as running a business.

It was in the morning when the removal van pulled up with Mrs Bennison’s furniture, and Mrs Winter would have been alone in the house as her son was at work all day. She was obviously frightened and refused to open the door when Mrs Bennison started waving her fists and shouting at her through the letter box.

untitlpedThe men, who were waiting to unload, said there was nothing they could do, and told Mrs Bennison to call the police and let them deal with it. Mrs Bennison then started shouting at Mrs Winter that she was going to call the police.

The police duly arrived, and called through the letter box that Mrs Winter must let them in. She still refused, saying: “I don’t want those people in my house.”

My family were all peering through the window, and when we saw the police leave we wondered what they would do. However, they soon returned, but this time they were accompanied by Mrs Winter’s son. He entered the house and could be seen talking to his Mother. He placed an arm around her then led her away from the street door, and not long after he returned to open the door.

The furniture was taken in and the van finally left.

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

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I was surprised when one day Mum said she was going to start work as a cleaner in a pub. As the hours were during the day, and we were all at school, I do not know who looked after our sister Lorraine as she was still under school age.

pubuntitledAfter Mum had worked there a little while, the regulars got to know she could play the piano. This led to requests for different tunes, and also a few free drinks for our Mum.

I would not say Mum was ever drunk, but she was certainly a bit merry at times. She worked there for a while, then she found a job in Bethnal Green Hospital which suited her more as it was in the evenings.

It was while she was working at the hospital that Mum met Tom. We were all quite shocked the first time she brought him home. To our eyes Mum was an elderly lady, and for her to think of going out with a man seemed all wrong. With hindsight I see it differently. Mum was only in her forties, and still an attractive lady with a ready smile. She must have missed having someone to talk things over with, and to take her out now and again.

Clark Gable and Constance Bennett in the 1935 movie 'After Office Hours'

Clark Gable and Constance Bennett in the 1935 movie ‘After Office Hours’

What Tom thought of our large, noisy family I have no idea. He had led a very sheltered life, never marrying, and living with his Mum and unmarried sister. After his Mother died he still shared the house with his sister. Most of his working life he had been a hospital porter.

He was a large, ruddy-faced man, and had a deep monotonous voice which echoed through the house. He was also a mean man, and I do not remember him ever treating any of us. I found him a boring person, completely the opposite of our Dad, but Mum must have liked him as the relationship lasted a good many years until he died.

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imatreedgesThe winter dragged on, and Mum looked quite frail and depressed. She started talking about going back to London to live. Christmas was a very dismal affair that year, and we were all glad when it was over.

The new year of 1945 began, and the winter months were as hard as ever. There were many arguments as to whose turn it was to fetch the water from the stream, and trying to collect wood for the fire was getting very hard. There had been rumours for some time that there were poachers in the woods, and Lady Blandy-Jenkins had employed one of her men to patrol the woods behind us, and so we had to be very careful not to be seen taking any wood. What made us wary of him was the large dog always by his side. We started going out at night in the hope that he had gone, but it was very creepy with all sorts of strange noises, and different animals foraging for food. At least we could still collect the coal from the nearby railway in the daylight, which was a big help for our Mum.trainuntitled

Winter was coming to an end. and the first spring flowers started to appear. All the news bulletins were hopeful that the war would be over soon. This made our Mum more determined to find somewhere to live in London. It was nearly the end of April when Mum decided to go to London and look for somewhere to live. When she returned, it was with the news that she had found a suitable place for us in Bethnal Green. Mum told us that we would be moving in May.

untitledpaperAlthough I was excited at the news, I was also feeling sad that we would be leaving our Dad and Keith behind in Wales. Mum was kept busy with the endless list of things to do concerning the move and, as usual, Lil was a great help to her.

It was just before our move to London when we heard the news that everybody had been waiting for: victory had been declared in Europe.

Mum could not have timed our move better.

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