Home » Human Life » Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Six

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Six

buscot2

Buscot Park

In the final part of Lorraine’s memories, she is faced with the realities of the war with Germany. Like many other children it was decided she should be evacuated to escape the worst of the bombing. Most children were sent to a host family, however unusually Lorraine with her brothers were sent to a stately home called Buscot Park where many of her brother’s school were evacuated.  When it was decided to split up the children and put them into private homes, Lorraine’s parents bought the family back home, little realising the horrors of the Blitz were just about to be unleashed.

About this time, everything started to change. The effects of war with Germany were starting to be felt and children from all the schools in the London area were evacuated to different parts of the country. We never went away as my parents did not see the need and they did not want to be without us, so kept us at home.

The war had not affected us seriously yet. We carried our gas masks with us all the time and the windows had brown paper strips stuck on them to stop the glass from flying about in case of a blast. Blackout curtains were compulsory and everyone’s windows had to be well covered so that not a chink of light could be seen. Air raid wardens walked the streets, checking that not a glimmer was showing anywhere.

Rationing had started and families had sons coming home on leave in the uniform of the services they joined. Some looked very smart and older girls would be seen walking proudly beside them.
With the schools closed and children evacuated, there were not many children left to play with. Mum decided she would try to give us a few lessons. Some of the other children who had stayed behind like us were invited to join in. This was fine for my young brothers, but was not good for me. Mum did her best, but I was learning algebra, geometry and French, and poor Mum had no knowledge of these subjects. Gradually my desire and thirst for knowledge began to fade, and with them went my confidence.

My parents must have realised it was not good for children to live this way, so it was decided we had to be evacuated. Mum wrote to Mrs Freeborn, the headmistress of the Cubitt Town Infants School which my three brothers’ attended, asking if we could be evacuated to Buscot Park where the school had been moved to. There was no way that Mum and Dad would allow us to be split up and so she asked for all four children to be together. This meant I was with infants .I asked Mum in later years where my school had been evacuated to, but this was something she could not remember.
But now, through the internet I have found out where my school was evacuated to and it was Chippen Camden in Gloucestershire.

bucot 1

Buscot Park Gardens

There were three or four teachers at Buscot Park. Mr Wood was one of them. I remember him very well, and I can see his face as clearly as though I had seen him yesterday. There was a big lake and it was part of  Buscot  Park , Lord Farringdon’s Estate. I can recall quite vividly one of the days when we were all swimming in the lake. I swam under the murky water and deliberately grabbed Mr Wood’s leg for a joke. I thought I would scare him and make him think it was some monster fish. A  monster fish in an English lake? I ask you! But don’t forget, this was a child with a lively imagination.

Mr Wood was a nice teacher and took it in good fun. Looking back now, I think it was really quite a cheeky thing to do to a teacher and I was lucky not to be told off, but the teachers were very nice to us and we liked them very much.

busot3

Buscot Park Gatehouse

During this time I missed my parents. It was a very sad and hard time for me. My brothers slept at the gatehouse with the other boys, a large building at the entrance to the estate. The girls had their rooms at the top of the big house, with two girls to a room. The big house was Lord Farringdon’s stately home, standing in acres of land. There were beautiful laid-out gardens, a swimming pool and tennis courts. We were told there was also a small theatre with seating for seventy, but none of us ever saw inside of it, so I do not know if it really existed.

buscot-park-theatre

Buscot Park Theatre

The top floor where the girls slept had been the servants’ quarters, but most of those servants had been conscripted and were busy doing war work or were in the armed forces. The stables had been converted into a dining room and the walls were painted with frescoes. We sat at long trestle tables all joined together to have our meals and I think there were about thirty-five children living there.
Just outside the stables there was a huge tree, it must have been an oak. Thick branches extended from it. Some of the children would sit on the lowest branch and sing songs while we waited for the dining room to open. Even though I missed my parents I can recall some very happy times at Buscot. I used to sit on a branch of the oak tree and sing of a morning and watch for my brothers coming from the gatehouse with the other boys. I used to check them over to see they had washed and were tidy. Nearly every time one of them had a hole in his sock. Darning socks was a never-ending chore.
One day, as I was picking primroses in the woods, a group of children came running, shouting out to me, “Come quickly, your brothers Harry and Donald are drowning.” I was frantic with worry and ran to the lake as fast as I could. There they were, my dear brothers, out in the middle of the lake in a boat that was leaking. I loved them very much and the idea of them drowning was too much for me. I thought of my poor parents, of how they would feel if they were told their sons had drowned. In my imagination they were already dead. I was in a dreadful state by the time I reached the lake. Out of breath, I stood and shouted at them as best I could. They were both laughing at me, provoking me by standing up in the boat and making it rock. It seemed an age had passed before they managed to get the boat back to the edge of the lake. Looking back now, I realise that it was not as serious as I had thought, but I suppose it gave the other children a bit of excitement and something to talk about. I was a very conscientious sister and would sit up in bed until late at night darning my brothers’ socks. Mr Wood came once to tell me that I must turn the lights out, but he let me keep them on a little longer when he saw what I was doing.

Mum and Dad were upset when they heard about me darning socks, especially because I had not told them my brothers needed new ones. Times were hard, and I did not want to worry them. I felt responsible for my brothers’ welfare, as Mum and Dad were not around to look after them. My duty as a sister was to see they were all right, and I took this very seriously. My brother, Harry, was ten then. Donald was nearly nine and Derek was six. I was thirteen. We had another scare and this one could have easily ended in real tragedy. One day, one of the little girls climbed outside the window of her bedroom on the top floor and walked out onto the parapet. She would have been about four years of age. A teacher, Mrs Alchurch, tried to coax her back in. She also tried to keep the rest of us calm while she leaned out of the window and tried to talk the child into coming back inside. She had warned us to be very quiet and not make a sound. Mrs Alchurch managed to get the girl to turn round and walk back along the parapet. The teacher then grabbed her and pulled her into the room. The parapet was very narrow and that child was lucky not to have fallen.

The girls in the bedroom next to ours used to put notes onto a Dinkie clip, which was used to curl hair, and tie them to a long piece of string and throw it out of the window along the parapet. We grabbed the clip as it landed near our window. We wrote a note, attached it to the clip and sent it back. It was all very secretive and exciting; even though there was nothing special happening to us that was worth writing about. Sometimes we would go into Farringdon to see a film, accompanied by a couple of teachers. It was so good to walk along the quiet country road all in line. Often I called at the post office to collect parcels from my parents. They contained Mum’s fairy cakes, sweets and pocket money. They were too big to carry all the way into Farringdon, so I would hide them in a roadside bush and collect them on my way back. My teacher congratulated me on my initiative, which made me feel very proud.

Water lilies on the lake and a waterfall were a joy to see. Buscot was a wonderful place for a child to live. There was a big nursery where a gardener grew the seeds he nursed into plants. These would be planted around the grounds in cultivated beds. I remember asking if I could buy one of the beautiful pansies which were growing in the nursery; they were the biggest pansies I had ever seen. I wanted to surprise Mum by presenting it to her as a gift, but when I was told it would cost two shillings and sixpence, I had to forget about it. Half a crown was too much money. Mr Buck was Lord Farringdon’s secretary. We saw him strolling around the grounds. He seemed a nice man and always said hello to us.

On special days we had bread and jam for tea. This was a real treat. I made the little blob of jam on my tea plate last and last. At jam tea we were allowed to have as much bread and margarine as we could eat. I made the most of it, leaving the table with the feeling of having had plenty of food, which was unusual during rationing. When I felt very hungry my Mum’s fairy cakes were very welcome. I divided them equally to share with my brothers, but once I ate some before they knew the parcel had arrived. I never told them about this. I was too ashamed. What a horrible sister I was to do that. To think I stole from my little brothers. Guilt enveloped me and I knew I would never do such a thing again. I realise now that hunger could have been the only reason for my behaviour. When the next parcel came I gave my share to my brothers, then I felt better.

When Mum and Dad came to visit Buscot on a Sunday, they would take us out and we would have a lovely time. It was just as it used to be. We were all together again as a family. My brothers and I needed that comfort. Lots of the parents arrived by coach. They would go to the local pub while the children waited outside for them. My parents came by themselves on a bus. Sometimes my uncle and aunt would be with them. I loved those times and remember the Anchor Inn where my parents took us for tea. It was owned by two brothers, their names were Eric and Douglas Cutts. It was a lovely country inn. Everything about it was special for me. Their homemade blackberry jam consisted mostly of whole berries. I have tried to make jam like it over the years but have never been successful. I ask myself now whether it really was that good, or was that just the way a hungry child remembers it? I can still taste and see that jam as I write and I am convinced it was special. We would go to Buscot village and Lechlade to buy sweets and post our letters. Looking back, I think we were allowed to go on our own after tea and before going to bed. I recall the evenings were always fine when we went out. It must have been summer time when we were evacuated. Once there was a dreadful commotion and the story went around that someone had put chewing gum in the service lift. The story went like this: A princess was dining with Lord Farringdon at the time. The butler had lifted a tray from the service lift which had glasses on it. Chewing gum was found stuck to the bottom of the tray. As the butler lifted the tray the gum made him need to pull hard, causing all the glasses to fall to the ground. Many were broken. The story could have been made up to stop children putting chewing gum in places where it shouldn’t be. I never found out, but I did wonder. At the time I was very concerned, thinking one of my brothers could have done it. My imagination, as usual, ran riot and I was very worried. I thought about poor Mum and Dad having to pay for the broken glasses. I knew they would be very expensive because they belonged to a lord. Oh dear!

At bedtime, we would go quietly up the stairs all together, with a teacher in charge. As we went up those stairs we saw rooms leading off the landing. They looked so beautiful and luxurious, I imagined the many guests who must have visited Buscot and been entertained in them. For a child from the East End, it was quite something to see the beautiful peacocks and peahens strutting around the estate. I loved the look of them but hated the screeching sound they made. They were like a fantasy from one of my books. The book I loved most of all had black-and-white drawings in the style I know now to be William Morris. All my books were lost when our house was bombed. That was very sad for me. I have searched hoping to find one of these books. Sadly, I had no such luck. I can still feel the book’s lovely thin paper. The pages felt like silk.

One day, my parents heard that all the children were going to be put into private homes in the nearby villages as a private girls school was going to be moved in. This upset my parents very much as they were socialists and considered this to be a slight on children from the working class area of the Isle of Dogs. I have recently learned a private girls school from Kent was moved in and there are photos of girls on bikes and playing tennis. None of these opportunities were available to us kids from the East End which says a lot.
The possibility that the four of us would be separated would not suit my parents and so they took us back home to London. We had not been home for long when the Blitz began in September 1940. It was a nightmare. There was the smell of burning everywhere. Water was pouring out from the mains, flooding the roads. Chemical factories were exploding. People walked about in a daze not knowing what to do. We listened to the constant drone of the German bombers as they blackened the skies, flying low, relentlessly dropping their heavy bombs over London. Their target was the docks. With the docks all ablaze and the sky glowing bright red it was easy for the planes to return the next night and follow the curve of the river. Inside the curve was the Isle of Dogs, all lit up, an easy target for the bombers. It was an awful feeling, knowing there were men up in the sky, intent on killing us. I imagined the faces of the pilots, their goggles, the leather uniforms they wore, and I was frightened. We all felt so tired during the day, having been woken up so many times in the night. We knew that whenever the sirens sounded, we had to get to the shelter quickly. To leave your lovely warm bed and go downstairs out into the cold night air and into the Anderson air raid shelter was no joke.

bombing docks

German Bomber above the Isle Of Dogs

Dad had dug our shelter down into the ground. These shelters were sometimes referred to as ‘dug outs’. It was at the bottom of the garden, covered with earth to camouflage it. Sometimes we were down there all night before the all-clear sounded. There were nights when we were forced to make the trip to the shelter three times. Just as we had settled down to sleep in the shelter, the all-clear would sound. We would trail back upstairs to bed. Then, just as we were getting off to sleep, warm and cosy, the siren would sound again. Down we would all go, back to the shelter in the garden.
I remember my mother asking once when we were down in the shelter, “Where is Donald?” Donald, who was always a heavy sleeper, had not followed us. That was very worrying and Dad had to go back and fetch him. A bomb could have dropped and they both could have been killed. We were among the lucky ones. Dad had painted the inside of our shelter with whitewash. Being a decorator he always made everything nice for us in the house and now the shelter was our house too. He did his best to make us comfortable. The whitewash made the place much brighter. When the candles were lit, it was nice and bright. I know a lot of shelters were very dark inside and were quite frightening to be in. It is surprising that we could even speak of being cosy and comfortable. Being together was the most important thing in the world at that time and the shelter offered a sense of security. That was until a bomb dropped so near us that we felt as though we had all been thrown up into the air, spun around and then put down again, shelter and all.

There was a night when we could hear heavy footsteps walking over the top of us. Dad was not with us. Mum and I were awake and frightened in case it was a German who had managed to get out after his plane had been knocked down. We sat there terrified until the footsteps died away. The next day we saw big footprints in the earth on top of the shelter. Someone said it could have been a scrounger. These were people who went searching in houses that had been bombed, taking the belongings that were left there.

At that time Dad was doing war work over the water. This meant he was across the river, on the other side of the Thames. When the sirens sounded, the tunnel was closed and Dad and many others were unable to get home. Mum used to be worried and because I was the eldest she shared her worries with me. We made sure my brothers were never troubled by our fears. They were little and had to be protected as much as possible. She would read to us from a novel Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping. It was a sad story, but a lovely one. I looked forward to Mum reading a piece each night but my brothers soon fell asleep. I was the only one listening to Mum after a little while. She also used to knit socks for my brothers in the candlelight and some nights we would all play guessing games until we were tired and fell asleep, exhausted.

My parents didn’t wait too long to move out of the East End once they realised how determined the Germans were to destroy London, the Docks being their main target. We had all been under the illusion that the German planes would never be able to get through the barrage balloons that flew high in the sky over the city. Now we realised how wrong we had been. On one particular night, we went to see my father’s parents to ask them to move away with us. They said they couldn’t leave the rest of the family. That night on our way home the siren sounded earlier than usual. The streets were suddenly deserted. An air raid warden directed us into a public shelter under an electricity showroom in Poplar. It was already full with beds on the floor and people standing. We had no room to move. We were squashed together all night, standing in the same place. Suddenly there was an enormous crash. We could hear the sound of plaster falling. People started to rush to the exit but were turned back and told to keep calm. We waited for another loud bang, but it never came. All we could hear was a rumbling sound, which seemed to be all around us.

Early in the morning, after the all-clear had sounded, we walked to the bus stop to catch our bus home to the Island. We waited and waited. Mum began to get very cross because we were waiting such a long time and no bus had arrived. It was decided that we had better start walking. We were all tired and worn out from standing up for eight hours without sleep. As we walked through the familiar areas we realised the extent of the devastation that had taken place while we were down in the shelter. Houses were still burning; people were standing in groups, crying. Whole streets were gone. It was unbelievable. No one could imagine a bomb flattening a whole street of houses. This night was the start of the use of land mines. We walked through the devastation, passing the shells of houses that had stood tall the night before, wondering what we would find when we reached Stebondale Street. Would Gran and Uncle Bill be there? Would Aunt Con, Uncle Chris and their baby Terry be all right?

H2870blitz

East End War Damage

We wanted to get home and find the answers, but our legs were tired and it took ages to reach home that day. We were lucky. Our house had been bombed, but was not completely demolished and all our family were  alive, but it was still a nightmare. The smell of burning was everywhere. Water was pouring out from the mains, flooding the roads. Chemical factories were still exploding. People were walking about in a daze, not knowing what to do. We saw people with blackened faces, crying because they had lost everything. The London Fire Service was working so hard, but they were worn out, having worked all night fighting blazes in the docks. These pictures remain so vividly in my memory.
Our cat, Ginger, had managed to survive the night. He came up to us, purring and wrapping himself around our feet. I picked him up and cried, burying my head in his fur. I cried for Ginger, for myself and for everyone. The worry of the bombers returning suddenly during the daytime was very frightening. This was always in my mind when people were standing around chatting. Didn’t they realise that the planes could come again? Why were they outside in the street where they could be hit by planes swooping down to machine-gun them? What were they thinking of? I thought then that adults should show more sense. That night we slept in my Aunt Con’s shelter. It was dark and claustrophobic. I stood outside with the grownups, watching the planes flying low in great numbers. You could see them so clearly as the whole sky and docks were lit up. It was like Guy Fawkes Night, with the noise of the bombs dropping and chemical factories exploding.

LondonBombedWWII_full

East End War Damage

A few days later Dad made the decision that we had to leave in order to be safe. My mother’s two sisters, May and Con, with their children and my maternal Grandmother came with us and the husbands left Dad to take care of us all, saying they would join us in a few days’ time. My father’s parents having refused to come with us and stayed, as many Londoners did, living through the whole of the bombing of London. They lived through the V-1 and V-2 flying bombs, sleeping every night in the nearest underground tube station till the war in Europe ended. Such bravery is written about in many books. It was a time of great fortitude and courage. A time when no one could think of tomorrow. We left with nothing. We were refugees from London. It was planned that we would all live at Buscot and we caught a train, intending to go there. It was late at night when the train stopped at Reading. We were all so tired and worn out that it was decided we should stay the night there.

My Aunt May and my parents had friends who lived there. They made up beds on the floor, gave us food and made us very welcome. I will never forget that night. It was like another world and yet we were only forty miles from London. It was quiet and peaceful, almost unbelievable. There was not a sign of a war going on. No sirens sounded and we were able to sleep right through the night until the morning. It was on that night that I made myself a promise. I would in future always appreciate my bed and my sleep. Many years have passed and I still appreciate my sleep and a comfortable bed, for I can never forget the tiredness we suffered and the torture of not being allowed to have a full night’s rest.

The next day the grownups decided that we would not go on to Buscot after all, but look for a house so that all the family could live together until each had found suitable accommodation. They found a large house. Mum had to take the top floor, as we were all older children. Every drop of water had to be brought up from three floors down. There were times when we had only coal dust to make a fire in the room. All our family had to sleep in one room and eat, cook and wash in the other. The toilet was downstairs in the garden. Dad was away working at Rochester and came home at weekends when he could.

Life was never the same again for me. My schooling had been so disrupted that when I was sent to E.P. Collier Grammar School in Reading I could not concentrate or remember anything. I did not know which was North, South, East or West. I did not know which was my right or my left, and the most ordinary simple things I had learned when in primary school had gone. All I could do was simple maths and this I did well. Children were unkind, as children will be, and again I suffered name-calling. This time it was “Evacuee”. I was nearly fourteen when I started at the Reading school. I was put into a class lower than where I was at my school in Millwall. “Oh! You are an evacuee?” This was said as if I had something wrong with me. Children would call after me too. It all became too much and I begged my mother to let me leave school. I think she must have realised that I was no longer the keen, industrious student I had been and finally she went to the school and asked if they would release me. I was supposed to stay until I was sixteen, but by then I was fifteen and they allowed me to go.

Even though I was not happy at school I was certainly not ready to go out into the wide world to work. I had been playing cowboys and Indians with my brothers and still felt like a child. I know I felt very uncomfortable in my shoes that had Cuban heels, flesh-coloured stockings instead of black wool tights and curled hair. No more white ankle socks; no more school uniform. I had to grow up suddenly. Children adapt easily so they say, and I was one who did.

Soon I was into fashion, make-up, and curling my long thick chestnut hair into the latest styles, a skill that I developed a flair for. I was now grown up, and I had no idea it had happened. I had always thought I would feel different, with the world suddenly opening up, giving me the chance to do all the things I wanted to do and be all the things I wanted to be. But it was not like that at all. So the years passed by and the war ended. Reading became the place where my parents settled for the rest of their lives. Mum lived there until 2001, when she passed away aged 95. Even at 90, she still looked good and liked to present herself well. Every morning she made-up and put on her earrings. She cooked every day for herself and was still fussy about hygiene. Dad died nine years before Mum, and she missed him an awful lot.

Many years ago we returned to Buscot Park. The gardens and lake looked unkempt. The stately home was no longer stately. Everything seemed to be so much smaller than I remembered it to be. It was all very disappointing. The wonder it once held had gone and I was sad.
However, memories stay and I can still visualise the wild primroses growing in the woods. I can hear and see the peacocks, and the bluebells are  still tall and blue. The lake is as it was and the gardens with the water lilies in the pond are still beautiful. The enormous oak tree we used to swing on while waiting to be called for breakfast is still there. So I will not be sad for what no longer exists but I will close my eyes and reawaken the many scenes that made me happy as a child.

Since my visit, I am happy to write that Buscot Park has been restored. The gardens are well kept and it belongs to the National Trust.  it is open to the public and well worth visiting.

Lorraine at nineteen was a Lucy Clayton Trained Model and modelled in many of London’s top fashion houses.  In 1949, she married a Doctor of Medicine who later became a Consultant  Psychiatrist. and had a daughter and two sons, and is now a grandmother to nine grandchildren.
In 1979 she left England and with her second husband and moved to New Zealand and opened a number of beauty salons and her own Beauty Therapy Training College.
 Lorraine also began to write her own regular page on beauty in The NZ Headway Magazine. In 1987 she and her husband retired and moved to Australia where she developed her creative skills becoming an artist, ceramicist, sculptor, poet and a published author.

Other related posts

Memories of an East End Child by  Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part One

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Two

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Three

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Four

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Five

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: