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Smith of Lambeth by David Jones

Regular readers will know that I am always out for books that feature the Isle of Dogs in some way. Recently I was contacted by David Jones who has been a resident of the United States for over 50 years but whose beginnings were on the Island and South London. David has written a book about his early life and it is an entertaining journey into the past and gives some real insights into a child growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.

The book entitled “Smith of Lambeth,” tells the story of how his family, paternal grandfather, Richard Jones, and his parents, brothers and sisters, left their home in Wales in the 1880s and settled on the Island. His grandfather Richard Jones, and two of his brothers, William and Edward soon showed their sporting prowess playing for Millwall Football Club who were then based on the Island. Richard later gained international honors for Wales. One poignant story in the book is about William Jones who after playing for Millwall and Sheppey United, signed for Ryde on the Isle of Wight. In 1899, 25 year old William was playing for Ryde in the Isle of Wight Senior Cup final when in scoring the winning goal, he collided with the goalkeeper and died from the injuries sustained.

David’s father’s family kept a green grocery shop on Glengall Road in which his paternal grandmother, née Skeels, worked. His mother’s family, née Draper, lived on Glengall Road. There were 11 children and their father was an itinerant dock worker. David’s parents, aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, were born on the Island as was David in 1934. Not long afterwards, David’s immediate family moved to New Cross in South London but the Jones family maintained a large presence on the Island.

David was only 5 years old, when the threat of war led to his evacuation to the South Coast with his brother. Like many evacuees, they quickly had to adjust to a new life often moving from place to place. David was fortunate to have a couple of positive experiences in Brighton and Hove, however in 1940, the government decided that billeting thousands of children on the South Coast may not be a great idea with the German army setting up bases across the Channel.

David and his brother were sent to the more rural outpost of Swinford in Leicestershire, the book provides an illustration how children often enjoyed life in the country in contrast to the city where the threat of attack was ever present. David returned to London for a short while and found out that his home in New Cross had been bombed out and a new home nearby had been found.

After the war, some of David’s relatives decided to emigrate first to South Africa and then Australia but David and his family settled down to family life in South London.

After failing his 11 plus, David was placed in Colls Road Secondary School in Peckham, where he developed his sporting prowess in boxing and swimming. The book features a couple of entertaining stories about his swimming exploits and a description of his fight with the legendary ‘Smith of Lambeth’.

David left school in 1950 and found a job as an errand boy for a Civil Engineering firm in Central London, this was to lead to a career in Civil Engineering and travel around the world. Whilst working as an errand boy, David describes King George VI’s coffin being taken to Westminster Abbey and selling programmes at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

In the book, David looks back in fondness to Greenwich Park and the Peckham Health Centre before charting his remarkable career which included working in Africa in the 1960s and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and moving to the United States where as well as working as a Civil Engineer, he developed a second career in show business where acted and sung professionally. One of his singing jobs was in a London Pearly Kings and Queens show in New York.

This is a fascinating and entertaining book on many levels, like many others, David’s family came to the ‘Island’ for work and became an integral part of the ‘Island’ community. However, the first part of the 20th century was to tear apart that community culminating in the devastation of the Second World War. This book shows some of the human costs with children being separated from their family for long periods of time. As David notes in the book, many of the evacuees had good experiences but a large number found the separation from family and friends painful and suffered considerably.

After the war, the devastation on the Island and lack of housing led to many ‘Islanders’ leaving the Island for pastures new and some members of David’s family followed this trend.

For all problems or perhaps because of them, David and many of his generation showed remarkable resilience and were willing to try anything to build a new life. Although David has had a rich and varied life, like many others that I have featured on Isle of Dogs Life, he has not forgotten his roots and this book is a humorous and well written exploration of life in London in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

If you would like a copy of the book, visit Amazon here