No. 11 The Overcliffe
We lived at no. 11 The Overcliffe, Gravesend. Old Tom (that’s what we called mum’s husband). One night he told mum he would take me out with him, I didn’t want to go but in those days you had to do as you were told. Well he took me down the water front and he went into this pub, he did bring me a bag of crisps outside. I am left standing in the doorway when an awful storm blew up, thunder and lightening I was scared stiff, much too frightened to move. I could see all the brass inside the pub, mum used to cover all the mirrors and anything else shiny in a storm and take her clips out of her hair also clear any knives and forks from the table so I was sure we would be struck dead with all the lightening. At last he staggered out to take me home. By the way, where we lived was a ground floor flat. When we got home mum was flooded out, there was water everywhere, all the furniture was soaked, so the next day mum went out and got a new flat (it was easy in those days to rent houses).
No. 63 Darnley Road
We moved to no. 63 Darnley Road, Gravesend. It was an upstairs flat this time. Ivy started work at fourteen years. She worked as a housemaid for people at New Barn. She used to catch a bus to and fro. When she was fifteen she had a boyfriend. Tom didn’t like this he was always picking on her. Mind you it showed how Ivy really hated him. Lena and I went to St James’s school just at the bottom of the road, near Gravesend hospital. It was a funny little school. The teacher gave us lessons on getting babies. She drew a circle on the blackboard and said ‘ an insect gets into a woman’s stomach and forms a baby’. Well I did not believe it but when I went outside to play, the air was full of insects, well I kept my hand tight over my mouth, I certainly wasn’t going to chance swallowing any of those blighters…. I did find out at a much later date but that will come later. No good asking Lena…
Anyway getting back to Ivy, she would stay out quite late, mind you that would be about eight or nine in the evening. Old Tom used to hit her (never could understand mum letting him). We asked our friend God to help us again, please let Ivy get in early but Ivy didn’t care she used to say it didn’t hurt. She wasn’t going t do what he told her to do. We didn’t know at the time what was going on.
No. 8 Gordon Place
Eventually we moved to a small house, it was nice, no. 8 Gordon Place down near Gravesend promenade, quite near the Gordon gardens. On Sunday evenings in the summer they would have a big band in the grounds, when they finished they would play the national anthem, I would jump out of bed to stand to attention. Lena used to moan and say ‘I will tell mum in the morning’ mum only laughed and told me not to keep doing it but it made no difference.
One day I came home from school and mum had gone to the pictures with Lena. I had moved to a new school by now, Saint James had closed and I had to go to Saint Georges right up by Woodlands Park , two miles from our house. I used to come home for dinner, there was only myself and a girl called Marianne Lane who lived in Parrock Street. Everyone else stayed to dinner. Mine was the very first uniform ever made for that school, it cost five shillings and the red sash was one shilling. It was a nice school. Vi gave me the money for the uniform and also bought me a lovely red jumper to wear with it. Lena had just left school at fourteen she was going into Henley’s factory to help make gas masks for the war. (hence she was with mum). Anyway as I walked inside the house old Tom was waiting for me, he said ‘your mothers not in I’m here on my own with you’. I was really scared. He looked at me oddly. He grabbed me and tried to pull me on his lap, he was shaking, I thought he was having a fit, then he tried to put his hand up my skirt. Well I knew that was really wicked, so I yelled my head off, I was crying and saying I will tell my mum when she gets home. See if I don’t…. Well he said I will tell the police of you, they lock kids like you up what tell lies. I said I will tell them about you and he said they won’t believe you, when you go up the market you look down near the floor you will see grids on the wall, they whip you every day and keep you in the dark with rats running around. Well I go to the market and sure enough, there are grids so now I am frightened. I just sit and cry. He said there is no need to tell your mother, I only sat you on my lap. I said if you do it again I will tell mum. Oh get out of my sight, so I did. Well I never told anyone. Life carried on for a while. One day I had saved enough money to buy a pint of milk I went up the alley and drank it all. I had promised myself when I grew up I would do this. My god was I sick afterwards, it taught me a lesson not to be greedy !
One day Lena and I was playing ball outside our house, when all of a sudden two big policemen came tour house. We were pushed out of the way. When we went indoors mum was crying, she told us that poor sister Ivy had drowned at the place where she worked. She was just sixteen years old. It was awful. She had been such fun to be with. She was buried in Gravesend cemetery, I wouldn’t know where, she didn’t have a headstone, in fact she was in a grave with other folk because it was a lot cheaper.
Lena and I used to go to the cemetery to try to find it but we never did. We did do one bit of good though. The posh people used to put glass globes tops with flowers on their graves, well some would have four or five. So we used to share them out and put one on each grave so it was fair! We thought it was our good deed for the day.
Old Tom used to go to sea, he was a stoker on the dredgers, before he married my mum. His name was Tom King (same surname as my dad but supposed not to be related but I often wondered) we were never allowed to ask about anything like that. Mum would say it doesn’t concern you madam. So it was best to say nothing.
Moving to Cobham
Time went on then it was time to move to Cobham. Tom had got a job looking as a night watchman over the big guns to be used in the war to shoot the Germans down before they could bomb London town. We had a nice little house, no. 7 The Street, Cobham, right opposite the Old Curiosity Shop. A lady called Mrs Hoppe ran it. Nearby was a café called Little Dorrit that was run by Mr and Doris, Rene and Ken (not married) they were all very nice. We all shared one tap in the back yard and two big wash houses, with two big coppers to do the washing. Lavatories were up the garden but they did have flush away toilets (quite posh).
During the war we had all sorts of troops coming through the village, sometimes they would lean up mum’s wall and she would take them out mugs of tea and say ‘poor little devils, they are somebody’s sons’. They were billeted all over the woods. They lived in Nissan huts. There were three cafes in the street in those days, one in the baker’s shop, the Little Dorrit and another old girl Miss Doris Usher opened her house. She used to do eggs and chips, stuff that was cheap and easy, just what the lads wanted, in fact I think they got most things they wanted in the village!
Esme used to be on the switch board some times. One night she spoke to John Mills the actor, he was staying at the Leather Bottle making a film (Great Expectations). Esme had to tell him his time was up on the telephone. She heard his wife say ‘how dare they’ ‘do they know who you are’ John Mills said, ’darling they can hear us’ so she said ‘oh tell her to f… off and you as well’. The next day when he came to the village he looked into the window where Esme was working and tapped on the window, smiled wetly and ‘hello’.
About Aunty Esme, she met Richard her husband during the war, he was in the navy and billeted in Laughing Waters grounds in a Nissan hut. She came to stay with me to give birth to her son David. I will never forget, Richard came home on leave, Esme sitting up very proud on my bed, he took one look at his new son and said ‘cor blimey Es he will have to screw his hat on he had so many wrinkles! Poor Es was quite hurt but they were soon all smiles again.
Jen (my daughter) was only five months old, so I had plenty to do. No washing machines then.