Memories of Chadwell

(recorded 21st November 2016)

I was born at home at 86 Scott Road and lived there with my mother and older sister (She was much older than me). She was very clever and went on to get BSc in Physics. My mother was a widow and worked so I spent a lot of time with our next- door neighbour, Mrs Hume, she taught me to read and learn the alphabet. So when I went to school I did really well at English, but Sums was another matter. I was always compared to my sister and not in the best way.

I went to Chadwell St Mary’s school in Riverview, I remember my first day very well, every  child was given a piece of plasticine to play with. As all the class had passed the Air raid siren, which was a tall ‘T’ shape and warden’s box  (a giant cube) we all built these using our plasticine.

During the war there was an air-raid shelter on the edge of the small school field, it was built of brick and pitch black, us boys liked to sit with the girls, when the all clear went we would  walk back to class, half an hour the sirens would sound and back we would go. One day as we came out of school we turned right towards the old workingman’s club (walking in a westerly direction). Next to it on the right was an unmade road, six of us were going home when the siren went;  the rule was that if you were nearer  to the school than your home you returned to the school. However we did not want to do that, when a Fireman can running out and told us to get in to his shelter. Before we were able to do this, a German aircraft came from the south and machine gunned us, the bullets hitting the gravel and sand by our feet. The only thing I remember about the shelter is that we broke his alarm clock.

My Secondary School was St Chad’s, where I did not learn a lot. We would walk very slowly across the marshes and if the sirens went on the way to school  we would turn around and go back up the hill. We would  play football and later on in the war we would look down on the doodle bugs going up the river – they were very low to the ground – until the all clear sounded and walk back very slowly to school.

School wasn’t all that wonderful; most of the male teachers were young and went to war. So most were old or women (lady minders) returning to work, they would tell us to read books and they  would spend their time knitting.

My friend and I did the milk round – our job was to deliver the milk to each class using a porter’s troll. We always tried to deliver the milk as the girls were changing for gym. The teacher would hurry out and chase us away, telling us to deliver elsewhere. Another job I enjoyed was serving the school dinner, we tried to save the best bits for ourselves, however, if it was stew,  the teacher would tell us to stir the food up so everyone would some meat.

If boys were really bad, for example, they stayed away from school for three weeks without their parents knowing,(or the teacher didn’t like you)  they would be flogged; two teachers would hold the child down and one would cane his bottom. This only happened 3 times that I can remember because the other teachers complained about the brutality.

The school secretary was Miss Chipperfield, she was only 18 – 19 years old and the daughter of the school caretaker. She was extremely  attractive and if the male teachers heard her high heals on the slabs outside their classroom, they would run out to see her walk pass and the boys would cheer.

The Head teacher at that time was a Mr Stone. Us boys did not like him very much, the only nice thing I remember him doing, was at the end of the war when he got in contact with an ice-cream company to deliver each child an ice-cream. (150 children) this was special, as during the war they weren’t allowed to make ice-cream.

We didn’t learn much until after the war when the male teachers returned. One I remember was Mr James – he was welsh and determined to return to teaching – we were told to be very kind to him and treat him with respect, he was very disfigured –  he had lost a leg, part of his arm and part of his face.

One day as we came out of St Chad’s we were shocked to see the Daisy field opposite was full with prisoners of war (The German African Core), there were so many we could not count them they were herded in like cattle, they all wore they white caps. They were looking through the railings laughing and joking, I suppose they were trying to prove they were human. Some of the kids started to chuck stones at them, they were told to stop doing that. Two of them became very good friends of mine, after the war they opened a VW garage in Little Thurrock, near the Broadway.  Fritz senior married one of my sister’s friends.

Piet, the other owner of the garage, was a Luftwaffe pilot during the war,  kept a light aircraft at the private airfield near The Dog and Partridge on the A128, he took us my wife Judy and I for a flight, however before we took off Judy noticed something was not quite right and asked Piet if he had enough fuel. Piet realised he had not filled the tank, so before take off he had to refuel.

During the war the Canadians staffed the anti- aircraft guns. Each house in Chadwell St Mary were asked to adopt a Canadian soldier. Our soldier was called Gunner Fick and he used to visit us regularly. My mum was a widow and tried to look after the house the best she could. The front-door jammed and the last time Gunner Fick came to see us he said “ I’ll never forget how kind you have been to me and this bloody front-door!”

When it came time for the Canadians to leave they gave the local children a party with lovely food. They gave the food in mess tins and the children would not eat it because it was in metal tins. It had savoury in one end and ice cream the other. I think we upset them.

My house was at the north east of the estate and from my bedroom window I could see Shellhaven, and nearly every day it was on fire. The Germans raided it daily to fan the flames.

Mr Hume, the husband of the neighbour that taught me to read, was of a nervous disposition, was a doorman at Bata, one day a German soldier came up to him with his parachute and gun and tried to surrender. The soldier waited whilst Mr Hume went inside to get the manager  who phoned the police to come and collect the German.

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