The Wartime Memories of Jim O’Mahony

Wartime Memories of Jim O’Mahony

Jim O’Mahony was born in Hackney in July 1940 and lived in that vicinity until they were bombed out (twice) landing up in a prefab in Catford.

He had a difficult relationship with his father, for various reasons which he explains.

This transcript records his memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences.

The transcript and the video are about 53 minutes long.

Recorded in Timperley, Altrincham on 22 November 2018.

[Pauses indicated by ….]

Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube. 

Transcript: –

Jim: My name is James Edmund O’Mahony, I was born in, on the 25th of July 1940 which is St James’s Day. Coming from a Catholic family, that’s why I was called James, my first name. I lived in …. I was born in Hackney Hospital or ‘Ackney  ‘ospital as a true cockney would say and I lived 64 Fellows Street in Shoreditch, not far from Hackney and I lived there with my mother who was a …. called Ellen [J] Harrison and she was one of …. one sister and four brothers, so, a fairly large family. I had lots of uncles and aunts.

My mother’s sister actually lived in London and had seven children. The oldest daughter, as eldest daughters do, she unfortunately became pregnant at a young age and my aunt brought up her eighth child. I …. I was born there, I lived in 64 Fellows Street until the War came and we …. my mother, my father went off to the War, he was in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and served out in India, leaving my mother and myself and my …. as my aunt would say I was a ‘love child’.

My parents were born [married] only a couple of months before I was …. I arrived on the scene. But Fellows Street was an interesting Street. It was all terraced houses, the coal-hole was …. in …. there was a ring in the pavement and you, the coal man used to come along, pull it up, it went straight down to the coal cellar in the house.

We got bombed out of 64 Fellows Street when I was a youngster but before then, I had one of the, I suppose, remarkable events. We were …. I was out with my mother and I was, this time, must been between two and three and I was out of the pushchair that she had, and running like little boys do along the pavement and unfortunately, there was an invasion but sorry, it was a Doodlebug came over from Germany. My mother screamed at me, “Jimmy! Jimmy!” and I ran faster. Fortunately enough, she managed to grab hold of me and went against the wall of the house that we were outside, and to this day, I will, can still remember the bang and of reverberations that came and my chest became quite sore from just this bomb going off, and my mother, as I say, I think she probably broke the world speed record for 100 metres to catch me and push me against the wall. And that was probably one of the most memorable occasions that I had.

Second one was rumours went round that Hoxton Market, which was not far away, there had been some oranges delivered. So, my mother, it was wintertime, my mother took me up to Hoxton Market. We were there very early. There was a big queue, everybody waiting to get these oranges.

You can only have, I think, it was 2, was 2, the maximum you were allowed. Anyway, we were waiting in this queue and my mother fainted, and you can imagine, the little boy of three maybe …. a little bit older and your mum collapses. Everybody was very kind. They looked after her, told me not to worry and stop my tears and all the rest of it, and we actually came home with two oranges because the stallholder, actually, gave them to her and …. I think my mum said, “I think I want to collapse more ….”

Michael: Can’t do it in the same place though …. have to do it somewhere else ….

Jim: Not in the same place, but those are the two memories of Wartime that stick in my mind. We did actually get bombed out of Fellows Street. We then moved to another temporary accommodation, we actually got bombed out of that as well, and the only thing that was left because people used to go and if there was a bomb, typical cockneys, anything that was spare, they picked up. All that was remained of the house, was a cupboard and inside this cupboard was a bag of sugar, and that was the only thing that we had from that house. I …. I think probably unbeknown to me, the problems that I had encountered through the War ended up with me being sent to a hospital …. and I spent some time in this hospital and one of the things they used to do …. to, …. I think it was probably as part of the therapy, was you collected big leaves of trees, especially oak trees and you actually pulled the green bits away leaving the spines …. and it was just something that we did as part of the therapy.

My parents had a bit of a problem actually getting me back from the hospital. They said, “No, they weren’t sure that I was cured”, and all the rest of it.

Anyway, cutting a long story short, I went home. My father came home from the War, by which time I had been enrolled at a local school, Saint Monica’s, and I attended there for about a year and then …. my parents got offered a prefab …. the prefab was in Catford in southeast London. They were …. they really wanted to do this. It was a temporary affair. Well, we went down there, and we couldn’t get over the standard of accommodation, a prefab actually provided.

There was a hall that the pram could be in for my younger brother. There was a separate toilet because all the …. houses [we were] in …. before, it was an outside toilet and in Hackney. It had two bedrooms, it had a fireplace that you could burn for so, we lived there from …. at least I lived there from 1946 until I left home in about 1966, I suppose it was?

Sue [Jim’s wife]: No …. 1960 ….

Jim: 1960 …. Sorry 1960

Michael: So, about 14 years ….

Jim: Yes, and would you believe it, if you knew the book that was produced by ….

Sue: David Dimbleby

Jim: David Dimbleby …. he actually interviewed my father because he was still living in the same prefab that we had moved in in 1946,

and he actually died two ….

Sue: 2 years ago ….

Jim: …. just over two years ago and the prefab was still there. Most of the other places, they have been knocked down and replaced by flats or whatever but the one in Catford has only just started being demolished. It was a big estate. I don’t know how many prefabs ….

Sue: 187 ….

Jim: 187 on this site ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: So, it was a big site.

Michael: And, and of course they were meant to be only temporary.

Jim: Yes, they ….

Michael: And I believe there are still prefabs to this day.

Jim: Yes, in fact when the Council …. my father was a typical Irishman. He fought a campaign to retain the prefabs. He led the campaign. He was up in Lewisham Town Hall, berating the mayor and the council from seeking demolish these …. lovely places and …. and so, it kept it going for a lot longer than would have been the case.

Michael: Yes.

Jim: Yeah ….

Michael: Just going back to …. on two occasions you were bombed out. Take us through what if you can remember that is what actually happened, when, when you were bombed out, therefore you had nowhere to live, what happened? Were you out on the street or ….?

Jim: No, that’s one of the advantages of a big family. I said my mother was one of …. so, we moved to an aunt’s house and stayed there and, so we moved around quite a …. quite a bit  ….

Sue: You went to your grandmother’s ….

Jim: I went to my grandmother’s, yes, so we survived by one means or another ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: And in fact, I suppose …. that was one of the great things about families …. being a typical East End cap…. families shared and that was one of the great things about living in the East End of London …. We used to have …. tallymen because everybody bought everything, they had on tick ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: You didn’t have …. you didn’t pay cash for anything because you hadn’t got it and what used to happen was the tallyman used to come round on Saturday to make sure you hadn’t pawned what you’d bought a week or two before, and so what used to happen was the tallyman would come, knock on the door …. “Oh, Mrs so-and-so, you’ve got …. have you still got that coffee table that we provided you with …. money with?” “Oh yes, yes, yes, you can see it, it’s there.” “Oh yes, fine ….” and then they would keep the tallyman talking …. they’d take the coffee table, hopped the back door, over the fence and there would be the next person …. would have had the coffee table there, because they’d hocked it, their’s …. That was how you survived, and it was I think the tallyman were not daft, they knew that something ….

Michael: They knew what was going on ….

Jim: but they were friendly enough and they knew they’d get their money eventually.

Michael: Now, you …. your father was Irish …. did he, was he born in Ireland or ….

Jim: No, he, he was, he was born in London of Irish father and an English mother.

Michael: Yes.

Jim: but he was more, he was more Irish than an Irishman. My grandfather was the most entertaining character you’d ever met in your life. He was a member of the Magic Circle.

Michael: Yes.

Jim: He couldn’t pass an Irish pub …. his feet wouldn’t let him and there used to be a chain of pubs in London ….

Sue: Mooney’s ….

Jim: Mooney’s ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: …. and my grandfather was on his way home from working in London and he’d come to the Mooney’s pub and his feet would turn to the right and he would go in and the course as a magician, taking pennies out of people’s ears, doing card tricks and all that lot, he never had to pay for a drink ….

Michael: No.

Jim: …. and so, he used to end up catching the last train home. My grandmother used to berate him something terrible but that was him and my father followed in his footsteps and one of his great achievements as far as he was concerned …. Was, he gained himself an Irish passport because they brought in a rule that if your father was born in Ireland, you were, you could apply for an Irish passport.

Michael: Yes.

Jim: So, he did. He got his Irish passport and took great delight if the Irish queue, particularly if you went to America, its queue for the people with the Irish …. was much shorter and he got through and he would be on the other side waiting for my mother. “Oh, what kept you?” [Laughing] But there you are ….

Michael: So, you mentioned also that your father was in the War. What was he doing?

Jim: He was in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps which was the supplier of equipment to the Armed Forces and they had all these maintenance units and storage depots throughout England. He eventually went off to India and had a lot of Japanese prisoner of war people for which he was responsible. He ended up as a Sergeant in the Army Ordnance Corps and he …. had quite a good time I believe in in India, because of course you had lots of servants and the Japanese did all the work ….

All he had to do was monitor, make certainly they did it.

Michael: Yes.

Jim:  He came home in 1946 and left and then became a civil servant and worked in the Inland Revenue, I think mainly because being an Irishman, he liked taking money off English people! [Laughing]

And, he retired …. oh …. let me think, a long time ago anyway, and then he and my mother made up for lost time and did a bit of travelling and then my mother died …. young at age sixty from an enlarged heart because, being an East End cockney lady, she smoked like a trooper. When the War ended, and things became easier …. In those days you used to get milk bottles and the top of it has to have the cream ….

Michael: That’s right, yes ….

Jim: …. and she would take the cream and eat it and butter became available so, what did you do, you plastered butter on your bread …. all the things that nowadays with the knowledge that we’ve got and says “No, you don’t do that unless you want to increase your cholesterol level ….”

Michael: Yes, you obviously didn’t take after her ….

Jim: No, I …. I left school …. I left, sorry, I left home when I was fairly young …. 20 years of age. My father and I did not get on ….

Michael: Oh dear …. well, I was going to come back, if I may …. I might just stop at that point and …. well not stop but really just to interrupt at that point because I was going to ask you what it was like when your father who had been away, what …. what it was like when he returned home?

Sue: Can I interrupt without …. don’t forget …. I think you’ve forgotten or ….

Jim: My brother?

Sue: No, no, no, I think you’ve forgotten a chunk that you and your father …. your father and mother were down in the country, weren’t you?

Jim: For a little while …. yes ….

Sue: For a while yes, you were, you had a sort of home together

Jim: Yes, because we got moved out, my …. well my father when he was in the Army Ordnance Corps, one of the bases they had was down in Surrey, and so the family …. he found some accommodation for my mother and I to go and join him ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: Then, when he went off to India, that was, that was it, we were moved back to London again.

Sue: That was difficult …. from what you said, that was a difficult time even when you ….

Michael: That’s really what I’m asking. Sometimes people resented, having been living essentially with your mother ….

Jim: Yes ….

Michael: in a very sort of maternal environment and suddenly this man comes back. Was that something that affected you?

Jim: Yes …. My father and I never got on. I think it was a combination of things. Today, it will be regarded as …. what is the expression I could use, child ….

Sue: Well I think you were abused ….

Jim: Yea, abused as a child

Sue: physically ….

Jim: I was ….

Sue: and mentally ….

Jim: I was I was reasonably clever ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim:  and I eventually passed the eleven plus. I went to a grammar school. My father resented it because he always felt he lost out by one means or another and the world had not been kind to him. I think probably going back to the fact that he got my mum pregnant before they were married and my mother’s family, especially with five brothers, sorted him out and said, “You’re going to marry our sister ….”

Michael: Yes.

Jim: Anyway I, I never got on with him so at the first opportunity at age 20, I left home.

Michael: Yes.

Jim (middle) with his Mother and Father and younger brother.

Jim: By that time, I was working, and I used to go back to see my mother because one evening week my father used to go off doing other things, so I used to nip down to Catford and see her …. keep that link going. I had a brother who was born in 1946 after my father came back.

My brother never stood up for himself. He had a better relationship with my father than I ever had, and I suppose, I mean, I used to go down when he became ill. I used to go down to see him and look after him as best I could, and it got better as I suppose we both got a lot older.


Michael: Yes, yes, okay. So, at the age of 20, you’re off. What happened to you?

Jim: I had to, I was in the civil service. I did a variety of jobs, originally in Purchasing, then went to Export International Relations, and then got the job of the lifetime as far as I was concerned, which was a Private Secretary to a chap …. in those days …. called, who’s in charge of the Head of Defence Sales, Export Sales. So, I never forget, I went to see the then Head of Defence Sales called Sir Lester Suffield, and I had the interview and he said to me, “Right, have you got any questions to ask me? So, I said, “I’ve only got one, Sir Lester.” So, he said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Well, I understand you’re coming to the end of your tenure office in the post, and that you’ll be leaving in about six months’ time.” I said, “And then there’ll be a new recruit from industry …. to become the Head of Defence Sales.” I said, “What happens to me then? I suppose I could get pushed off somewhere else.” They’d never …. He turned around me said to me, “Jim, if I decide I am going to appoint you to be my Private Secretary, you can rest assured that the …. my successor will accept you. So, I said to him, “Yeah, oooh ….” [Without being assured]

Anyway, I got the job, and then a chap called Sir Ronald Ellis took over. Sir Ronald and I got on extremely well. He had come from British Leyland. He was a Managing Director of Leyland Bus and Truck in the old days ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: …. and done a lot of international travel. We got on extremely well. I enjoyed the job and it came to Sir Lester’s [he means Sir Ronald’s] end of term, coming up, and he said to me, “Jim, I’ve only got 18 months to go before I leave this job and there’ll be a new one coming. You ought to decide where you want to go next, while I’m still here with a degree of influence to get you where you want to go.” So, I said to him, “Okay, thank you for that.” I tried the Private Secretary of the Permanent Undersecretary as Head of the Civil Service in the MOD, contacted him and he said, “You are out.” He said, “You’ve been …. When Ron goes, you move on.” So, I thought right, Ron’s right. So, I came back, and I said to Sir Ronald, “I’ve been having a think about what I’d like to do next, and you have a post in Washington DC that you are responsible for.” I said, I’ll talked to Sue [his wife] and I wouldn’t mind taking up that post if it’s all right with you?”

So, he said, “Well, there will have to be a competition for it.” And I looked at him, I know him so well that I said to him, “And if I’m not on the inside track, I’d be most disappointed.” So, he said, “Oooh, could say that!” Anyway, I got the job and we were moved to the United States. I spent four years there ….

Came back, I went to work for Farrar Engineering. I worked there, then went to work for British Aerospace, and I finished my career working for British Aerospace.

Michael: So, that’s what brought you to the North West, having left London and then come, essentially, via Washington to the North West.

Sue: Yes, about 1983 ….

Michael: So …. we can hear voice off, and so let’s just hear a little bit about where you met your wife.

Jim: I …. first job I had, was in the Ministry. Well was called the Ministry of Supply in those days, and it was in London, right in the …. just off near Oxford street, New Oxford street, it was called, and there was a crowd of young fellows in …. worked in the building, because there was a large contingent of civil servants there, and we used to play table tennis at lunchtime. You were given an hour for lunch, so, we used to go and play table tennis and have a sandwich or something.

And we used to talk about any talent that was …. there or was coming there. And one day, one of the chaps said to me “Hey, Jim, you seen this girl on the fourth floor? So, I said, “No, I haven’t seen her.” “Well, you’re only on floor, you know a couple of floors above, so I said, “No, not set eyes on her.” “Well, I tell you, she goes out …. coffee for about 10:15 in the morning.” So, I thought ….

“Well, if it’s that good I’ll go and have a look.” So, I was there for coffee at 10:15 in the morning. I thought, “Ooh, yes …. quite, quite good, yes, marks out of 10, you know ….” So eventually, I plucked up the courage, not direct to Sue but to a friend of hers, and said, “I’d like to take her out if that’s possible ….” So, this middle …. girl ….

Sue: Pat ….

Jim: Pat …. turned round and spoke to Sue, and I suppose Sue eyed me up and down, and thought, “Well, he’s not too bad.” And I took her out to see, to see a show called, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’.

Michael: Oh yes ….

Jim: And then took her home. Everything went from there and we got married in 1963 and have been married ever since.

Michael: So, you were married in London?

Jim and Sue: Yes …. in Worcester Park ….

Sue: Where I lived ….

Jim: …. and there used to be, unbeknown to us and it’s quite amusing …. as the romance blossomed, so the time that I used to leave Sue’s house to run down to Worcester Park station to catch the last train back to London, because I was living in London in a hostel in London, …. got shorter and shorter and unbeknown to me, there was a couple just a few doors away from where Sue’s mother and grandmother lived, who used to say, “It’s time he was going, you know, he’s leaving it late to catch that train.” And I used to be able to run faster and faster and faster …. On one occasion I actually saw the train go across the bridge and, and I think the guard probably knew that I was coming and waited for me.  So, 55 years we’ve been married.

Michael: Good time

Jim: Yes, indeed.


Michael: So, we talked about yourself, we talked about your marriage, you talked about …. your, your ….  your, your father what about your mother?

Jim: I loved my mother dearly. She was a workaholic. I suppose coming from, once again, the East End of London, she would do virtually anything, but she was a machinist. She had worked …. in that industry, the rag trade as it was called on the East End of London, mainly run by Jewish people in those days, and my mother was a seamstress and she …. when I was, when we moved to the prefab, we used to have stuff delivered to her. She had a machine in the back bedroom, in her bedroom and she would be on the machine doing what was necessary. And then, they used to come and collect the shirts or the dresses or whatever it was that she had been working on. She was …. she smoked like a chimney but had a lovely nature and saved me from my father on ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: …. more than one occasion, and I suppose nowadays, I mean, I’ll say something that, now that my father’s dead, it doesn’t really matter but I’ve known my mother and father have a row, usually over me …. my mother going out of the door of the prefab and my father locking and bolting the door and that he’s saying she’ll have to virtually crawl in …. and, but, over the years as I left home, my brother left home, they were …. and times were easier from their point of view because they had both people working. I think they enjoyed one another’s company far far more and all those privations and problems …. diminished. In fact, probably vanished.

Michael: Yes.

Sue: She was a lot cleverer than him too

Jim: Yes …. yes ….

Sue: Very intelligent woman ….

Michael: Yes, ok …. I mean that’s rather a sad note. What about some, some of the happier times that you remember.

Jim:  I don’t think, what, yes, passing the 11 plus was super. I went to a local Catholic Primary School run by nuns and when they announced the results and I had passed. I was on top of the world. I came home, told my …. My mother was absolutely …. “Oh yeah, absolutely great!”  My father …. “Yes, okay.” So, so ….

Michael: Yeah.

Jim: “It’s going to cost us money because you have to have a uniform …. whereas, if he’d gone to an ordinary school, you know secondary school, you wouldn’t have to have a uniform.” Because in those days, everything was about money and survival, and …. but Salesian College, Battersea which is where I went to school, I had to catch two buses and two trains to get there, but I went there because all our local schools played rugby and I was a football fanatic.

Michael: Oh.

Jim: And I, though I say it myself, I was pretty good at it and thoroughly enjoyed playing at all different levels. Played for the school first team …. first eleven and …. and cricket eleven. So, sport was, it was easy but probably …. now that you mention it, one of the things that I did do with my father …. my father persuaded me to play for his football team. Bearing in mind, I was only 16, 17 at the time. So, I played on the left wing, so I was out of harm’s way, if you like, with all these men, and I will never forget it, I’d got the ball on the left wing, I pushed it past the Full Back and he brought me down. And a comment from my father, who played left back, was, “You won’t go home with clean shorts today, will you?” [Laughing] All I could do was laugh about it and say, “Yeah, Dad. I suppose that’s right,” because he used to think, “You played football when your shorts aren’t filthy?” And you know ….

Michael: Yes, now, you, you went on …. you, when you were what 17, 18. You would have finished your A-levels and so on at that time. What happened after that that?

Jim: That was when I applied to join the Civil Service.

Michael: Right, yes right okay.

Jim: And I got in and …. was assigned to the Ministry of Supply as it was then.

Michael: Yeah ….

Amongst other relatives, you’ve been talking about your parents, but you also have an aunt.

Jim: Yes, I had …. my father was one of four, so I had two aunts, my Auntie Eileen who was a lovely person …. really was great and she was married to my Uncle Cyril who had been in the Army as well and they lived in Orpington, at the very end. I then had my Uncle Will who was the oldest of the family, my Dad’s eldest brother. He was in the RAF. He was a very intelligent man. He was in the RAF during the War.

And then, the youngster of the family was my Auntie Mary, and she was the dancer, who was in a dance school from about the age of, I don’t know, about eight or nine …. and then became, through the ranks, was dancing …. It was over the age of fourteen and I think one of the things that my father suffered from was an inferiority complex because my Auntie Mary used to be on these shows or what-have-you and dancing and she’d get paid for it. [She was a Tiller Girl]

Jim was the Page Boy at his Auntie Mary’s Wedding in 1945.

In those days, my Grandfather and Grandmother had a jar on top of the mantelpiece and if you earned any money, you put it in the jar. Well, my father hardly earned anything …. but my Auntie Mary would come with £1 notes …. and put them in the …. in the jar and I think that, really, he really resented it.

And she was the one, going back in time …. when as far as I was concerned, it was my mother and father’s Silver Wedding, I said to my brother, “We must make something of this occasion ….” and so we agreed that we would buy a dinner service.

I would pay most of it, but you know, we’d share it and …. Anyway, nothing seemed to happen. And I thought, “Well, it’s normal for …. being an East Ender, to have a party, to celebrate the occasion. And I went over to my Auntie Mary who also lived in Orpington and I said, “I can’t get over this, not having a party, don’t seem to be any cards coming or anything like that …. So, she then said to me, “Didn’t you know, Jim?” So, I said, “What?” She said, “You were a love child.” I said, “What do you mean?” I had assumed that they had been married a year before they were actually married. The only reason they got married was because I was on the way and I thought, “It’s taken me all these years without knowing when they actually got married” and there is a photograph of the Wedding and my mother is holding a bouquet of flowers to ….

Sue: Well, it was a wartime wedding

Jim: Yeah, not to identify the bump ….

Michael: Yes.

Sue: Very sad ….

Jim: But, there you are, these things happen in families.


Sue: But you had, sorry, excuse me for butting in, you had an Uncle who was a Desert …. I mean your, your mother’s brother, Jim, he was a Desert Rat.

Jim: Yes.

Sue: …. and your other one ….

Jim: Was a paratrooper …

Sue: …. was a paratrooper, the younger one

Jim: My Uncle Ed, yep, and

Sue: He trained at Ringway ….

Jim: Yeah

Michael: Just down the road ….

Jim: Yes, and my Uncle Bill was also in the forces. Oh, four of them, and uncle ….

Sue: Uncle John was too young ….

Jim: No, Uncle John was too young, yes ….

Sue: Three of them did ….

Jim: Yeah, three of them did, yeah ….

Michael: I, I suspect we’re drawing to a close for this but before we do that, are there any other things that you could remember about the War that …. that go into the, delves into the sort of, delve into the, the depths of your, your mind?

Jim: Yes, one of the things that …. started in the Wartime and carried on after the war for a period of time, was the fact that shops, I can remember …. being the East End of London, things would, if you knew the shop owner, under the counter there would be things that were on ration, and you could in fact acquire or buy if you had the money.

Michael: Yes ….

Jim: …. and of course, it caused this degree of resentment because most of the people were all in it together. Nobody had any money but my Aunt Jane, I had an Aunt Jane on my mother’s side. Aunt Jane was a force of nature. She ran a sweet shop and she was a character. If you went in there and you had, you wanted to buy sweets she would cut a sweet in half in order to give you exact measure. You can’t imagine today, cutting the sweet in half to make certain you never went above the quarter pound or whatever it was that you were actually buying and another story about Aunt Jane, I mean she used to …. everybody knew her in the in the, in the Hackney area, she would, hmm, when she retired, she wanted across the road she just take a stick hold it up and walk across. [Laugh] Everything waited for Aunt Jane and eventually …. she died, and …. everybody believed Aunt Jane had money … and it would be hidden away somewhere where she lived and anyway they all had a look round for this money, err,  they even checked the curtains to see whether, err,  in the hem of the curtains there was any money. Anyway, we got rid of a lot of old clothes, hmm, mainly to the Red Cross I think it was and then suddenly somebody thought aunt Joan’s, aunt Jane’s favourite coat, I wonder if she sewed the money into the lining of the coat.  So, racing around to the Red Cross ….

Michael: Yes

Jim: …. to try and retrieve this coat.  They couldn’t find it. Now we never knew to this day whether somebody at the Red Cross it had found the money or, or what but that was Aunt Jane.

Michael: Yes, yes

Jim: It was, and the fact that people would cut off pieces of meat in order to give you the exact measure, you never got anything over.

Michael: No. That, …. various people I have spoken to, hmm, have suggested that the diets that people had during the war might well have been a contributing factor to longevity

Jim: I think, I think that’s possibly true because you didn’t have any luxuries it was bread and jam, hmm, you know door stops if you were lucky …. you had, oh, I think the one thing that probably, and because you walked everywhere, you didn’t go on buses because they cost money to go on buses, so you walked, putting his shoes to the repairers was cheaper than going on the buses. Hmm, I think bread and dripping was another …. that was almost a delicacy .…

Michael: Yes

Jim: …. if you had bread and dripping because that meant you’d actually had meat on, on the Sunday ….  and the gravy all went into the bread and dripping.

Michael:  Yes.

Jim: I, I think we survived quite well actually.

Michael: Yes …. and you didn’t have much ….

Michael: No, no, none of the fast food of today.

Jim: None of the fast food.

Michael: No.

Jim:  None of none of the pleasures that people have, hmm, today because it was a very hard diet ….

Michael:  Yes.

Jim: …. you never left anything on the plate …. which was another cause of trouble between me and my father because …. on one occasion I did not like white cabbage. Dark cabbage I could eat, white cabbage I could not stand. It would make me almost want to throw up.

Michael:  Yes.

Jim: …. and I can remember one Sunday sitting at the table and, in the prefab, and …. my father saying, “Eat your cabbage.”  “I don’t like it, Dad.” “Eat your cabbage.” “Dad, I can’t eat, it it’ll make me throw up.” “You will not get down from this table ‘til you have eaten your cabbage.”

Michael: Yes.

Jim: And then I made the fatal mistake because, as I said, because I was regarded as quite a bright kid, I said to my father, “Dad, I’ve looked …. boiling the cabbage, you take most of the goodness out of it” …. and I said, “Equally, there is more goodness in an orange than there is in white cabbage that has been boiled ….”


Jim:  …. and as soon as I finished, I thought, “Oh my God,” and I got clattered, you know, and my father had a stick as well. So, you know so I, I got a beating ….

Michael: Oh dear.

Jim: …. for being too clever by half.

Michael: Yes.

Jim: what I said was absolutely true, but you did not ….

Michael:  No, that wasn’t appreciated, no ….

Sue: No.

Michael: Changing the subject [Laugh] after that, one other thing that I wondered about, living in London as you were, or the outskirts of London …. it wasn’t unusual to have things like smog. Was that it was that something that you can remember anything much about? We don’t have it today but back in the mid-forties or the early fifties ….

Jim:  Yes …. very much so I, I can remember …. walking home and the buses would have a, the conductor walking in front of the bus to actually make certain the bus driver stayed this side of the kerb of the pavement ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: …. and it was very, very bad but in fact one of the memories I have and was the Lewisham rail crash ….

[On the evening of 4 December 1957, two trains collided in dense fog on the South Eastern main line near Lewisham in London, causing the death of 90 people and injuring 173 – WikiPedia]

Michael: Oh yes, it’s not that far from you.

Jim:  No, it was very close to me and in fact, I by then was at grammar school and I can …. say it was on a Wednesday that it happened and …. I had gone to our sports ground from school, organized, we got to the ground …. [cough] and it was so foggy that eventually they decided to call the game off, it was a nonsense ….

Michael: Hmm

Jim: I went home …. from you know, where our school grounds were near Epsom in Surrey to Waterloo, walked across from Waterloo to the other Waterloo and then caught the train down to Catford Bridge and, would you believe that, a couple of hours later was when the Lewisham train crash ….

Michael: Yes.

Jim: If I’d played football who knows, what would’ve happened, whether I have been on that train or not on that train. Yes …. that was, smog and fog were very common.

Michael:  Yes, they were. That was the time, yes ….

Jim: …. and because you had coal fires ….

Michael:  Fires, yes ….

Jim:  Everybody had coal fires. The prefab had a coal fire …. originally ….

Michael: Yes, and no such thing as central heating in those days ….

Jim:  No.

Sue:  You had a handkerchief over your mouth and nose.

Jim:  Yes.

Sue: …. and when you came home it was black.


Jim:  Hmm, yes ….

Michael:  Just coming towards the end, I think, I usually ask a question …. not a trick question really, but you’ve had quite a mixed life, I think, from the times you were born and err, near the start of the Second World War and through to the present day. Are there any sort of, is there any sort of advice that you might give to youngsters of today as to how they should go about their lives and try and …. find happiness if you like, as well as success along the way?

Jim: We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had two sons …. we tried to instil in those boys …. particularly, the love that I didn’t have from my father …. so …. I’ve tried to stay close to them.  I like to believe that, they’ve both married two lovely girls – two lovely daughter-in-laws who we are very, very fond of.

We only have one grandson which is a disappointment to us but there you are. Hmm, so from a personal point of view I think good has come out of bad, if you like …. because it made me more conscious that there was no way that I was going to have a similar relationship to my sons ….

Michael: No.

Jim: …. as I had with my father.

Michael:  No, quite ….

Jim: So, yes there was I think you would agree with that wouldn’t you, Sue?

Sue:  Yeah, I would also say stick at it ….

Michael:  Yes.

Jim: [Laughing]

Sue:  Quite, nothing, you get nothing for nothing ….

Michael: Hmm ….

Jim: You have to work hard ….

Sue: And, yes, you do, hmmm, materially nowadays you get so much .… and you expect so much .… but there’s still a price to pay.

Michael: Hmm  ….

Sue:  And, if you’re foolish enough to think there isn’t,  then you’ll be very lucky if you have – if things turn out right for you.

Michael: Yeah. Yes, okay. Well, I think on that point, well, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to be interviewed by Wargen.

Jim: Thank you very much, I enjoyed it, it’s been, brought back some good memories and some bad memories

Michael: Yes.

Jim: Hmm, but I’ve enjoyed it and I hope it’s been of value to you.

Michael: Thank you very much indeed.

Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Michael Thompson and Tom Humphrey.

Author: mjthompson2017

Since retiring from Civil Engineering some years ago, I took up film making professionally. Now, I have retired from that but will continue to work with WarGen filming War Memories as long as I can, even though I am in my 70s.

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