Friday, 14 September 2012

A Jamaican Childhood -- Growing Up in the Forties

I was probably about six years old when this photo was taken, in the garden at 5 Holborn Road. I grew up during the Second World War, not particularly aware of the war itself, although my family was. I remember, for example, that at 49 Beeston Street where my aunts and uncles lived with my grandmother, there was a picture of the King, George VI, with an excerpt from a speech he gave in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire. He quoted from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, “The Gate of the Year” and I distinctly remember these words beneath his photograph in the framed picture:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied”: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.

I was four years old when the war started and ten when it ended, and yet I don’t have many memories of life being particularly different because of the war. I believe that there were food shortages, especially of imported goods. I have a vague memory of my mother producing a dessert known as “Patriotic Pudding”, probably because of the few ingredients used to make it, but for the life of me I cannot recall what was in it or what it tasted like, only that we were supposed to feel that we were doing our bit for the war effort by eating it!  Another memory that comes to me is from my school days. Around this time, probably when I was about four or five, I was sent to the Surbiton Preparatory School at 7 Surbiton Road, run by the Misses Ivy and Linda Cunningham. Here is an ad for the school from the April 1942 Gleaner:

Miss Linda and Miss Ivy, as we called them, took it in turns to be Headmistress. I’ll speak more about Surbiton Prep in a future post. My reason for bringing it up is that at sometime during the war the school was moved briefly from 7 Surbiton Road to the home of Dr. and Mrs. Ernest Bronstorph on Trafalgar Road, opposite to Holborn Road. They had a large house with spacious grounds, and I distinctly remember that we, the children, took part in training for possible air raids.

I remember that my brother, Micky, who was eight years older than me, was dead keen to “join up”, until he heard of the death in action of one of his friends who had joined the RAF. Our family knew of at least one close friend who was in the War -- Jack Duffus, who served in Egypt, and sent us this photograph.

The photo was signed on the back “In the field …Xmas 1944”. The Duffuses were very close to our family. Jack’s parents, Will and Hetty, were Micky’s godparents, and Jack had been a pageboy at my parents’ wedding.

I have a vague memory that Captain Tame who, with his family lived across the road at 6 Holborn Road, may have been in the Home Guard, but I’m not sure. Frederick Tame, his wife, May and their two daughters, Lily and Violet, were very good friends of our family. Frederick Tame had been an officer in the British Army, and we all called him Captain Tame.
This is a photo of Violet with her father, Captain Frederick Tame, in their garden, with Vi holding their Pekingese.

Looking over this post I realize that my memories of wartime are somewhat indistinct. In fact, I was very lucky indeed to be so untouched by the war, not like children in Britain and Europe. My Jamaican childhood was certainly a blessed happy time.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor