Jean’s memories of being bombed and evacuated from Woodford

Interview with Jean

Deborah: Jean, you’ve told me that you moved to Woodford in 1930.  How old were you?

 Jean: 18 months, give or take.

And I’ve heard that you were one of triplets?

That’s correct.

Were there, 2 girls, 1boy or 2 boys 1 girl?

The triplets were 2 identical twins my sister Jacqueline and I and my  brother John, but we had an older sister who was 4 1/2 when we were born called Edna.

So, very unusual to have triplets in that period.

It was indeed and I think the genealogy is as interesting as anything on the social economic side.  When you consider my mother,  even though she was having a multiple birth, had no x-rays, no blood tests and no hospital appointments.  It was a home confinement and I often think that people, not to be critical, consider having one child to be  takes a lot of their time and I can see that it certainly does take its toll. However my parents were part of a  generation that didn’t want help from other people, they wanted to be self sufficient so they would set out to do their own work.  I think this helped all the men to learn do electrical jobs, sewage jobs, because nobody had any money, they had to learn how to do these things themselves.  I was very lucky in that my parents and my brother grew up knowing how to wire in a new plug, change batteries or whatever, all the things that we have to get people in to do today, me included, because we’re not tall enough or short enough to do it.

And what was your childhood like?  Because you were 18 months when you moved into Woodford,  so what was your childhood like in Woodford?

Well, my memories of Woodford in those early days was of a rural village-type community, small shops, no supermarkets and it was a much quieter, country-type atmosphere there than it is today.

And what about playing, games, school?

Well with regards to school, we went to Churchfields, , and we played the old childish games. There were no roads to cross to get up to school from Wynndale Road where we lived and we enjoyed ourselves and we went out on our own all the time.  Some people seem surprised at that, that children as young as 7 would be allowed to go out on their own and play.  It was quite a safe environment in those days.

Because you were one of 3 triplets did you mainly play with your brothers and sister?

Not exclusively, no.

So you had other friends as well.

We did yes.

How did your mum cope, because you say that she was very self sufficient and didn’t want people to help but did she have no help from various people?

None at all.

Not at all, not even from family members?

Family members are different, I was thinking of the local authority services, she had no help from them whatsoever, but she came from a large family,  she had 7 sisters I think, though one was killed in the war and  1 or 2 died I think at birth.  My grandmother used to say to her other sisters, (my mother was the second oldest), you must go down and help your sister, so one used to come down on a Wednesday, because they were working and one used to come on a Sunday, because it was difficult to push 2 prams at once.   We were always brought up with the knowledge that she didn’t really go out and leave us until after we were 5 years old.

So you were very secure?  Because your mum was always there.

Yes absolutely, that was the same with other families.  Mothers didn’t go out to work, as children went home for our lunch, we didn’t have school dinners, we would go home walking  down the road over the bridge.

Your dad, what did he do?

He was a managing director of a lithographic company, a  small company in the  City of Westminster.  He did a lot of voluntary work and he had a lot to do with sea cadets in the Second World War because he was too old to join up and he would organise the ARP rotas in Wynndale Road.

You said you were born really between the First and Second World Wars and said it was a peaceful time.

 Peaceful, in that, a little bit like it is at the moment.  During the period in between the wars, the housing market did funny things and a lot of the homes had to put “For Sale” notices up.  A preliminary, I suppose to the adults anticipating trouble ahead.  This is very much a lay-person’s view.

As it became clearer that war might be  imminent householders were asked by the government to do things to  prepare for the war, to hang buckets of water and what we called stirrup pumps in their front gardens to put out fires.  When you think what the enemy used in retaliation that wouldn’t have gone anywhere really, but nevertheless every street had a pump, and an organizer.  My father was the organizer for Wynndale Road.  He was a  very good organizer.  He got involved in managing, getting information to draw up.

So was your dad in the First World War?

He was, he was afloat  HMS leading signalman for three years during WW1

How old were you when WW2 started 

At the beginning of WW2  as children we were coming up to our 10-year old exams to decide whether we went to secondary school or grammar school and when the war started they evacuated Churchfields and my sisters Edna, Jacqueline John and I went to Blackwater in Maldon, it is actually an estuary to the  Thames, which when you think about it would have been an an ideal place to invade, but then that didn’t stop us being evacuated there and people who stayed away rather longer were eventually moved from Maldon.  I think they went up to Worcester.

I remember being auctioned on the village green whilst carrying my supplies of two packets of biscuits and  a tin of condensed milk (identical twin girls were sought after!!) We were educated in the afternoons and shared the facilities of a local Secondary school.  My older sister Edna was given instructions by my mother to look after all three of us.   The couple who we were auctioned off to were very strict and I remember watching them chase their errant 16 year old son around the garden with a walking stick, and they would cover the table with newspapers to prevent ink stains.  When we came down in the morning we were not allowed to go upstairs again until bedtime.  We come back after 6 weeks because my father decided that we’d all stay in London and take our chance together, which we did.  He didn’t like the digs that had been  chosen for us to live in .  It must have been dreadful for parents because they didn’t know where we were going, what we were doing when we got there.

As children we had some of the anguish I suppose of what war might mean for the generation, who’d already known what it meant and the tremendous loss of life that had  happened in the WW1.

You mentioned, before we started recording, that there was a lack of men between the 2 wars.  How did that impact upon your life, if at all?

Not at all really, because we were primary age schoolchildren leading a busy life.

Were you aware that women were working?

 No, because I wasn’t at all economically interested in what they were doing.  We had our school work to do exams were coming up.  The schools were all told we’d have to write our essays and answers on paper bags, because there wasn’t any paper about.  Books and writing materials were restricted and you had to show your teacher you’d filled a book up completely before you got a new one.    So we were affected in that way.  We were also affected in that school uniforms really went by the board to a large extent.

What about food?

 Food, we were always fed at home, we had food in the war only because parents gave up their rations for the children.  I mean I can remember we might have one egg a week, an ounce of bacon, very small quantities and the man of the house got the best share.  Well, I say that, we must’ve got food from somewhere.  I know that we didn’t have any sweets until 1953.

Did you parent grow vegetable and things like that to help, did they have a garden?

Yes, the garden was dug up to grow beans and potatoes and a couple of ladies up the road had chickens.

So during the war itself, how old were you?  You would’ve have been about?


And it finished when you were 14, 15?

Fourteen yes, I suppose about that.

And during that period you’d come back to Churchfields to continue your education?

We came back to Woodford but we had finished our primary education and we then went to Woodford County High School.

At the time we didn’t have a settled existence at the school  because Woodford County High School  itself was evacuated to Bedford and  so initially we went to a co-educational Wanstead High School where there was quite a laid back atmosphere, but eventually a centre for educating girls was established in a vacant building and we went to school there.

Were you aware, during the period of the war, of any bombs dropping and things like that?

Yes, I remember hearing the siren at 6pm every evening and the all clear at 6a.m.   in the morning.   On one occasion a high explosive bombs blew out our bathroom window despite my father building wooden frames for the windows which he covered with wire mesh to ward of large shards of glass that were caused by  bomb damage.  People had been encouraged or told we had to have blackout on all our windows however this did not prevent a doodlebug from hitting our home and the roof was blown in and collapsed.  We were all out playing at the time but my mother had had to take refuge in our Morrison Shelter, which was made of steel and was decorated with the remnants of a game of noughts and crosses that we had been playing.

I can remember we had bricks coming through the roof into the bedroom.  We just had to put up with them.  My father never hurried anything anyway and he wanted to know the  total problem before he fixed anything.  He got somebody else to do it in this instant.  It had to be done with compensation monies obtained from the war damage commission or something like that.  We would sit at home under umbrellas when it rained.  The doodlebugs did much more damage than the high explosives did.  They got the house next door but one to us, which killed a couple of elderly ladies.  On one occasion we were out and when we tried to get home we had to be escorted back in a Police car due to a landmine at the Southend Road by Gates Corner.

I remember that on another occasion when a bomb dropped and destroyed the Congregational Church on Woodford Green(now the site of Hawkey Hall) the impact of the bomb was so great that it blew out the windows of the school I was attending.

So as a young child, going through this were you scared?

I think we just accepted it,  carried out whatever we had to do.

Would you have to go down to the  local air raid shelters regularly?

We would never do that, they were not very pleasant places, so crowded.

So you didn’t go down to the air raid shelters?

 Well only very occasionally, if one was caught in George Lane, what is now The Shrubberies was always a garden, the shelters were underneath there and you’d come out of the shops and go in there.

Did you see any soldiers during the war?

 We saw the soldiers down Churchfields because they were stationed nearby and I believe there was a  headquarters of the Bomb Disposal Squad around that area as well.  As children we got involved in making things out of beech leaves, painting them and selling them to raise money for spitfires.

I used to go to music lessons  in Woodford and would walk there during  the blackouts,  You just went out to classes etc, you didn’t let the blackout stop you.

You say that there were soldiers stationed just past Churchfields. 

 You could see the soldiers playing football and cricket on the playing field that was owned by Unilever a soap company, it is now a large housing estate.

So, the war finishes eventually and you all survive that.  Now your brother would’ve been 14, 15 at that time, so he missed the Second World War, thankfully.

 Yes he did but he did do National Service a few years later.

So that was the first time the three of you would have been separated?

Well I suppose so, because we didn’t have things like holidays in the war years – no-one went away in those days

How was that for you, I mean as a triplet, this was the first time that you were down to a duplet?

 I don’t think it affected  us, we had begun to live separate lives.  We had all left school in 1947 and I and had started work

Did you work in Woodford?

No I worked in the City.

What did you do?

 My first job was with a life insurance company.

And how long did you work for them?

Nearly 5 years I think.

And the next job?

Then I ultimately trained as a hospital social worker and that Is what I did until I retired.

You didn’t marry did you?  Did you brother and sisters marry?

My brother and I remained at home and eventually looked after my mother who died when she was 101.  There was no question that she would be placed in a home.  Two of my sisters married and moved to their own homes. My brother and I continued to shared a home for many years.

How did it feel when your triplet sister moved away?

 I think there was a sense of loss because the situation had stayed the same for so long.  I wouldn’t say it revolutionised our lives.   I mean we were never that far away from each other and we always stayed in contact by telephone

So how did you become involved with the church and the Hall?

 All three of us were prepared for our confirmation at the St Mary’s and I remember Rector Ison whose grandson is now the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral actually confirmed us.  We wore white dresses and the veils were supplied by the Church.   We used to belong to Brownies which met up there.   I was a Brownie from the age of 7.  You did not have the Rainbows like you do now.   We would go to  Woodford Memorial Hall for some of our meetings  but in later years  the Brownies and Guides were also held in some big houses, because the war was still on.   We used to meet in a big house where the synagogue was.  There was a big cellar there.  Sometimes we went away with the Brownies.

Where did you go?

On one occasion (before the war) we went to Chelmsford Cathedral on a four day Brownie Pack holiday.  We were taken there in a lorry and we stayed in a house where the rooms were decorated in the Chinese and Japanese style.  At the end of the holiday we were all taken to Woolworths in Chelmsford to buy a present for our mothers by Miss Marshall our Brown Owl and District Commissioner who we called “Madam” ,  Ms Marshall was a friend of the Dean of Chelmsford and a head teacher at Bow

So you started your relationship with the Hall by being a Brownie. 

Yes one of my memories of that time is that we did a play on the stage here, the Brownies and the Guides of the 1st Woodford, it was called the Amber Gates and the play was all about the history of Guiding.    I had a photograph of that but have given it to the Library Archives, my sister wasn’t in the photo because in those days they wanted to know that children had had the standard  infectious diseases when you were young (i.e. measles)  and if you had an older brother or sister who had not had a standard infection then they could not join in group- activities, so my sister is not in the photo because she had not had measles. We also did loads of music at the hall.  I was very involved with music in  those days and sung in many choirs.  My brother had a lovely voice but he didn’t play an instrument and so he never learnt to read music, but we would all sing together at home.   I couldn’t really do that now.

What else have you done at the Memorial Hall over the years?

Well I used to go to Sunday School at the Hall and as an adult I have voted on numerous occasions for the hall to remain in situ  when there was any question that it should be closed etc.  I think we’re so short of halls where there are stages.  Hawkey Hall is for young people who have the ability to pay the prices. The Memorial Hall is very much a village hall that has been maintained with its original Edwardian features, which is good.  I would hate to see it altered, not because I want to  stop development but because it’s in good condition.  Barbara Slaney invested a great deal of effort in keeping it going.

It’s been a big part of your life really hasn’t it, the Hall?

Well yes because it’s been there about as long as I have.

Well it’s only 28 year older than you.

Sadly, another member of our church was telling me about another friend who’s just died and she was one of the old guard.  There aren’t many of us left now.

What, to you, are  worst changes in Woodford from when you were a child playing marbles?

 Out of the blue I’d say overcrowding without any doubt at all.  In the past you knew all the shopkeepers.  Your parents could say to you “pop down and see Mrs Hearn and get this or that”.  There was a greengrocer called Mr Puffet who lived in Woodford , that was in the days when the greengrocer visited your house and brought your shopping to your door.  Fruit and vegetables were delivered.  Mum would say can we have a pound of apples and we’d get one each and he’d give it to us because he knew he’d get paid at the end of the week.

So you wouldn’t pay at that moment?

No but then that was commonplace, the service you got then you wouldn’t get now.

So those sort of things have changed.  Is there less of a sense of community from when you were a child?

I’m not sure that is true.  I think the community has shifted from younger to older.  People don’t have the time to go to evening events in the same way they did then.  And then everybody works.

So there’ve been a lot of changes in 87 years, hasn’t there, in Woodford?

I would say this is not uncommon.

No, no I suppose not.  It’s a long time to live in one place.

It is but you don’t necessarily stay in one place because if you’re working with somebody like the ILEA you could end up seeing the  whole of London , the whole of extended London.  You could be moved at any time.  And that’s what happened in my job, I travelled and worked in many different areas of London, although my employer remained the same.

So you didn’t really need to move out of the area  because you saw different parts of London through your job?

That’s right.

Did you, as you got older, did you go away on holiday, things like that?

I’ve been very lucky.  Not  before the war years, we didn’t have holidays.  Men couldn’t just take time off to go on holidays , you had to have special leave or whatever.  After I retired I did more long distance holidays.  I’ve been to Egypt, Israel, Austria.

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