The Original Cockney in the Countryside

Over the last few months breathtaking displays of poppies have arisen in local communities across our nation. Timeless hours have been spent knitting, cutting, sticking and fastening millions of hand crafted poppies with astonishing results. An overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism has overcome me these past few weeks in the build up to the centenary of the World War 1 armistice. Our nation has united in our respect and remembrance for all of those who have fallen and will never be forgotten. I wanted to write a piece based around Remembrance Day and have had many ideas. I loved World War 1 literature and was drafting a piece on Wilfred Owen the famous war poet. It was only after a conversation with my granddad that I realised something. I am by no means the first “Cockney in the Countryside” as it dawned on me that my granddad had a whole tale to tell of his own.

My granddad has been and is one of the most fundamental people in my life. Years of fond childhood memories and decades of love, laughter and support have shaped my life forever. However it occurred to me that I didn’t really know too much about my granddad’s childhood. Today we had an amazing conversation about his early life in the East End of London and how in fact he was the original Cockney in the Countryside. Here, in his own words, is my granddad’s story of evacuation during World War 2.

I was born in the Bethnal Green hospital and then lived in a little house in Poplar. London was a different place back then. We knew all of our neighbours and people in the surrounding streets and always said hello and addressed them as Mr and Mrs. My earliest memory was when I was around 3 years old. I don’t know how I got there but I was laying on the floor of my bedroom, on my back looking up into the black nights sky, through a gaping hole in the rafters of my family home. We had been bombed. The next thing I remembered was my mum, four sisters and I in the back of some type of lorry. We were dropped off at a relatives of my grans where we stayed for a short time before being given another home in another part of East London. I’ll never forget thinking how posh the new house was, with an inside toilet and inside coal shed!

Once again, one evening when I was around 4 or 5, I awoke to being thrown from my bed and the ceiling beginning to crumble in on us. The house at the end of the street had been hit and soon after we were evacuated. However, before we reached our destination, our whole family was admitted straight to hospital for scurvy and treated. Travelling by train with our little cases and gas masks, we left London and the smokey, derelict scenes soon turned to those of green flat plains and vast fields. We were taken to a somewhat stately home somewhere in Norfolk. The family was the owners of the famous brand Colman’s Mustard. We were the only family there and the couple who owned the home treated us with kindness and I always remembered liking them. My mum commented on the amount of crockery kept there and we knew they must entertain guests for dinner parties and so forth. The house was grand with so many different rooms and the estate had 2 large lakes, endless fields and a fruit orchard. My sisters and I loved it, we spent our days running around in the open space and picking fruit. It was nothing like our games in the streets back in London. One particular day my sister Rosie and I were sent to the local village bakers to fetch a loaf of bread. We began walking but then froze in fear as there over a gate were the heads of two cows. We had never seen anything like it and ran all the way back to the house terrified! It didn’t seem long that we was there when for some unknown reason my dad came to collect us and said we were all going back to London. I remember my sisters and I being so upset. I never found out why we had to go back so soon.

Back in London the war was still ongoing. Each night we slept in bunk beds in an Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden. One of my funniest memories was of one of my friends Brian. Myself and a group of mates were out playing in the street and we had tied poor Brian to a lamp-post. Just then we watched a doodlebug fly over head and looked on as the light at the tail went out. Doodlebugs kept flying until they ran out of fuel and then dropped and exploded. The tail light going out meant it was going to drop so we all ran as fast as we could to our homes. Except for poor Brian who was still tied to the lamp post. He acquired the nickname Doodle forever more.

I can never remember being scared through the war, probably because I was born into it and grew up with it so it was all I really knew. Across the road was a park where the soldiers had set up camp in temporary barracks. After the war ended many families squatted in these for years as they had no home to go to. I even got a paper round when I was about 8 and had to deliver the papers to the “squats.” Everybody looked after each other in those days and helped one another out. Communities pulled together and we were stronger because of it.

Tomorrow marks 100 years since the end of the First World War and a day in which we remember all the soldiers and people who have fought and lost their lives through warfare. As a Christian, I pray for the solidarity and love that binded so many communities all those years ago because with that we have the strength and power to overcome the evils of this world.

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