When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour. I said “Can I have a job please?”
Scunthorpe Man I was demobbed June, 1946. I’d been in nearly seven years. They did offer for me to stay on but it was straight away “No”. I wanted to be out, although, later on, you wonder whether you should have stayed on, for the security, and by then you were just starting to enjoy life, more or less. You’d got used to it.
When I came out my daughter was a year old and there was no money in baking. It was the biggest paid job that counted at the time. Before the war I was apprenticed at the bakery – I didn’t want to go to the steel works, but after the war you could get a bit of overtime there, to make your money up. So that was it. I went there.
Commercial Traveller I wanted to be an electrician when I came out the forces – I wanted to do anything but tailoring, which I’d been in before the war. You’ve got no idea what it was like in the tailoring trade before the war. Oh God, it was a real sweatshop. It was slavery. I wanted to get out of it. At first I wanted to be a musician, then I decided I wanted to be an electrician – this was before I went into the tailoring trade. My old man pushed me into it though, and I forgot about it for a while.
I was very interested in my work as an electrician in the RAF. I used to love my job. I didn’t follow it up when I came out of the forces because there was no money in it, and I wanted to set up home. There was a hell of a lot of money in tailoring, so I went back into it.
Tailor When I came out there was such a demand for skilled workers because of this tremendous demand for civilian clothing, that in the tailoring trade we were earning three to four times the national average wage. Employers were even offering us more to leave our employment with one firm to join them. Our Union, which was very much controlled by the Communist Party, accused us of blackmailing the employers! Who was in the union? Nobody bothered about the union – you could earn four times the union rate! Who the hell was interested in the bloody union? When I left the services I immediately went into earning good money, to rebuild something of a domestic life. My second child was on the way…
When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here”
East London Royal Engineer When I came out the army I didn’t know where my wife and sister-in-law were living because they’d been moved a couple of times. Where they’d been staying had been blasted by a V2. I eventually found that they were living in a requisitioned house in Woodford – Chigwell Road. I lived there for a while and started work on the building, but they wanted to throw us out. The bloke who owned the house wanted it back. He was a dentist and said he wanted it for his own living accommodation. When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here – You come from Stratford. You’ll have to go back there.” I went to Stratford Town Hall and they gave me a requisitioned flat in Romford Road.
I only got called up for Z Reserve, didn’t I? Everybody who was demobbed was put on Z Reserve. You was liable for call-up, to keep you in touch with army life. I was working on the building and I got called up for two weeks training at Ripon. Instead of getting my wages which I was getting on the building, all I got was army pay.
I didn’t do nothing, ‘cos I went sick all the time. The old army training came out then – all the skives. Most of us went sick with bad backs. If you said you had a bad back you had three days excused duty. On the fourth day you went up again and got another three days. So you got through your fortnight that way – being obstructive. Resenting it. Which you would.
When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour. I said “Can you help me find a job please?”
London Waaf She said “What’ve you been doing? I said “I’ve been doing post-office work.” She said “You’re not in the airforce now,’ she said “you’re out, and I’ve only got one job here, and that’s on the calculating punching machine.” I said “What?” She said at Holborn, in the Customs and Excise.
I went there for a fortnight. It drove me mad. I had to work there otherwise they’d have cut me off. I’d have got no labour money. I was sitting down at a desk all day, not talking to anyone, so I chucked it in and I got a job up the Odeon, Barking Road. I was getting £2 a week. That’s where I met Ern, my husband. I had my airforce trousers, ‘cos I’d nicked my uniform. When I was demobbed I got no civilian clothing. Anyway, I finished up the Odeon. When I wasn’t working I used to stand on the corner and talk to the blokes I knew. All of a sudden Ernie came along. He had a lovely white shirt on. I said to Jimmy Wilson “Cor bly” (‘cos then he had big long sideboards), “who’s that bloke? Don’t half look a killer, don’t he?” He was drunk as a Lord, Ernie. He was singing I’ll Take you Home Again, Kathleen.
A couple of nights later when I was working at the Odeon I said to my mate “I’m going to have a giggle with this bloke.” I shows him to his seat and I says “Get in there, boozer.” In the dark he didn’t know it was me. I comes out the Odeon after the show and there’s Ernie and his mates standing on the corner. He says to me “Would you like a drink?” I says “You’ve only asked me ‘cos they’re shut.” So he says “Can I see you home? Can I carry your parcel?” So I said “Alright.”
When we gets home I says “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” – ‘cos coffee sounds posher than tea, don’t it. He says “Will they all be in bed?” So I said “Yeah.” He comes in and they’re all up, aren’t they! There was me Dad, there was me Mum. Me Dad’s standing there with his hand with no fingers and he says to Ern “I know you! You used to throw apple cores at me!” Ern sys “Ooh, you never told me he was your Dad.” When my Dad was a commissionaire at the pictures all the kids used to chuck stuff at him.
Ern used to come round on his old bike. Bring me 20 fags. We only knew one another ten weeks and we was married.
I went back into the same job I was doing before I got called up. I was back there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away
Paratrooper I’d been away four years and I was sitting indoors. Boiling hot day and the old lady said to me “Why don’t you go out?” None of my mates was at home. I said “Alright, I’ll go out for a walk round.” As I goes out, I gets into the Heathway and I bumps into a bloke. He said “You been down the firm yet?” I said “What the bleeding hell do I want to go down there for?” “They’ve got some money for you.” “Eh? What?” “Yeah” he said “you know they paid out for holiday bonus” – (they used to give you £5 at the start of the summer holiday) – “well, they’ve been putting that away for blokes in the forces.” I went down and saw about it.
I went down on the Friday. I walked into the firm, and honest, I was glad to get out! The noise was deafening. After being away all that time I’d forgotten just how bad it was. There was all the banging and clattering. I thought: Sod this. I went up the office and I picked up fifteen quid. I saw some of the lads. “Look at him” they said, “the old Red Berry on.” I said “Yeah, it’s a load of shit.” There was blokes there I’d worked with, before I got called up. They hadn’t got called up. They had things wrong with them.
All the time you was in the forces Briggs kept you on the books and when I came out the forces things was bad. There was a fuel crisis. There was no coal. You had to queue up for coal. I still had my army greatcoat, and I was glad of it. I daresay that if I’d looked ’round I might have found something different, but at that time I was married and the first child was on the way. I said to the wife “They’ve kept me on the books. The least I can do is go back and see what’s there.”
I went back into the same job I was doing before I was called up. I was there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away. I thought: I don’t know – all that what’s happened – you’ve been up at 2 o’ clock on cliff tops, jumped out of planes, God knows what, and you come back and you’re doing exactly the same job! After a couple of days it seemed that all that four years was nothing.
We were going to try and start a business. I was mad keen on having a business
Company Sergeant Major At the end of the war I was going to volunteer for another six months.
His Wife Until he mentioned it to me!
Company Sergeant Major You see, I was stationed at a place called Bottesford. (1) I used to take the parade in the morning at 8 0′ clock – the whole company – and I used to pass it over to the Duty Officer for that day. Then he’d say “O.K. March them off.” Right turn – off they went. As soon as they were out of sight – straight back to the billet. I got my pack on and off I went. Detailed a van to get to Bottesford Station and I was away.
The funny part about it was, there was a shop in the village about quarter a mile from the camp. I was walking past one day and who should come and say “Hallo Mr —–” but a manager I knew when I was with Sainsbury’s. He was making a pile down there – getting all these pies and cakes – no signatures being given and then he’d write to the railway, saying that he hadn’t received this or that, or that it had arrived damaged. He was getting credit for it, and flogging the stuff behind the counter. It was a fiddle between him and the drivers. I got to talk to him and eventually I landed up at the back of the counter, helping him to weigh up all the butter and sugar – ‘cos it was all rationed in those days. I used to go down there twice a week of an evening. Do you know? I never used to get an ounce out of that bloke, did I? I got all that I wanted – eggs, bacon and so on, but I had to pay for it.
I was demobbed January 8th, 1946. I was mad keen on having my own business, in the food trade. I personally think I would have done well in business, but my wife’s family was in business all their life. It was a tied-in life, especially with their trade. Being pawnbrokers they had to have iron bars up on all the windows, and somebody always had to be on the premises otherwise they couldn’t get it insured. My wife threw all that sort of thing at me. You work all day and all night, which is quite true, but I wouldn’t have minded it.
His Wife Our child had been born and we went to the council in Stratford to see if they could offer us anything, because I’d been bombed out in Forest Gate. They said “We’ve only got one flat.” – they tell you this tale – “Here’s the key.” It was nearly a riot when people saw you’d got a key – it was dreadful. The flat was a turning off Carpenter’s Road, Stratford. It was terrible! It was vile! It was like a stable. It stunk to high heaven, ‘cos Yardley’s soap factory was there. We called in on friends of ours. During the war they’d bought a house. They said “We’ve got a couple of rooms to spare. Come over here.” And that’s what we did, and we stayed with them until 1949.
I don’t think anyone knew about the squatters until they were in
Scunthorpe Man One family started putting furniture in, and then quite few followed, before it got in the press. Once it was known, it went all over the country, in the south. This was at Saltcliffe. It was an army camp place. It had been a searchlight unit that had been there. The nissen huts were still there. They were all local folk, all from the town. One chap came out of there and lived door to us at Newlands. Mr Gregory. He’d been in the navy.
For about a year or two after the war there were squatters in different parts of the town – anywhere where there empty camps. It wasn’t politically motivated. (2) It was just people coming back. Some were living in with people, and perhaps with a child – this sort of thing. The idea of squatting just caught on. Even where the civil aerodrome was – it had been a big bomber base – you could see, going on your way to Grimsby – the washing hanging out. They were still squatting there long, long after the others had got cleared out of different places.
Before the war finished, anyone who was in the services and belonging to this area could put their name down on the council list. We got a place – a prefab – straight away on account of having the baby and TB in the house and overcrowded. When the housing position got better the folk who were squatting moved out. Scunthorpe housing were soon on top of the situation.
When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish a course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica
Airgunner At the end of the war I don’t want to stay on. We had so much spare time on our hands that we was getting bored in camp. Quite a few, like myself, applied to Benett College in Bristol to take a correspondence course. I apply and got everything through. Then I were posted down to Burtonwood here and I continues with the course. (3) I had the intention that when I came out the airforce I would continue with it. But when I came out I find that you got to work.
At that time I got a job near Rochdale – Castleton Moor. In those days the fog was very bad. As soon as, say, three o’ clock come, down come the fog. It was very thick and two or three nights I had to walk it from Castleton Moor. I was living up by Denmark Road, here in Manchester. I had an attic room I rented. When I had to walk it I didn’t reach home until half past one, for the buses, they used to come from Rochdale, and they used to turn ’round at what they call The Boundary, between Manchester and Rochdale. They didn’t go further than that because the fog was so bad. Everybody had to get off the bus and walk it. It was just impossible. I couldn’t work and study, so I had to give up my studying. When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish this course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica. But it didn’t work out that way. I’ve never been back to Jamaica since I left.
1. Bottesford, Leicestershire.
2. This was not necessarily the case by the time squatting reached London.
3. Burtonwood, near Warrington, Cheshire.