War was just a game to us
The recent article ‘The Street Where I Lived’ prompted me to look at my own family snapshots. I was just three when the war started and our family lived at 44 Regent Street, Whitstable, Kent, an ordinary terraced street with not a lot going for it – except of course that it was home.
We kids never really understood the seriousness of the war, running to the front door to watch the dogfights going on above us during the Battle of Britain and playing among the bomb sites. When some houses close by were destroyed by a land mine we went to look in fascination rather than fear.
If we stood at our back gate and looked along Gladstone Road we could see a row of horse-chestnut trees (which provided many a champion conker) with a grassed area to the right where a large brick reservoir was later built. It was a strange structure because I don’t ever remember it having water in. It had a sloping concrete floor down to a drain in the middle, and we used to play football in it, with many a grazed knee as a result.
The alley which ran along the back of Regent Street was the scene of many a battle, some even rivalling Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Morn. The participants had rather un-American names; Maurice and Johnny Rowden, Mickey Prescott, my brother Bill and myself.
Being the younger and smaller, my bedroom was at the back of the house – with an escape route out of the window, on to the kitchen roof, on to the shed roof and down. I used that route many a time when I’d had been banished to my room, but getting back wasn’t so easy.
Many houses had ornate railings mounted on top of the low brick walls at their fronts, but these were all removed to help the war effort and of course never replaced.
Each week my sister Mary, brother Bill and I had chores to do in order to earn a single penny – cleaning all the shoes, sweeping the back yard (where the tin bath hung on the fence) or running errands to the corner shop. Mind you, that penny could buy four different things at a farthing each – a small ice cream (wrapped in paper); a gob-stopper; a stick of liquorice or a slab of home-made toffee.
Located on the corner of Victoria Street and St. Peter’s Street, the shop was run by a lady called Daisy Dowley. I hated queuing in that shop, usually behind several women buying their groceries for the whole week. Right opposite was a typical back street pub called The
Sovereign, owned by the father of a school friend called Beadle. It seems strange that apparently more alcohol is consumed today and yet there were so many more pubs then.
During those war years there wasn’t much in the way of privacy: the walls of those terraced houses seemed paper thin and we learned all the neighbours’ business at first-hand. There was, however, also the most tremendous community spirit, culminating in a street party to celebrate VE Day, at which almost everyone in the surrounding streets attended.
I’m now working back in my home town and sometimes have occasion to visit the area, the houses haven’t changed much but the area is now completely swamped by the motor car.
K G Stevens