Ham and Richmond Park during and after the war – by GDS

Mainly I suppose, those caused by the war because I didn’t know that it was war time and I thought that that was normal life. Just across the road where the grass is wider we had a public air raid shelter and some nights we would have to go and sleep there.

We had a British restaurant in South Lodge on Ham Common and we would go and have lunch there, sometimes. I thought that was normal life. I didn’t realise that was not the normal state of affairs. It was a very busy, of course, and probably a very stressful time for my parents. They had a young child.  Because there was a spare bedroom here in the house my mother had to take in a lodger. She was a lady who worked on secret work to do with radar at a centre in Petersham. I remember her name was Miss McNeil and she was Scottish. So my mother had a baby and a lodger to look after. My father was here. He was in the First World War and he was too old to be in the Second. Quite often he would be at his office just off Oxford Street in London, fire-watching by night so he wouldn’t some home for a several nights. In fact, the night I was born he was fire watching. He was looking out for a fire and wasn’t looking out for a baby. ( )

We had a dog at the time, an Airedale, called Pat. His favourite walk used to be across Ham Common but he was terrified at the sound of gunfire and he never got used to it. He would rush home when he heard the guns. He only lived to be five because he was just shaken out of his wits too many times by the gun-fire. Which was rather sad.

We used to have milk delivered by Secretts Dairy. Mr Secrett had a farm down by the river. You had to register for your food and your milk with a tradesman or a shop. You had your ration book stamped and you had to go to them for your supplies. Our milk was delivered to us. We had a green grocer who came round in his van, Ted Mason. He would bring fruit and vegetables. We were registered with Bevan’s in Richmond Road for our meat and of course that shop still exists – R A Bevan is still there.

The sweet ration wasn’t very generous. I got a Mars bar a week and my parents would slice it in 7 slices, one for each day. The ends with the chocolate were for the weekend. That was a special treat.

I was never quite sure if it was Anderson or Morrison that was the indoor one. It was in the dining room.  It had mattresses in it and very, very solid top to it. It had been, I suppose, on loan from the Council because afterwards I’ve got a receipt I found made out to my father. I found that he had returned it to the Council. I don’t know what they did with them. Quite often we would stay the night there if we didn’t want to go in the shelter across the road. It was a sort of halfway house between the two. We slept there, if you could, – went to bed if it was safe, if the all clear sounded and that was OK.  Around the house, of course, we used to have to have blackout curtains which were horrible black shrouds, almost, hanging at the windows. To cheer them up a bit she got some different coloured lengths of braid and stitched it up and down and made patterns on it to cheer it all up.

Richmond Park was closed for years after the war. They were still clearing bits of rusty bomb from it. It was years before the public could get back in again. And that was true of a lot of things. They were just really not up and running. It took quite a long time to get them back to normal so it was very limited in what you could do.

They opened what they called British Restaurants in quite a lot of different places [South Lodge] and you could go along there during the day and get a lunch at a very reasonable price and I think it was off ration. You didn’t have to produce your ration book. It was intended for people who maybe were a bit short of food – as things were rationed. You could take children there. And I think just for a bit of socialising. I had an aunt, she would come and visit us when she was running low on sugar. She had a very sweet tooth and wanted a lot of sugar in her tea and she’d come and visit us for some tea. If she got really low she had to use golden syrup to sweeten her tea.  A lot of people did do that.

At the end of the war we had a party and a sports day for the children of Tudor Drive. I have some details of that because my father was the treasurer of the party. We had sports first of all. I won the toddler race because a lot of the children ran the wrong way. I was told to run towards the rope and I got 5 shillings for winning. Then we had a nice tea and some of the children got up and sang and bits and pieces. There is a group photograph of everyone that took part. That was a victory party.  You could have extra coupons for parties. That entitled you to get more milk so you could make blancmanges and you could make extra things and that was what the mothers did.  And bread, bread wasn’t rationed until after the war, oddly enough. Everyone mucked in. We had it in the Lawrence Hall.  We had the sport day on what was Hawkers Sports Hall behind Dysart Avenue.

There were still Americans based in Richmond Park. Eisenhower had headquarters in Richmond Park at the end of the war, at the top of Kingston Hill and there still some Americans and there a great many living in Bushy Park and quite a lot of them had liaisons with local women. You will still come across women who would tell you their life story and they are the result of the GI liaison with a local woman. There are quite a few still living locally as a result of that. So there were quite a lot of Americans. The shops had to sell as much as they could to try and pay off the war-time debt.

So all the Americans were within camps – they weren’t billeted out?  No, they were in Richmond Park or in Bushy Park.