Sunday, February 26, 2006

Waiting to be called up

Photo shows: Dad's factory at Gt.Eastern Street. Jack is wearing a tie, Dad is wearing an apron, I am fixing a machine and Lou is opposite me.

Looking at 'Ron's Grand Tour' I realised that I needed an intro to my Army Service, I hope the following meets this requirement.

I was born on the 16th of August 1923 in to what was a large family, even by London, East End standards.
Their were eleven children in the family and I was number 10.
Our family has written a book about those early years, purely for our own pleasure, entitled ‘And Then There Were Eleven’ but as this is a WW2 site I will confine myself only to excerpts from the book relating to the war years.
With war imminent, on September the 2nd l939 Dad managed to hire an open fish lorry to take Mum, my sister Debby and myself down to Hove to take over a flat vacated by older sister Esther, now married to Jack and living in Nottingham. With us on the lorry came another family, friends of Debby's. I remember vividly being actually in the sea when the first warning siren sounded, (a false alarm as it happened) and hurrying home to listen to the radio and the voice of Chamberlain telling us that war had been declared.

Within days of arriving in Brighton I was looking out for a job and decided that it was a good time to break away from the rag trade. I walked the length of the promenade and seeing no obvious signs of job vacancies, went instead to the local Labour Exchange and took the first job that was going for a sixteen-year-old. This turned out to be as a Junior Porter at the Queen's Hotel, live-in, and for about three months I saw another side of life that the East End had not prepared me for.

For seven and six pence per week (37p in today's money) plus all the tips I could make, I was on call from six in the morning until ten at night, six days per week. As a junior porter, or, as I was often referred to, as a page boy, I was at everyone's beck and call starting with the guests and continuing down until to the lowliest kitchen hand.

In the evening, when most of the waiters had finished their day's work, one of my jobs was to serve food to the management staff in their quarters. This was exactly the same as eaten by the guests and was collected by me from the kitchens according to their particular order.

I soon discovered from the other junior porters that one of their own particular perks was to "order" any course not requested by the management staff at the time of the meal and ferret the food away in their rooms. The food served to the "lower" staff was from a separate kitchen and was terrible, so the extra grub we could obtain in this manner kept us going during the long day, despite the fact that our dormitory feasts usually consisted of two cold soups, three compotes and cheese and biscuits!

Among the treasured recollections of my stay at the Queens was one day when I was taking a middle-aged and obviously Jewish couple in the lift to their room. They could have had no idea that I was Jewish and as we were approaching their room the husband fished around in his pocket for small change and found a shilling. The wife immediately said to him: "Yossell, darf me nisht geben zo fill!" which for the benefit of non-yiddish speaking readers translates as "Joe, you don't have to give him so much!" I was sorely tempted to butt in with: "Darf me Yor geben zo fill," or "indeed you do!" but I left them in their ignorance and forty seven years later still get joy from the memory.

When I had had enough of the hotel industry I took various other jobs in quick succession, including that of messenger boy for an off licence. This involved delivering beer and spirits all over the Hove area, and I would sometimes find myself riding a heavily loaded bike up as far as the Devil's Dyke, way up on the Sussex Downs. Alright when the weather was fine and the day was young, but when the weather was rough and the time was late it was certainly not a job for a this sensitive little East End boy, and therefore when Dad suggested I commute to London and get back to the "shmutter trade", I jumped at the chance.

After about six months or so in Hove, the bombing eased temporarily and Dad decided to move us back to London, to a house in Sandringham Road in the Dalston area. We stayed here until the blitz really hotted up again when prudence demanded another change of address; we moved first to Dunstable in Bedfordshire and then finally to the nearby village of Houghton Regis

For about a year we lived in a small house bang opposite the village pub and Dad and I commuted every day to the factory in Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch. If my memory serves me rightly, the routine to get to work and back was pretty horrendous by any standard.

We would rise about 5am, get the 6.l5 bus into Luton, a journey of six miles, then catch the 6.45 train to Kings Cross, changing at St Albans and arrive in London at about 7.45. From there it was a tube ride to Old Street station and finally a trolley bus ride to Great Eastern Street where we would arrive ready to start work at 8.l5 the latest.

Repeat this process to get home at night and you will get the message that travel in wartime was not much fun.

Dad would normally get in a carriage with his cronies and they would soon have a card school going, while I would equally try to get in a carriage with young people of my own age group.

We were all waiting to be called up into the Forces, and although I managed to keep pretty busy work-wise, apart from being an Air Raid Warden in the evenings, I eagerly awaited call-up to get out of the rat-race in which I found myself. Deliverance came on Thursday October lst, l942, when I received a summons to report to the Beds and Herts Infantry Training Regiment at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

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