During this period, I had been courting Irene since 1939. She worked
for our company for a short period, then decided to join the NAAFI. On
the day of her interview, she met a woman Clara who has remained a lifelong
friend. They decided to apply for jobs as cooks. They were accepted, and
were stationed in London at an underground bunker off the Horseferry Road,
called the Rotunda, reputed to be bomb proof.
This building was The Fourth Army Headquarters, and housed all the top
brass for the British, American, Free French, Polish, Police and Fire
Services. It was also connected underground to Winston Churchill’s
War Cabinet bunker ( which is now open to the public)
Irene and Clara, with two others, on two shifts, 6 to 2 and 2 to 10 had
the task of cooking for the whole establishment, which involved a 100
meals, three times a day.
The night shift, 10 to 6 took care of the preparation for the next day.
In the event of an air raid, the large bombproof door were closed, and
it became a self contained unit, and would have been instrumental in continuing
the war effort, if surface control had been destroyed.
Irene stayed in the NAAFI from 1942 to 1944, with a short spell at RAF
Hendon, quite a comedown in cooking facilities, after the all electric
equipment at the Rotunda
During the whole of this period, from 1940 onwards, I was living in Romford,
which was on the direct bomb flight path to London, and with RAF Hornchurch
within three miles, we got our fair share of the bombing. After working
in the factory, we spent nights fire watching for incendiary bombs
We managed to get a house in Romford, after spending many months looking.
The owners had moved away because of the bombing. We had to be very careful,
checking walls and roofs for cracking due to local bomb damage. I would
get property details during the week, and Irene would come home from London
,and we would view them at the weekend. She told her friends that my letters
,read like an estate agents brochure.
Irene and I married on the 17th. June 1944, and to make our day, the V1
(doodlebugs) started on the 14th. I remember on our wedding night, walking
up to the front door of our new home, with every intention of carrying
my bride over the threshold. At that moment, a V1 came overhead and cut
out, the dreadful moment of silence, is something anybody who was in the
war, will never forget. Will it continue to glide, or will it plunge to
the ground? I opened the front door, and literally threw Irene on the
floor, and fell on top, some home coming! Incidentally, the flying bomb
continued for another three miles before crashing on another poor soul.
We spent the first year of our marriage sleeping under the dinning table.
On the 19th. June, we went on our honeymoon to Stow-on-the-Wold in the
west country. This was mainly to give us a break from the bombing. It
took quite a while to adjust to the quietness of the countryside. We stayed
at the Red Lion, which we thought was a licensed pub, it turned out to
be a temperance establishment, run by a vicar. Our ration books, which
we handed to the hotel, were in our single names, which took a little
explaining to the vicar.
A year before our marriage, we realized that all house furniture manufacture
had stopped. The furniture manufacturers had turned over to making wooden
Mosquito aircraft. We were able to buy one of the last dining and bedroom
suites made, from Messrs Harrison & Gibson Ltd of High St. Ilford.
We were able to get them to store them for us, for twelve months, until
we got the house. The only furniture to come into the shops later, was
known as ‘utility furniture’ a very simple and cheap construction.
While shopping in Cheltenham, we spotted an essential item, something
that we had been looking for desperately. A wooden toilet seat. We brought
it home to Romford in our suitcase.
While on honeymoon, we spotted masses of aircraft, towing gliders. This
continued for days. It was only when we got home, that we found out that
D-Day had started, and the gliders were troop carriers.
During 1945, as well as running the business, I was called to serve the
Home Guard (the original “Dads Army”) this entailed one night
a week duty, with also the possibility of full time duty. I was appointed
to the Intelligence section, which entailed accepting messages from signals,
and interpreting them for Command. I spent the night in an empty bombed
house, and slept on the floor, although this was better than the platoon
which usually finished up under a railway bridge. The coffee and baked
beans in the morning, went down great.
One night Irene and I went the cinema, and although the air raids were
always announced on the screen, people became so adjusted to the nightly
occurrence, very few left their seats. On walking the two miles in the
blackout, to her mother’s house, the bombs started dropping close
by. On arrival, there was complete chaos, a bomb had dropped in the street,
but by a miracle, it fell on a scout’s hut. there was extensive
damage, but no one was killed.