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Joan Harrison

Vice President Barking & District Historical Society

On purpose I have not entitled this “Happy Memories” as they all are not happy ones. Looking back over one’s life, it would not be possible for all of them to be happy. It was during the First World War I was born at East Ham. My  father was in Belgium in the Royal Horse Artillery so I saw very little of him as he went into the Army of occupation of the Rhine and was not discharged until 1921. Fortunately his job was kept for him. After the War there was a lot of unemployment.  Another unfortunate happening was the terrible ‘flu outbreak in 1918 killing thousands. Food too had been a problem as there had been a black market. In the Second World War it was rationed according to availability so was fairer. Bananas could  not be imported until after the War, so children born during the war did not know what they were.

Some bombs fell on London in World War I dropped by Zeppelins, but they were small in comparison with World War II’s bombs. We invented  fighter planes and that was goodbye to the Zeppelins. In comparison with the noisy planes of those times a ride in a Zeppelin basket must have been fairly quiet, and safer with helium gas. When ballast was thrown out to make it rise it was not so good  for people underneath! There are one or two airships about I believe. I did see the ill fated R101 go over. The last one I saw was used for advertising purposes.

As a child I caught all the childish illnesses, fortunately except diphtheria,  which then was a killer.

Beckton Gas Works in those days was the largest in Europe and had some huge tar vats near the Northern Outfall Sewer bank, so when I had mumps or scarlet fever with congestion of the throat, I was taken to inhale the  tar fumes, which certainly helped. Doctors in those days had to be paid, so as wages were low, home remedies were used as much as possible. No National Health then. Honey and lemon was taken for sore throats – still in use today. Eucalyptus oil  was used for colds. Imagine several children in a classroom with it on their chests or hankies!

Also in those days it was quite common to have over 50 children in a class. Discipline was strict but did us no harm. If you played up you were sent  in the corner where it was normal to make faces at the class behind the teacher’s back. Should you have to go outside the door the odds were the headmistress would come along and more trouble! No male teachers for girls in those days. Sunday school  teaching at the Parish church and at Holy Trinity Church, Barkingside was a privilege and a joy.

Fifty years after I left I went to visit Brampton Road School. The headmistress I noticed left her room door open and children wandered in and out  and spoke to her. It all seemed brighter and more pleasant, but noisier and far less disciplined.

We did go on day trips to museums, London Parks and the Tower of London, but not as far as Kew Gardens (fortunately I spent a lot of time there  when an auditor for the Ministry). A good fortune we had was to win a school holiday for children of my age to go for a week to Shanklin, Isle of Wight; to Fairy Court which I learn is still there and is now an hotel. It was a delightful house in its  own grounds. We slept in dormitories and I had charge of one. What a wonderful holiday it was in April with primroses and violets out, fine weather and a friendly island. I took a bunch of primroses and violets for my mother in a damp handkerchief. Good  experience in packing and unpacking, too.

We pressed flowers and leaves. I still have my album as a memento. Alum Bay we visited and then one could scrape off the coloured sands into a glass phial. Mine I gave to my mother and still have it.  Today understandably one can only gaze at the sands.

I spent the whole of World War II working in London travelling everyday, having been called up in 1942 and to my surprise because I was a clerk-typist being put in the temporary Civil Service.  This started a new chapter in my life as after the War I took the examination and became a permanent Civil Servant for the rest of my career, remaining in the Ministry of Food and then the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (now DEFRA). The Government  now has recognised its importance again and it has its Minister.

On Shrove Tuesday evening in 1942 a couple of joined landmines fell in the next road opposite our house. We were at home and fortunately not badly injured. A fortnight later the  Council moved us and our belongings to Barkingside, a place I had not heard of.

Now I am working on a booklet entitled “My History “– a good exercise for my brain.

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