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George Thorne's Memories from the 1920s onwards
AuthorGeorge wrote in August 2012 and as well as sending memories of time at Varley FMC in Brentford he also provided a wonderful autobiography, starting in 1920. This is worth reading in full, a link is also included to his memories of Brentford.
George died on 5th June 2015 at the age of 93; his memories will be retained on this site indefinitely.
I have just stumbled across your website about Brentford, and it has produced some wonderful old memories of my days living in Brentford, but first let me introduce myself, I am Mr. George Thorne and I originally lived at 69 London road Brentford which is the big house on the corner of the road that goes through Syon Park next to Brent Lea, the Duke of Northumberland was my landlord for about 30 years.
Varley FMCI was particularly interested in the photograph supplied by Brenda Bostock (nee Mortlock) showing four young ladies leaving the Varley FMC Factory in Ferry Lane, though I would have been able to recognise them in those days as I also worked for Varley FMC Ltd from 1953 to 1983. I was one of the few people to transfer with the company to Fakenham in Norfolk in 1970, in fact I worked for the company that was on the Ferry Lane premises before Varley FMC, the name of which was Lockhart's, mainly woodworking making doors and windows and boat building, we had a small engineering department of which I was part, when Varley Pumps Ltd took over the site all the engineer staff were re-employed.
AutobiographyA recommended read from start to finish, split into chapters:
ChildhoodI arrived in this world on August the 16th 1920, at number 73 Sandringham buildings, Charing Cross Road, London.
What my parents were doing in London at this time I have very little idea, my father worked on the post office nearly all of his life, I can vaguely remember some dreary apartment type of buildings with a courtyard, we left there when I was two or three years old, and went to live with my grandparents, and Uncle Percy, at No. 7 Frognal Avenue, Wealdstone, Middlesex
Now Uncle Percy was adopted, and I can only describe him as being of coloured extraction, I have no idea where he originally came from, in appearance his face was Indian, I would say that his skin was quite dark and he had black curly hair, why he was adopted by my grandparents I have no idea, I remember my father telling me that when he and his sister (Aunt Rose) were children they both pleaded with their parents to keep him, he must have been legally adopted as his surname was Thorne, this must have been quite an unusual thing, because we are talking about the 1890 period, in those days it was most unusual to see a coloured man, and certainly not the done thing to adopt one, so my grandparents must have been rather unconventional and didn't worry what the neighbours thought.
My uncle Percy and I got on just fine he always came to church with us and he used to play the organ. I can remember some holidays with my parents, we went to Herne Bay and Chatsworth in Derbyshire, We went to Herne Bay because Aunt Georgina lived there, actually what relation she was I don't know, but I was named George after her, I think my father hoped she would leave me a fortune in her will, but at any rate it was a false hope as nothing was forthcoming. Her husband had been a sea captain, my grandparents on my mother's side were in Derbyshire, my grandfather had been a London policeman and when he retired he got some sort of security job on the Duke of Devonshire's estate at Chatsworth, and they lived in the gate house in the village of Baslow, I can remember as a child of five or six helping to open the big wrought iron gates to let the old-fashioned charabancs in.Top
My mother had a sister (I can't remember her) she married a farmer in Baslow name of Earnshaw, the farm was just a few hundred yards up the road from the Baslow gate to Chatsworth House.
And I also remember going to Devon for holidays, the Thorne family originally came from Tiverton in Devon, and my great-grandparents are buried in Washfield cemetery, which is only four or five miles from Tiverton. I remember one trip down there when I was about six or seven years old on a motorcycle and sidecar, there was my Father, myself, Uncle Ernie, and Will, now Will was Uncle Ernie's son by his first marriage and my guess is it he would have been about 18 or 20 years old at the time, the trip down was quite eventful as we had four or five punctures, which we repaired at the side of the road, we stayed in a public house, and I think it was called the Crown in Castle Street, Tiverton.
I have a feeling that the people running the pub were relatives, and one thing and that did strike me about the street as a child was that the gutter ran down the centre of the road, I remember thinking that this was most unusual, but in reality it was a small river with flat bridges across it every 15 or 20 yards,
My mother died of cancer when I was about six years old, I can vaguely remember her on crutches, she had her leg amputated twice, once below the knee and once above the knee, but by this time I had a brother, Leonard, I can remember my grandmother looking to after us, she seemed to be always dressed in black, with an old-fashioned bonnet, but she died shortly after and of course this presented my father with a problem, how to look after me and my brother who was just a baby in arms, remember there was no such thing as social security in those days, so my brother was adopted by my aunt and uncle, and he was brought up as their own son, and so he became my cousin, and I remember being told I mustn't let him know that he was really my brother, I think my father fell out with my grandfather and decided to leave home, so we went into lodgings in Wealdstone, I remember at least three families we lived with, until my father married again, about the only thing that I can remember about this period in my life was at that I was always hungry.
When I was about eight or nine years old my mates and I used to go and play on the allotments, there was an area of waste ground between the allotments and the railway line, now the railway was a single line track and only ran from Harrow and Wealdstone station to Stanmore station a distance of about 3 miles the "old Rattler" as everybody in the locality christened it, used to pull one carriage one way and push it back the other, and as kids we used to climb up the embankment and get smothered in dirt and steam as the engine went past, and we used to dare one another to put our head on the railway track to listen to see if the train was coming, and surprisingly enough you could hear the rumbling in the distance.
One day my father put me on the crossbar of his bicycle and we went to Stanmore station, now behind Stanmore station was a small marshalling yard, and it was used mainly for coal trucks, and somehow my father had made the acquaintance of one of the engine drivers and I was allowed to ride on the footplate while this engine shunted coal wagons about, it was one of the highlights of my life that I've never forgotten.Top
My father was very religious and this lady used to go to the same church as we did, I remember I had to go to church five times every Sunday, Bible class, morning service, Sunday school, evening service, and then a prayer meeting, no wonder I gave up being a practising Christian when I was old enough to make my own decisions, and so we moved into 123 Byron Road, Wealdstone, with my new mother, her brother, and his wife, so overnight I had acquired a new family, uncle Alec and aunt Daisy, my new uncle was epileptic and it used to frighten me when he had one of his fits. I don't think there was any love in the marriage, I think my father was just desperate to find some sort of a home for us. It was decided that we needed a larger house so my father brought one just around the corner at 73 Palmerston Road, it had a big garden, I can remember the walls of the house had to be rough-cast before we could move in, I think the house cost £350, a lot of money in those days, I also think it was our first house to have electricity, before this it was gas mantles, and a candle to go to bed with.
It was about this time that I first met Frank, who was to become my best friend before the war, his father and mine worked on the post office, in those days they lived in Loftus Road in Shepherd's Bush, and I can remember going for a tram ride from Shepherds Bush to Acton, little did I realise that one day after the war I would drive a London bus on this route.
Frank and his family moved to Wealdstone, and lived in Walton Road, and as we were only a few hundred yards apart, we were often in one another's houses, I remember his father (Uncle Jack to me) taught us to play chess and we spent hours playing the game, my father played the piano and Uncle Jack had a very fine tenor voice, so most Sundays there was a musical afternoon.
Frank joined the R A F shortly after I did, and after his square-bashing at Blackpool he was posted to a place called North Battleford in Saskatchewan, Canada, it was a pilot training scheme and he was on the ground staff out there, we used to correspond but I never saw Frank again as after the war he finally emigrated back out to Canada, but I have since met his daughter Kathleen and her husband Graham on one of their visits to England, they are living in Vancouver.Top
My second mother died about 1930 and then my uncle and aunt decided to move, they bought a bungalow at Ruislip and this left my father having to pay the mortgage for the house in Palmerston Rd all on his own, but by this time we had acquired a lodger, a Mrs Browne, a lady who went to our church.
She lost her husband in terrible circumstances, he committed suicide, by jumping to his death in front an express train at Harrow and Wealdstone station, I can still remember the date, the 6th of August 1930, we were all at the wedding reception for Mr Earys daughter Ruth, (Mr Eary was the pastor of the Wealdstone Gospel Mission that we attended), in the church hall, and I remember her being called out to speak to a policeman, and it was not long before we all heard the news.
Some time after my uncle and aunt left, my father married Mrs Browne, so I had a new stepmother, three stepbrothers, and a stepsister, but they were all married with families, and this lady became a real mother to me, she was very kind, and I remember she was a good cook, which to a boy of about 12 was very important.
It was about 1936 when we lost the house, I assume that my father got behind with repayments and the house was repossessed, so we moved into a rented bungalow in Kenton Road, Harrow, I always thought that this was a bit over the top as the rent was about 50 per cent of my father's income, but at least we were happy there.
Even though money was short, I can still remember there was always food on the table, there was a small shop opposite where we used to live and the lady that ran the shop allowed my mum to have things on credit towards the end of a week when she had no money to pay, if it hadn't been for this facility there would have been quite a few weekends when the food was rather sparse on the table.
I can even remember my father going out and doing some odd gardening jobs to earn a few extra coppers but when I reached school leaving age, which was 14 years old in those days, I had to leave, (with no qualifications, and just about able to read and write, badly) to go to work to earn some money.Top
WorkThe first job I had was in a newsagents and my wages were 12/6d per week, of which I gave my mother 10 shillings and had half-a- crown to myself, even then it I had to save sixpence a week to help buy my clothes, but this meant that I could buy a few sweets for myself and go to the cinema at least twice a week, the cinema became a world of fantasy to me, somewhere where you could go and completely forget yourself.
I stayed at the newsagents for a few months and then got another job in a corn merchants shop in St. Anne's Road Harrow. in reality I was only the errand boy and storekeeper but I was earning 17/6d per week, then I moved to another corn merchants in Wealdstone High Street their name was Rogers, not far from the station, I stayed there for about three years. Then I got a job with an Ironmongers, in Hatch End, the owners name was Standeven, as well as serving in the shop I learnt a lot about tools, and how to use them, I had a little workshop in the back of the shop, and used to do repairs on all kinds of equipment, such as cutting keys, putting new locks on cases, repairing umbrellas, etc.Top
I was working there when war broke out, and I went straight down to the recruiting office and offered to win the war for the them single handed, but they were not impressed, and told me to come back when I was 20 years old, and this I did, I joined the Royal Air Force shortly afterwards, and was called up on the 3rd January 1941.
I was sent to Blackpool where we were all billeted in guest houses, and most of our square bashing was done in the Pleasure Beach, my squad paraded outside the Ghost Train, and when we had a break for a cup of tea we used to sit in the Ghost Train, and someone would push the train along the track, and with a bit of luck we were forgotten about, while our drill instructor disappeared, we all thought he had a lady friend tucked away somewhere, and it was the coldest winter I have ever experienced.
One day we had to attend a series of lectures, and they were held in the theatre on the Central Pier in Blackpool, and one of the lectures was given by the medical officer about the dangers of venereal diseases, and during the lecture he said "remember men it just isn't worth it for a quarter of an hours pleasure", and at the end of his lecture he said, are there any questions, and of course one wag in the audience said, "could the medical officer please tell us how to make it last for a quarter of an hour", needless to say this brought the house down, but on reflection my guess is it was stage managed.
I remember it mostly as being a very miserable time as nobody had any money, the Air Force authorities paid us a mere pittance, I remember once receiving a fortnight's pay of 10 shillings I think this was caused by what we call today a cashflow problem, I wrote home to Mum and Dad and begged for some money and later a postal order for 2/6d came, I was rich.
I was posted to Andover, but they didn't want us, so we were almost allowed to choose and our own destinations, and I chose Radlett ,which is only about 10 miles from my home, from there I was sent on detachment to Hounslow, we were doing secret radio work to fool the German bombers, it was whilst in Hounslow that I met the lady who was to become my wife, she was separated at the time and waiting for a divorce.Top
Brentford daysWe set up home together in a flat in 69 London Road Brentford, We were eventually married on 7th June 1959 at the Congregational Church in Ealing, Tom Bowles, Grace's brother in law was my best man, and her brother Sid gave her away. It was all done in a bit of a rush as Grace was desperate to go to Australia to visit her daughter Margaret, and she insisted on travelling as Mrs Thorne, so almost as soon as I was married I became a grass widower for about six months while Grace was in Australia, this was before the days of long-distance air travel, so she went by boat, she went out on a boat called the "Fairsky" I and if my memory serves me right came back on the "Fairstar".
Now 69 London Road Brentford was a very large old house, probably about 250 years or more old, and it was divided into three flats, of which we had one of the ground floor flats, when we first moved in the rent of the property was 8/4d per week and when we left there it had more than doubled to 17/4d per week, it would be interesting to know what the rent was to day.
The upstairs was occupied by Grace's mother and father and one of her sisters and family, we had a small front garden and a fair-sized back garden but the majority of the garden was allocated to the upstairs flat, and Roger, Grace's father, loved gardening, he could always be found pottering around in his garden, down the bottom of the garden was a garage this was originally built for a carriage and a pair of horses, I used it to garage my cars in and the horse troughs used to double up as a bench.
In the early days money was tight to nonexistent and the majority of our furniture was secondhand, I remember my wife coming home one day with a stool, a mirror, and a tray, which she had bought from a secondhand shop just over Brentford Bridge for the sum of two shillings and sixpence I have still got the stool and the tray is in use every day.
And on the opposite side of the road between the bridge and The Ham was a cycle shop owned by a Mr. Dear, it was the nearest thing to Aladdin's cave and that was where we used to get the accumulators recharged for the wireless set.Top
In the early fifties I was waiting at the bus stop opposite to go to work went along came Mr. Daubney the greengrocer with his horse and cart, something frightened the horse because it bolted away and threw Mr. Daubney off as he was riding side saddle on the shafts. Mr. Daubney wasn't even looking where the horse was going he was checking something off in a book, any rate he was unseated and fell right in front of the wheels of the cart and both of them went over him and of course to make matters worse they were the old iron type.
There was nothing that I could have done and there were plenty of other people around to look after Mr. Daubney, by this time the horse had well and truly disappeared. I heard it was eventually stopped up near Ealing Road, so I volunteered to go down and tell his wife, they had the shop right next door to Brentford Bridge she said I knew this was going to happen one day as he would insist on riding on the shafts instead of getting up into the proper driver's seat.
Between the greengrocers and the Duke of Northumberland public house which I believe nowadays is called O'Brien's of Brentford there was a small tobacconist shop I cannot remember the proprietor's name, but he only sold tobacco and when cigarettes were in short supply he suggested that I should start rolling my own he showed me how to do it, so almost every other day I would pop in for my half ounce of light shag and pay for it all when I came home with my wages on Friday, that was until about 1970 that I came to my senses and realised that smoking was not a good idea and stopped smoking just like that, the first couple of weeks were rather hard but I have never wanted to resume the evil weed.
But one thing that always intrigued me about 69 London Road Brentford, was the fact that at least three of the windows were blocked up, this was because of the window tax, now this tax was repealed in 1851, but the unusual thing was the windows were fitted and then blocked up from the inside, with the resilt that with no access between the glass and the brick work the inside became filthy dirty over the years, the usual practice in those days was to brick up from the outside, to avoid the tax.Top
About 1962 the local council acquired some of the the land in Syon Park to build a recreation ground and tennis courts, and this meant losing the majority of the garden and of course my garage, but it I got permission to build a garage much nearer to the house this meant putting double gates in the wall, I knocked a hole about 8 ft wide and used the bricks to build a pier either side, and put the cement base down for the garage, I must admit I used ready-mixed cement, I still consider this was a Herculean effort and the gates are still there to this day, as can be seen by a visit to Google Earth.
It was about 1950 that we decided to have electricity installed, and all three families agreed to have the electricity laid on, the work was done by Goddards Ltd they had an electrical shop up on the High Ground opposite the fire station (possibly 277 High Street) and a few doors away from Rattenburys, (Ratties - 288 & 289 High Street) and I remember they charged us 15 shillings for every light point, plus £1 for every power point. Up to then it had always been gas mantles, and the brackets were still on the wall for a fan type flame that was used before the days of gas mantles.
Margaret, my stepdaughter was about 8 years old when I first met her and we got on just fine, I remember I used to help her with her homework, though I don't think that I was much help, and I was always doing something like keeping her bicycle on the road for her, and repairing her shoes.
When she eventually left school she went as a trainee nurse at the West Middlesex Hospital which was about a mile away from where we lived, when she was a qualified nurse she took a job with the local council, as what we called in those days a District Nurse, this involved a lot of cycling to her patients in all weathers, and I remember her coming home sometimes exhausted and wet through and just flop in a chair, and not for even have the energy to take her shoes off, which I did for her on many occasions, then wrap her feet up in a warm towel. She then took a live in job as a nanny with some people in Edgware, North London, they had a little boy of about two was three years old and I remember I used to go over to Edgware and pick them both up on the motorcycle and sidecar so that Margaret could come home for Sundays.
In those days it was a two-bedroom flat with the lounge also doubling up as a small kitchen as we had a small sink and a cooker in one corner, and we had to make do with a tin bath down in the cellar.Top
When Margaret decided to emigrate to Australia this gave me the opportunity to turn her bedroom into a kitchen, also about this time the landlord decided that we needed a proper bath, (I think it was subsidised by the local council and we had a Labour government that was trying to improve everybody's living conditions), and he duly installed one for us in the kitchen, it had a big wooden top which was supposed to double up as a table, with that lot in the kitchen there was no room for us, so I took the bath out and installed it down in the cellar, I ran hot and cold water to it, the hot water coming from a gas boiler, but of course all this was below ground level, and the water had to be pumped, out so I started off with a semi rotary pump which had to be operated by hand, and and later I installed a motorised pump where we just had to switch on and the pump emptied the bath as normal as it was plumbed in up to the drain.
During 1942 , I was released from the Air Force to work in industry, and I worked in Slough, at a company called High Duty Alloys,during the second week of my life back in civvy street I had an accident to my left foot, a large billet of metal slipped out of the grabs of a crane and fell on my left foot smashing my left toe, this put me on crutches for about two months. If this sort of thing were to happen to-day there would be an inquiry, and I would probably be a lot richer man than I am now. Of course in those days if you didn't work you didn't get paid, I remember collecting what was called Workmen's compensation, but this was just about the same as the umemployment money which was in very short supply during this period. Once I was back on my feet again I worked in the press shop and forge and we made many aluminium parts for aircraft including, propellers, undercarriage parts, crank cases, etc. It was extremely heavy, noisy, hot, dirty work, and I'm sure the noises that I experienced during this period of my life contributed to the deafness that I am experiencing now.Top
Home GuardDuring this period I had to join one of the Defence Services, so I was drafted into the Home Guard and issued with an army uniform and I found myself in the signal section, there can't be many telegraph poles in the Slough area that I haven't been up, all I seem to do was to run cables for the army to use, most of the other members in my Home Guard squad were middle aged or older so I was the one who was always nominated to climb the telegraph poles, I wonder how many ex Home Guard personal are still alive, it can't be that many, and yes at times it was very much like "Dad's Army".
I remember one night we had an exercise on, it was the Home Guard against the regular Army and our headquarters were in a local factory, somebody came in an reported that the Army headquarters were in the local public house named the Three Tuns so as we were all very cold and nearly freezing to death we went down to the Three Tuns and surrendered, I don't suppose our misdemeanour lengthened the war by one minute but it certainly improved our morale.
Towards the end of WW2Eventually the Royal Air Force needed my services again and I was posted to Chelmsford, to Marconi's Experimental Station in Great Baddow, we were taking readings of the density of the ionosphere and this enabled the Air Force to select the wavelength for the best reception.
One morning towards the end of the war I was on guard duty, and it was just becoming light when I noticed some movement in the distance and what I was looking at was a rocket or V2 being launched probably from Holland or Belgium, when I first saw it it was probably some miles in the air because of the curvature of the Earth, but I managed to follow it until it was directly overhead and just a speck in the sky, I always hoped that "my rocket" landed in some fields and did no damage.
About 1942, I purchased my first form of transport, namely a tandem bicycle, and Grace and I enjoyed many trips on it. I remember once riding the tandem back to Chelmsford, this is a total of about 50 miles I think, and of course it didn't take long before everybody on the camp knew I had at tandem and this included all of the Wrens, now one of these young ladies (I remember she was an Honorable Miss from a titled family) was adored by every male on the camp, and she asked me what it was like to ride a tandem needless to say I offered to show her, so one day when we were both off duty off we went, I cannot remember exactly where we went, certainly out across what in those days was called the Danbury Meads, I had her all to myself, and I was so much in awe of her that I did not take advantage of the situation, I often wonder what her thoughts were on that day and in that situation.
Around 1943 - 1945 I had a nice little business going on in Chelmsford , repairing shoes, I was always able to buy leather from Fuller's shop in Brentford (273 High Street), and I remember the leather always cost me about 2/6d and I charged five shillings for the finished shoes. One of the sheds became my cobbler's shop while I was at Great Baddow, one of my friends in the air force also had a job, but his was down in Chelmsford, and sometimes I used to go down and help him out, he used to make seed trays, the wood was already cut to size and all we had to do was hammer the nails in, it was in a small lock up garage near Chelmsford station, and this was very handy as we could always leave our bicycles there when we caught the train to London.
I didn't get involved in anything heroic during the, war though there were a few near-misses. I remember being on a bus one night and a bomb dropped just behind the bus, and blew out most of the windows the driver just kept going. One night I offered to take my first girl friend home, she lived at Stonebridge park, and all trains were terminating at Wembley, so we had to walk the final 3 miles in a bad air-raid, I remember that we had to dive on the ground, as some bombs dropped, and when we got up the advertising hoarding that was at the side of us had just disappeared.
Our windows in the house were blown out one night and when we got up in the morning from the Anderson shelter our bed was covered in glass. I came home one day to find barriers across the road saying "unexploded bomb" I walked straight pass the barriers and indoors to find not a soul about except an officer who told me to get out, we had had two bombs dropped in the garden, it doesn't bear thinking about what would have happened if they gone off. It took about a fortnight for the bomb disposal squad to get round to digging them are out, and I remember seeing these 2 great bombs being rolled along the road, they were about 18 inches in diameter and 4 ft long.
I saw numerous doodlebugs, you listened to the engine as it went over, hoping it would keep going a bit longer, but the V2s were entirely different, the first one dropped in Chiswick, and the story went round that it was a gas main explosion, but think that was because the authorities didn't have any idea what it was.Top
Hobbies and holidaysMy next venture was a pre-war motorcycle, it was a Rudge, being second hand it let us down a few times, and I remember the big-end going as we went up Wrotham Hill in Kent, this meant we had to obtain something more reliable, and I invested in a new 500cc Speed Twin Triumph. Both my wife and I had enjoyed motorcycles, but eventually my wife wanted something more comfortable, so we graduated to three wheels then to four wheels.
The first holiday I had on the Rudge was in the Lake district, both my wife and I were enchanted with the area, and we had many other holidays there.
Our first holiday on the Triumph in 1948 was to Cornwall, another area that we both found fascinating and I remember being in Penzance and talking to another motorcyclist and saying we were on our way to Land's End , and he said "I wouldn't bother to go if I were you, there's nothing there," and we didn't go, but on our next trip to Cornwall, we did go, and we found it a most enchanting place, I could spend hours sitting on the cliffs ,watching the sea and the rocks, I think the motorcyclists that we met the previous year expected to find a funfair or something like that, it just goes to show that you should follow your own instincts.
In 1950 I put a sidecar on the motorcycle, the sidecar that I bought was a Whatsonian Quick-fit, and was in need of a lot of TLC, I stripped it right down and completely rebuilt it, I had to make a complete new windscreen, this meant shaping and bending a piece of perspex and making a complete new hood, and finally respraying it maroon to match the motorcycle. The fact that it was a Quick-fit chassis was a great asset as it was possible to separate the sidecar from the motorcycle very easily, and the whole thing would go through a 30 inch door, in those days I didn't have access to a garage and I used to store the motorcycle and sidecar in the old Anderson air raid shelter in the front garden.
Just to prove that I considered myself able to turn my hand to most things, I remember one day my wife was looking through a magazine and came across a dress that she fancied, I should point out that I remember she had been looking for one or for weeks with very little success, so I said why don't you send for it, we then discovered that it was only a dress pattern for you to cut out and do it yourself so I volunteered to do it on the sewing machine. When the dress pattern arrived I found it fairly simple and straightforward and I remember she wore the dress on numerous occasions.Top
It was about this time that I got my first camera, it was an Ensign Fulview, and one of the first to become available to the general public after the war, so I took up photography as a hobby, and used to develop my own photographs, as money was tight an enlarger was out of the question, so we had to make do with contact prints about two-and-a-quarter inches square, I turned one of the rooms in the cellar into a little dark room, and I must admit I spent many happy hours down there.
In 1951 we went to Jersey for a holiday and took the motorcycle and sidecar with us and it was most surprising to find the amount of different food that was available in Jersey, which we couldn't get on the mainland, for instance Stork margarine was unavailable in England, the margarine that we had here was awful stuff, I remember we bought three or four pound of prunes as we hadn't seen these since before the war and we wraped them up and put them right up in the front of the sidecar, and when we got back to Southampton the Customs Officer thought he had made a wonderful find, as he dragged them out of the sidecar, and neither of us could remember what was in the parcel, even the customs officer had to laugh as the parcel was opened.
In 1960 we ventured abroad for the first time, in our new Austin Cambridge, we went to to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and back through France. I remember being in Munich one-day, we parked the car along the side of the road and I think we had been doing some shopping, and as we walked back I saw a crowd of 15/20 people standing round my car which of course made me very apprehensive, wondering what on earth was happening, then I saw they were just looking at it, and as soon as they realised it was my car they were all over me, they recognised what to them was a foreign car and they had never seen anything like it.
The following year we went to Spain, this meant driving all the way through France, we visited Lourdes, I remember as we went through the entrance gate one of the policeman stopped us, but of course unable to speak French we did not understand, until a lady near by translated for us, it appeared they wouldn't let my wife in dressed in trousers, this meant a hasty trip back to the car to get a skirt out of the luggage.
And then through Andalusia to Barcelona we had a few days at Sitges which is about 15/20 miles south of Barcelona, but neither of us were greatly impressed with all the thousands of people sitting on beaches, that was not for us, so we drove all across Spain up to the Basque country, to a small fishing village called San Tona, near Santander, we found this a lot more peaceful. On the way back home we went through Lyons, I noticed the name of a company that I knew "Thimonier" (I think that's how it was spelt), in big letters on the front of a factory, now this company made polythene bag sealing machines of which the company I worked for used to import them and I used to service them, the front of the factory was like a big shop window with all their machinery on show, so I stopped the car and pointed out that some of these machines to my wife, there was a man inside the shop window looking at the machinery and he obviously noticed I was talking about them to my wife, so he came out and spoke to the us, and yes he spoke English, I introduced myself and told him I serviced their machinery in England, and he insisted that he gave my wife and I a grand tour of the factory, as we walked across the cobbled courtyard, he called one of the workmen over and said something in French, I had no idea what he said, but we toured the factory, and then we were taken up into the restaurant, and had a meal which was extremely kind of them. We must have been with them well over two hours, then we walked back over the courtyard, he pointed out to me that they had hoisted the Union Flag in our honour, both my wife and I were profoundly touched.
On our way home it was necessary for us to go through Paris, and from the driving pointed of view I found this a bit of a nightmare, we came to a big crossroads with a gendarme directing the traffic and I found myself in a one-way system and it wasn't a long before I was back at the same point looking at the same gendarme and as I had a very distinctive foreign car I stuck out like a sore thumb, he waved us across and it wasn't long before I found myself back at the same point again. He just stopped all the traffic and strolled over to me and obviously wanted to know where I was going, I got out the map and pointed to Dunkirk, he suddenly open the door and got in and waved me on, he guided me across Paris probably about 4 or 5 miles, we came to a T-junction, he got out told me to turn right and I was on the Route Nationale 7 to Dunkirk. He saluted me, said au revoir, and the last I saw of him was as he walked across the road and started hitch-hiking back.
It is hard to realise that even 15 years after the war there were still shortages of many things, I ordered a new Rover 2000 on the day they were announced in 1963 and had to wait just over 12 months for delivery as the vast majority that was being produced had to go overseas for foreign currency.Top
AustraliaMargaret my stepdaughter was one of the original £10 Poms, she emigrated to Australia in the early Fifties she actually intended to stay for only two years to continue her nursing studies but Cupid shot his arrow her way and she married her Aussie, and now she has a wonderful family and they have more than made up for the fact then I have no family of my own, and I have wonderful memories of being with them in Australia, I have been there 5 times.
Now Margaret and Keith lived at a place called Metung, it is about 200 miles east of Melbourne, it is a small village with one village shop, one public house, and is a very popular holiday area for Melburians. Margaret and Keith had a lovely bungalow on about five acres of land, the bungalow was situated on the top of a hill and the view from the deck outside was phenomenal, the first day I was there Margaret took me down into the village for a little shopping, and we went into the butchers shop, the butcher put his tools down and came round the counter and shook my hand, and said you must be George, and it appeared many people in the locality knew that I was a coming. The nearest town was Lakes Entrance about 10 miles away, but all the main shopping was done in Bairnsdale, about 20 miles in the other direction.
I have been lucky enough to be able to travel in Australia. On my first trip we went to Canberra, a wonderful city that was only built in 1928 as the new Federal Capital, on my second trip we went round the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool, this is a wonderfully engineered scenic road that follows the coast line, it was started to give employment to returning soldiers from the First World War.
I have also been to Sydney, a city that fascinated me, with its walks around the Harbour, Botanical gardens, and Opera House. The following year we went to Perth by car, all the way across Australia, it took 9 days to get there we had 2 days in Adelaide, then across the Nullarbor Plain, this is about 400 miles across, all you can see is scrub about 2ft high the only wild life that I saw was Dingos and Emus, it is a good tarmac road and in one place the road is dead straight for 92 miles. I remember that we pulled up next to a road sign that said Royal Flying Doctor Service, Landing Strip, but we couldn't see the strip at all, until a little farther along the road we came to some white marks on the road which obviously meant the road was the landing strip, but of course there is nobody living anywhere near the place, so it can only be for road traffic accidents.Top
At one of the stops going across the Nullarbor Plain we came across a motorist who had hit an Emu, it had done considerable damage to the front of his car, but the worst part was the radiator was smashed, and he told us of his problems trying to get another one, he had phoned a garage in Perth about 600 miles away, then they had to get a radiator from Sydney about 2500 miles away, then it had to be delivered to him in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain and he still hadn't got a mechanic to fit the radiator, so he had resigned himself for about a week's wait to get the car back on the road.
We finally arrived at Perth and the next day went down to the airport to meet Margaret, as she wanted a holiday in Perth, but the journey across the Nullarbor Plain would have been too much for her. I thought Perth was a great city, I enjoyed the Swan bell tower (the bells were given to the city of Perth by St Martin's in the field, the famous church in London) which had only just opened a few days before we arrived, I had quite a few trips around the city by bus which incidentally is free in Perth, you can just hop on and off where you like.
One day we arranged a trip out to Rottnest Island to see the quokkas,( it is the only place in the world that you can see them in their natural environment) but on this particular day Margaret wasn't feeling very well and didn't feel up to the trip, so I never did get out to see the quokkas, so I took myself off to Perth zoo, it lies on the other side of the Swan River and is about a quarter of an hour boat trip to get there. I remember thoroughly enjoying the zoo, and suddenly realising that my legs were aching badly and there was no chance of me walking back to the boat, so I had a taxi back to the hotel.
On the day we were due to leave Perth by the Indian Pacific train, there had been a derailment and the line was completely blocked for a period, and the train company put us up in the Park Royal Hotel until the line was opened. The train leaves Perth about 11 o'clock in the morning and arrives at the first stop Kalgoorlie, at about 10 o'clock at night, and it waits for one-and-a-half hours, during this time we went on a trip on a coach to see the town of Kalgoorlie, and to see something of the goldmine, this can only be described as an enormous hole in the ground full of enormous earth-moving equipment. It was night time, and the place was very well floodlit.
When the train pulled out of Kalgoorlie station it was time for bed, this had already been made up for me by the attendant, and surprisingly enough I had a very good night's sleep, the rail all the way across Australia is welded, so there is no clicker-te-clack from the wheels. The next stop is at a town called Cook, to say it is a town is a vast over statement it is deserted except for a few people that run the shop and the Post Office, it was originally built to service the train when they were pulled by steam engines, the train was in Cook for about three hours, and we had a good walk round, there was a swimming pool, empty, and many houses and bungalows, but they were all empty, and in some of them if you looked in the windows you could still see some furniture, the reason being the only way out of Cook is by rail, there are no roads, the reason the place was so run-down was when the railways were privatised the railway company refused to subsidise Cook, so everybody had left except the few essentials.
When we passed the place where the derailment took place, I was amazed at the amount of heavy lifting cranes and lorries that were required to get the line opened, remember it is miles away from any road, the problems that must arise purely due to the enormous size of Australia is something that we in England just don't understand, when we arrived at Adelaide we were told that the train was 29 carriages long, it was nearly 700 metres long, and it was pulled by a 3000 kilowatt engine.Top
Coincidences...One coincidental thing that happened to me on my last trip back from Australia, in the middle of the night when everybody else was trying to sleep I had a wander round the aeroplane and finished up in the galley, where the only steward on duty asked me if I would like a cup of tea, and of course I said yes please, there was another passenger in the galley enjoying a cup of tea and we got talking, he said have you got far to go after we land at Heathrow, I said about four hours up to Norwich, he said I know Norwich very well, I said but I live near Fakenham, he said I know Fakenham very well, I said do you know my village, he said if you live there you probably know Colin and Veronica, they were my friends who were due to collect me from Norwich and finally take me home.
Both he and Colin were members of the same rugby club in Holt Norfolk.
Another slightly unusual thing happened to me on one of my rare visits down to my niece in Aylesbury, (Tuppy's) the main reason for the visit being to meet some wonderful friends of Margaret and Keith's from Australia, Alan and Dorothy Trevorrow, who I had met on each of my trips to Australia. They were visiting England, and were using their son's flat as their base, and I accompanied them and Tuppy back to this flat. Now this flat was in Soho, and was called Sandringham Court, (if you referred to the first paragraph of this autobiography you see I was born at Sandringham buildings) and I'm confident that Sandringham Court is on the same site as the old Sandringham Buildings, the other evidence I have of this is that I remember my father telling me that there was a Municipal swimming pool just opposite, and yes there is a swimming-pool right opposite Sandringham Court.Top
Post warAfter the war I realised that I had to get a more permanent job, so as I had no qualifications, I got a job with London Transport, and started as a bus conductor, I stuck at this for a couple of years, and then went bus driving, but in the end the unsociable hours got me down, and to tell the truth was putting a strain on our relationship, so in 1953 I got a job as a fitter in a small boat building factory in Ferry Lane at Brentford " Lockharts".
The company had it's own private creek on the River Thames, and we had a small engineering department, we serviced engines, and made any necessary metalwork for the boats, we also had a large mobile crane, and sometimes it was necessary to take this crane across Ferry Lane, and believe it or not I was the only one on the shopfloor of about 70 or 80 people that had a driving licence, so I was nominated to be the relief crane driver, talk about jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
We also had the biggest crane on the river, upstream of London Bridge, and we were capable of putting some quite large boats in and out of the river, one day a every beautiful motor yacht came in, and had to be lifted out of the water, the system was to lift the boat with the crane and put it on bogies, with one fore and one aft, our yard foreman and crane driver used to do this, and the bogies were tied together by nailing any suitable timber to them, but this particular day they forgot to tie the bogies together, and when the crane driver started to move what happened was the front bogie came away and the boat crashed to the ground. doing a lot of damage to the boat, but I expect the insurance company paid in the end.Top
I had only been there are few months when we were taken over by Varley Pumps Limited, this company was started by a Commander Varley in Southampton on the strength of a pump that he invented for submarines during the first World War, it was called a paracyclic pump, they needed larger premises and I was taken on with the rest of the engineering staff, 2 or 3 years later and F.M.C. appeared, and the firm became known as Varley F.M.C. Ltd.
They were a large American Corporation and they made a great variety of machines, including lorries to service aircraft, food machinery of almost every variety, including caning equipment and a lot of packaging machinery, and agricultural machinery of which the biggest machine that we made was the Pea Viner, we imported a lot of American machinery, and I used to go out servicing it, mainly food preparation equipment, but this time I had been made a chargehand. We then started to make polythene bag making machinery and packing machinery, I had my own department, assembling and testing them, I was also in charge of the Development Shop.
In the mid-Sixties we started to make the Pea Viners, starting with the trail type which was pulled by a tractor, Reg Bradford went to America to find out how they were made, and on his return became chief engineer, and I was offered his job of Production Engineer.
I thought that I had at last arrived, this meant no more dirty hands, a suit for work, collar and tie, and monthly pay, and exclusive use of the staff toilet, but seriously, I was quite amazed that a boy who left school barely able to read and write could be entrusted to produce the parts needed for these machines, Reg helped me a lot in the first few weeks until I found my feet,.
At Brentford we didn't have enough room to complete the final assembly and testing of the machines, so they were sent to Manns of Saxham, near Bury St Edmunds for final assembly and testing.Top
It was decided that we needed larger premises and a factory at Fakenham was found, it had been a Royal Ordnance Depot, We opened for business in Fakenham on the 2nd February 1970 and Reg (who by this time had been appointed works manager) had to recruit new staff, there were only six or seven people that came up from Brentford, and of these only one was from the shop floor.
One laugh we did have was when Reg put an advert in the local paper, for fitters and welders, and suggested that they come for an interview at the Crown Hotel in Fakenham, needless to say there was a very long queue of applicants, as the drinks were all on FMC that night.
I had no intentions of coming to Fakenham, because jobs were quite easy to come by in 1970, especially around the Brentford area, but I did say I would come up and help out for a few weeks, and so we brought the caravan up and put it on the caravan site, we travelled up every Monday and went back to Brentford on Friday, the chap who was appointed to take over my job left after a few weeks, and I received an offer it was very difficult to refuse.
My wife used to go for walks during the day and found a small estate being built, so we went to see the builder and finally decided on a house, we were promised it would be finished in a few weeks, but we finally moved in on March 10th, 1971, having spent the winter in a caravan.
My wife suffered a heart attack in 1983, this meant she became a partial invalid, so I became head cook and bottle washer, also the gardeners chief labourer.Top
RetirementI was offered early retirement, (technically I was made redundant so that I could get the redundancy money) I finally retired at Christmas 1983 having been the Production Engineer, then Industrial Engineer, for the company, the lads had a whip-round for me, and they all signed a leaving card, called "Setting the Plough" showing two horses ploughing a field, and it is now framed and hangs on the wall of my lounge.
One day I had to call out the doctor to my wife, and the doctor who came was Dr Braithwaite, I hadn't met him before, but I had heard of him, he was supposed to be rather curt almost to the point of rudeless, and he was no different on this visit, he criticised just about everything we had done and when he left my wife was at the point of tears. Now about a fortnight later we had a visit from an nurse, she said has a doctor has seen you, and of course we told the nurse about the doctor's visit, and she said "you're talking about Dr Braithwaite" so I said "oh you know him then" and the nurse replied "I should do I've been married to him for 25 years" needless to say it was one of those occasions when you hoped the ground would swallow you up, since then I have met her on many occasions and we have become friends, as she has relatives in Australia like me, sadly Dr Braithwaite died some years ago and many people criticised his bedside manner but not his medical expertise.
I lost my wife in 1992 since then I have tried to grow old gracefully with the help of some wonderful friends in the village. After my wife's death, I think I must have been a bit sorry for myself and lonely, I began to wonder what happened to my brother, and had I any other family still living, remember I hadn't had any contact with him for over 50 years, then one day while was in London, (I had been down there to attend my sister-in-law's funeral), I tried to find the house that they used to live to in. I couldn't remember the number but I knew the road, I suddenly recognise the house because I remember it had a double pitched roof, it was a three-storey house, so I went and knocked at the door and a gentleman answered it, and I asked him if he knew what happened to a family by the name of James who lived there before war, he said he was very sorry but he couldn't help me, I thanked him for his trouble, and then I took my leave and I was walking down towards the gate when he called me back, his wife had just come downstairs and he asked her if she knew of a family by the name of James that used to live there years ago, she said, of course I do, Len has been our postman for the past 30 years, she wasn't able to give me his address, but through a mutual friend she managed to get his address for me, and of course I became the long-lost brother, or great uncle George to his grandchildren whom I have met on quite a few occasions since then.Top
Since I have been on my own, I have tried to take interest in the village, I take my turn at locking up the church, which comes round about once every seven or eight weeks, I enjoy making and repairing things, cutting out and removing any rotten timber. I recently replaced three rotten door frames in my house, it must save a small fortune being able to do jobs like this for yourself, but of course at my age it takes about four times longer than a tradesman would take. I have been alone now since 1992, and I must admit I get very lonely sometimes, but I do realise that most of this is my own fault, if I took enough interest in other things such as joining a club of some description I know that I would have many more friends, but that just isn't me, I just cannot raise the enthusiasm to join any sort of club, I don't want to be regimented in any way, I like to do things in my own time, and in my own peculiar way. I am not a good cook by any means, and my cooking repertoire is limited, but what I do cook seems to turn out most appetising, at least I don't have to live on ready-cooked meals from the deep freeze all the time.
I try to go for a walk most days but it is only down to the village church and back which is not more than about half a mile, I start off walking, then it becomes a stroll, then it becomes an amble, then I start to worry about getting back home, as I get out of breath very easily, this is why I rarely walk with anybody else, as I feel I must walk at their speed.
I have some exceptionally nice friends and neighbours in the village, and they all seemed pleased to see me, so I think I must be doing something right.
It is with a great deal of trepidation that I face the 90th year of my life, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been granted as many years as I have, but I have to face the fact that my body is slowing down and I and find it more difficult by the day to keep body and soul together.Top
It has become the custom to have a sort of village get together in the garden of Manor Farm, and it didn't take long for it to be called "MY BIRTHDAY PARTY " as I had a good sense to be born in midsummer, but like all good things it came to an end when the owners of the farm had to move, and the garden was no longer available, but I always said if I made it to 90, I would push the boat out, at the time of writing this I will be 90 in about two months' time, the boat is already on the slip way and it only needs a push for the party to commence.
The invitations have been sent out and up to now I have had no refusals.
The party is over and as far as I'm concerned it was the party to end all parties, it was a wonderful get-together of family, friends, and friends in the village. A total of about 40 of us sat down to a superb meal. The party was held at the Prince of Wales stand on Fakenham racecourse which must be the finest venue for miles around, the side facing the racecourse is 90% glass, and it commands wonderful views over the Norfolk countryside.
As I write this my 91st birthday is looming and no doubt a few friends and myself will celebrate it at one of our local hostelries, How much longer I can go on for is anybody's guess, but I do value my independence very much and I am extremely grateful that I can still drive and an able to look after myself.
About a year ago a friend of mine in the village gave me one of those electric scooters, at the time I didn't think I would never use it, but it didn't take me long to realise that if I didn't use it I didn't get about, and I am constantly using it to pop round and see friends in the village and I even use it in the garden as a mobile seat, I am finding it increasingly difficult to do normal gardening and repairs about the house, so I have no alternative but to pay somebody to do these things for me. In my case it is caused by angina and when I use the slightest amount of energy the angina kicks in and I have no alternative but to abort the adventure, so at last the message is sinking in not to attempt these jobs in the first place.
This last paragraph was completed on the 16th July 1991 and if anything worth reporting happens in the future I may well extend this autobiography.Love to everybody.
Published September 2012; updated June 2015