Woolwich & Districts
Boy Remembers The War Years in Plumstead
was born in Plumstead (at St.
Nicholas Hospital), in September of 1938.
Kichenham being held by his “Nan” Ada Jane Kitchenham
don't remember too much about the first two or three years,
but my mum and dad lived at 4 Ennis road with dad's mum and
my Aunty Pru. Dad was in the Civil Defence at that time, as
well as his regular job. When I was two, during one of the raids,
our house was bombed. Thanks to the shelter
my dad had built in the back yard, we survived, but a good friend
and neighbour, Kitty, was killed. After this we all moved to
8 Ennis road, another of the terraced houses.
went on for quite a while, and I have memories of hearing the
siren and running down to the shelter, usually with dinner plates
filled with gravy (because they always seemed to bomb at dinner
time!), and chuckling at the “Bloody Germans, why can't
they wait” comments. Aunty
Pru had a great sense of hearing, and could always tell us,
before it happened, that the sirens were about to sound.
Winifred Kempton, with Ann Bowman in the background,at
8 Ennis Road, around 1958.
we were in the shelter during a raid and you could hear the
Doodlebugs, and we learned that it was really OK if you could
hear them as they went by, but if you heard them ‘cut-out’,
that was a potential problem since at that point they fell to
while this all seems very dramatic, as a child I just thought
that's the way things were. I thought it was quite normal to
have a bombsite as a playground; quite normal. At the nursery
school in Herbert Road us kids would scurry around looking for
pieces of shrapnel. A real treasure was a warm piece! It was
fun to have as a favourite toy a ‘Parachute,’ made
of a ‘Hanky’, some string, and a stone for weighting
the war I can remember sitting around the dinner table for our
Sunday meal, and sometimes the conversation would turn to stories
of the war. Stories of how one of the few things that didn't
disappear “Down the Hole” when the bomb hit, was
the wireless, as it was found because the blast had turned it
on and it was playing merrily away under all the rubble! But
what was strange, in retrospect, was that though the stories
seemed very somber, the humorous aspects of the story would
always come out, leaving mum, dad, nan, Pru and I laughing.
I suspect that this was the attitude that brought the Londoners
through those terrible times.
When I was seven years old, dad, who
had been in India for four or so years, in the Army, came home.
I felt I knew him, because his picture was always on the mantelpiece
and mum used to tell me all about him, but now he was actually
coming home, and I was going to meet him.
We knew approximately when he was going to arrive, and although
it was past my bedtime, I was watching out of the window when
this tanned chap, with a kit-bag on his back, looking just like
his picture, came up the road; spotted my face in the window;
grinned and waved.
I rushed headlong for the door and gave
him the first of many, many hugs.
When things settled down a bit, and us still at 8 Ennis, Nan,
with ration books in hand, would shop at the RACS (Royal Arsenal
Co-operative Society) or in ‘Birds
Maisie and Jack Kitchenham holidaying with their friends
Harry and Glad Cheeseman in Greatstone 1954. (Left to
right, Maisie Kitchenham, Harry Cheeseman, Gladys Cheeseman
& Jack Kitchenham.)
Nest Hollow’, both within walking distance of home. With
fond memories of the wonderful places like 'Bett's Fish Shop,'
Charlie Sturgess Barber shop, Mr Dalladay the cobbler, Alderton
baker's shop, Robbins shop, The 'Star pub' and of course 'The
Ship' where mum and dad would enjoy a couple of hours with friends
on a Friday night.
Dad and I standing in the doorway of the Woodman Public
House. This is where I was able to get the autograph of
Freddie Mills, the boxer.
I don't know why Dad and I went to the
Woodman that afternoon, his usual weekend spots were ‘the
Whoodie’ (‘The who'd a thought it’ pub) and
‘the Ship’. He didn't tell me, but perhaps he had
heard the rumour that Freddie Mills was going to be there. Anyway,
he joined me at a school cricket match on the common, and afterwards,we
walked up to the Woodman. When we got there it was obvious that
something was different. There was excitement in the air. Soon
we heard that, indeed, Freddie Mills was there and Dad thought
that perhaps we could get his autograph.
But when you have just left a cricket match,what do you ask
‘The Champ’ to sign? No autograph book, no paper,
but, I did have my cricket bat and that is what a puzzled Freddie
signed for me! I was one proud young fellow.
Dad and I would take a walk up the Red
Road, to Shrewsbury Park, near Shooters
Hill, just about every Sunday morning. After a while dad
and a few of his friends started to play tennis on Plumstead
Common on Sunday mornings and I would join him. After the men
had played their game I was sometimes allowed to hit the ball
with them. Thus my introduction to tennis, which I still play
weekly today. By the way, it was this group that circulated
a petition requesting two additional (hard) courts on Plumstead
Common. They were successful, as it happened. After tennis I
would get treated to an ice cream from Butlers ice cream wagon,
parked on the Common across from the ‘Ship’.
After a year or so, mum, dad and I moved
to Highgrove, still in Plumstead, in what I believe were then
called ‘Council Flats’, but of course we still stayed
in close contact with nan and Pru.
Ethel (who we called Aunt Pru)
As a younger woman, Ethel, born Ethel Nellie Frances, found
that that she needed glasses,so she made an appointment
and in a couple of weeks went to pick them up. When she
got home, she was sitting in the chair trying out her new
glasses by reading a book. At one point Nan looked up and
said something to the effect of “Well is'nt that the
picture of prudence” From that point on she was called
Prudence which was later, affectionately, shortened to Pru
by the family. A nick-name I guess.
I'm still a teenager at this time, and
exploring two different worlds.
On the one hand, every Friday night,
auntie Pru and I would go to the Royal Artillery Theatre in
Woolwich and, for a shilling, watch some wonderful theatre in
a seat that was then described as, 'up in the gods'. On the
other hand, in Highgrove, again, I met some people who affected
the rest of my life.
King with son Graham.
Jim and Ethel (Effie) King, who were
white, had raised three boys of their own, then adopted Rita
and Graham, two kids that today would be called 'Black'.
Val Carey outside St. Nicholas Hospital.
Val Carey, who lived up at number 85, and Michael ‘Mick’
Marsh, and I became the best of friends.
The first year at Highgrove, I was
still attending Timbercroft
School and was an avid member of the football and cricket
teams. The second year there, we had taken the exams and so
on and I started to go to the “Roan School for Boys”
on Maze Hill in Blackheath. Dennis Wray, a friend from 46 Tuam
Rd, also went to the Roan.
After the Roan, in 1955, my folks made
the big decision to go to Canada; then, after about a year and
a-half there, another decision: to join mum’s brother
in the Boston area of the US. And that’s where I live
today with my wife of 38 years, Peggy. Our son Scott and his
wife have given us a couple of grandchildren, Christopher, now
three, and Abbi, who is one. (Oct. 2006)