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My Memories

by David Butler

I was born December 8th 1941. My father told me I was brought home from The British Hospital for Mothers and Babies, Samuel Street, Woolwich, on a tram. I was nearly four years old when the war ended and don't remember much about it. I remember being in the garden, at 80 Southport Road, looking up and seeing many large aeroplanes flying overhead. From memory they were going southeast and clearly visible. They were bombers, as they had straight wings, were very high and flew in formation. I remember little puffs of smoke from the anti-aircraft guns, appearing high in the sky, towards the river Thames, a mile or so from where we lived. I remember the 'Dug Out', the air raid shelter, at the top of my auntie Maud's garden at 78 Southport Rd. Aunt Maud, my father's elder sister, had the shelter where I was carried by my father when there were air raids. I remember Dad and uncle Jack taking it down after the war; a deep hole was left. I remember barrage balloons on Plumstead Common. Ration books we used for sweets, up until the 1950s. I still have my buff coloured I.D. card.

When my mother was carrying me, she was evacuated to Scotland, to a farm where she enjoyed fresh milk, butter and cream. But she came back home to Plumstead as it was too quiet. My brother Alan came home by taxi! (He was born in 1936 in Plumstead at St Nicolas' Hospital.)

Our house at 80 Southport Road was a two-bedroom terraced house with a little front garden. No bathroom in the house, but we had a proper bath, iron enamelled; not a galvanised tin bath, in the kitchen. It had a large wooden board on top covered with lino. The board hinged under the window and acted as a worktop for food preparation etc. Under the bath were kept shoe-cleaning materials. We had a gas Ascot water heater over the large clay 'Butler' sink for hot water to wash and to bath. Often, the lid was raised on the bath to reveal large black spiders in the bath. In a cupboard where the old cooking range was years before, mum had a large blue vase in which she kept soda crystals for the washing. 'Wash Day' was Monday, when mum used the large mangle and a glass ribbed scrubbing board. Mum suffered a lot from arthritis in her fingers later, probably from all the scrubbing.

A large cupboard under the stairs where coal and firewood was kept had a loose brick in the wall that I fancied dad kept secret hoards of money in. When I was about 16, Dad allowed me to grind and polish a 9'' diameter optical glass mirror for a telescope in this cupboard. I finished the mirror but did not have the skills to produce the parabolic shape needed. Dad and I set up a concrete pillar in the garden to mount the telescope and he got me a couple of old brake drums for a mirror cell. I learnt a lot about geometrical optics, as well as grinding and polishing glass. The glasses we used were two portholes from Chatham dockyard, for 10/- each; you needed two: one for the mirror; the other for the tool. The house was knocked down in the late 1960's. When we moved to their new home at 40b Walmer Terrace, mum cleaned our old house before we left; she did not want anybody to think she did not keep her house clean, which she always did.
A vivid memory I have is when uncle Jack, Aunt Maude's husband, was having a bath one Saturday night. I'd forgot he was having a bath and, wanting the toilet, I dashed out into the kitchen to see my uncle getting out of the bath. When he saw me he fell back into the bath, tipping it over on to its side, scattering uncle and all the bathwater over the kitchen floor. He was not pleased! Nor was my father. Only aunt Maud and mum saved me from their wrath. It took a lot of effort to mop up all the water. They gave mum and dad a shilling for the gas now and again for the gas meter.

Uncle Jack was in the Royal Engineers during WWI. He and auntie Maud were married about 1923. Their wedding photograph shows them in the back garden of 78 Southport Road with my father; uncle Bert, dad's younger brother; and aunt Nell, oldest sister to Dad. They were probably married in the Baptist chapel, opposite our house (it became East Plumstead Baptist). It was known as the 'Tin Chapel'. Uncle Jack was, I think, a draughtsman in his earlier days, then worked as a postman for a City firm. When I collected stamps he would bring back interesting stamps. I had a good collection of British Commonwealth stamps. My uncle was born in Colchester; his full name was Jack Naylor Lyland Trueman. I think he must have had some terrible experiences during WWI as he would cry sometimes when the war was mentioned or, strangely, when the French National Anthem was played. No one talked of it or about WWII when I was young.
I have happy memories of Guy Fawkes night and Christmas as a child and teenager. We had a bonfire on Guy Fawkes. Friends and I would get fireworks, bangers and skyrockets mainly, weeks before, and let them off around the streets! I would light a banger and throw it up fizzing, a much bigger bang that way! Twopenny bangers were devastating compared with penny ones. We made a Guy, stuffing newspaper into clothing.

As Christmas drew near presents would begin to appear on the sofa in the front room, where I was never allowed as a boy, except on special occasions. I would secretly inspect the packets, trying to guess what they were and for whom. As a teenager I'd buy the Christmas tree. One year I paid 7/6 for it, which was extravagant, mum said. I'd decorate it. We had lots of chicken, ham and Christmas pudding etc. Mum made mince pies and cakes. Aunt Maud and uncle Jack came round on Boxing Day evening for tea and the cards would come out with the sherry, sweets, nuts and fruit. They would argue over card mix-ups. New Year was similar: at midnight auntie would stand at her front door and ring a large school handbell. We could hear the car horns and the ship foghorns down on the Thames. When the dustmen came round in the New Year, they were offered drinks of gin and other spirits.

Another incident firmly fixed in my memory was when I was about 12 years old. I read that diamond was the hardest of substances. This impressed me so much that I went upstairs to my parent's bedroom and through their dressing table drawers until I found my mother's diamond necklace. I took it down to the back door and with a hammer I hammered it on the stone doorstep. Being imitation diamonds, the 'diamonds' broke up! (They would have broken up even if they had been real diamonds!). It then dawned on me the awful situation I was in. What happened later, I can't remember!

I was interested in science and chemistry. I did experiments with wire, made batteries, and a simple galvanometer, which worked fine.

We had a cold and draughty outside lavatory. Our back garden was about 50 feet long with a chicken shed and run across the top of the garden. Dad grew vegetables and flowers. Outside the back door with bright red Geraniums on the windowsill, the yard, paved with red bricks with patches of concrete, looked very pretty in the summer. Mum, Dad and I would sit on a bench there, with my auntie Maud and uncle Jack, drinking cups of tea. I would see and hear the swifts high in the sky above our houses.

Aunt Maud lived with her husband Jack (Trueman) I used to go to Aunt's a lot, to ask for bits of wood, bamboo canes, string and paper. She loved me dearly and always tried to help me. I learnt years later that they had a child but he died at birth. One morning, when I was in my teens, I was in her garden and she came out and said her son would have been 30 years old that day. Their house was not as well appointed as ours; I don't think they had as much money coming in as we did.

Bread and milk in summer were delivered by horse-drawn cart. When the horse did something, dad or uncle Jack would rush out with a bucket and spade and picked it up for the roses. I played in the streets a lot with my friends. We played Cowboys and Indians mainly. We used to climb over bombsites and got very dusty. When the road-mending went on it was a great time with a real steamroller rumbling down the road. We also liked to see the brewery horse and dray going to Woolwich, along Glyndon Road, to the Woolwich Arsenal Railway Station. The horses were very large and handsomely decorated with brasses and rosettes. The driver splendidly dressed in apron and bowler hat. There was a large laundry opposite our house. I remember there were bombsites at the top of Southport on the left and another at the junction with Glyndon road. They were full of dust and the rubble of a destroyed home. We would play on them.

I remember the severe winter of 1947. Large heaps of snow, outside on the pavement, lasted a long time, and there was a coal shortage. When the coal arrived it was wet and had a few stones in it; this made dad very angry. Dad had a fascination with radios. He studied electricity. Dad had a Pye radio that on Sunday mornings especially, he took out of its case just to look at and dust it. He had a long wire aerial going up the garden to a tall pole.


Earl Rise Primary School Class, 1953. I am front row, fifth
from right.


Just before I started school, at Earl Rise Primary, I was seated on the crossbar of my father's bike. We had just got a bag of meal from the Co-Op in Brewery Road for the chickens. He said, pointing to Earl Rise School, "That's the school you will start at". I wasn't very pleased about that! Every morning mum sat me on the living room table to wash and dress me. She was very keen that I didn't get 'in-growing' toe-nails, so my feet got careful and painful attention! She also cleaned out my ears, carefully, with a hairpin wrapped in a cloth. Our Doctor was Dr. Bush in Plumstead High Street. We had an open coal fire and a little electric fire that we toasted bread on.. Mum was a good plain cook and steak and kidney pies, meat puddings, roast lamb and beef were regular meals. Dad liked winkles with vinegar, pepper and brown bread (Hovis). He kept chickens and rabbits. He would ring the neck of a chicken, cut its throat with a small silver coloured knife, which was kept very sharp, then hang it over the drain to bleed. He would then pluck it; this caused feathers to fly all over the garden. I used to watch dad 'draw' the bird; out came eggs with no shells! Mum would roast the bird. I don't think he killed the rabbits but had them killed and skinned. He used to say there was no goodness in a rabbit, but we had rabbit pie often. My brother was five years older than me. We'd play hockey in the garden with two sticks and a stone.

Dad often took us on holiday to Sheringham in Norfolk. We went by train to Charing Cross and then by taxi, a very rare experience, to Liverpool Street Station. Then by steam train to Sheringham. Dad was stationed around there when he was in the RAF and enjoyed it there. We stayed at a small flint/brick house with the Grands, who were Salvation Army people. I remember the beautiful sandy beach and watching the crab fishing boats come in. I was about seven years old.
When aged about eight we used to go up Plumstead Common to play cricket. There were three of us, Alan, Mick Mizen and I. More than once I got hit on the head by the hard ball. My other mates, Victor Sturrock, who lived just round the corner in Glyndon Road; Billy Hankin, who lived in Glyndon Road; and others; played on the Common all day long. Whenever we were thirsty we knocked at any old door and asked for a drink of water, which was always given. We played at Cowboys and Indians, inspired by Saturday morning pictures at The Century off Plumstead High Street. Further along, towards Plumstead Museum, was another cinema: the Plaza - a real fleapit of a place. The flash cinemas were the Odeon and the Granada, in Woolwich. Going to one of them seemed like a real palace; very plush, with red carpets, chandelier and gold gilt everywhere.


Earl Rise Primary School Football Team, 1952-53 season. I am
front row, fourth on the left.

 

Another aspect of my childhood, that turned out to be of the greatest importance, was being sent to Sunday school at East Plumstead Baptist Church in Griffin Road. I remember being taken by dad to the infants' class, at five years old. I was welcomed by Mrs. Pucksley, a little lady who was a dear and loving Christian to us little ones. I was on the Cradle Roll. I can't remember anything about the infants' class except the pictures hanging on the wall of the Lord Jesus with children around Him. At about eight years old, I was in Mr Chapel's class of seven or eight boys. The hall was full with 60-70 children. We used the Sunday School Hymnery. There were verses, which we all had to read, and then Mr Logan, the Superintendent, read a response: a bit of liturgy!

I remember the annual outings to Littlehampton and the 'Socials'. The games were fun and at times a little risqué, with girls sitting on boys' laps momentarily! I attended the Bible Class with the other young people: David Cowing, Gordon Martin, Sylvia Basham, Hazel Jones, Evelyn Stonely and others.

Another great influence on my life was the Boy Scouts. I joined at 11 in 1952. I had been in the Cubs for about a year. Every Friday night from 6 till 10.00 was spent at Scouts, with the 12th Woolwich. Our uniforms were blue, which was unusual, with a yellow scarf and shorts. I got Tenderfoot, 2nd and 1st Class, about eight badges, Scout Cords (green cords with tassels) and the Bushman's thong. The Scouts was the main pleasure in my life. Every Friday night we ended with a game of 'Hand Ball'. I loved it and went home worn out, knuckles and knees bleeding and dirty. In the morning I sometimes got up late and feeling sick, due to the exertion of the night before. My mother would protest, saying I shouldn't go again, but dad would say, "Let 'im, he's all right." We went camping twice a year, Whitsun weekend and summer for a week (August). A large Pickfords furniture van was used to take us: kit, food and all the boys and scoutmasters. We camped on an apple farm in Meopham, Church Farm, Wood borough in Wiltshire, near a canal and other places. Everything was so exciting: climbing trees, making wood fires, cooking, chopping wood, making rafts on the canal, fishing using only a bent pin and a long stick. I caught thirteen fish and won the prize! We charged around, climbing trees, making bivouacs from branches and grass, and sleeping in them overnight. We would look out in the darkness and see the stars of the Milky Way, so brilliant. In the morning we found we had loads of gnat bites. There were campfires at the end of the day with singing, including: "Ging Gang Gooly", "In Dublin's fair city", "The National Anthem of the Ancient Britons", "I'll sing you one Oh, green grow the rushes Oh", and many more. Boys with me then were David Cowing, Gordon Martin, Barry Beamish and many others I can't recall.

The influence was very spiritual. The Skipper (Mr Summers) was a Calvinist, as was Roy Leon. We had many talks on spiritual matters. I was converted at 17, at an evangelist meeting in our church. The preacher spoke about the blind Bartimeus. I was baptised by Mr Hallworth, the Minister at East Plumstead Baptist Church, in 1958. I joined the church and began to teach in the Sunday school, preaching at open-air meetings outside the Old Mill on the Common and at an old people's home on Plumstead Common. It wasn't until later that I felt a true conviction of sin, while I was with the Pentecostals. Neither mum nor dad showed any real interest in the Gospel. Sid Cook, a member at EP, started 'Youth for Christ' meetings in the area. I was involved in the fishing teams and was on the organising committee. We held evangelist meetings in a number of churches in Plumstead and Woolwich, once a month. We needed a treasurer for 'Youth for Christ' and Miss Maureen Fry, who attended All Saints, Herbert Road, was asked to take this on. She agreed. Before this I had gone to Woolwich to have a look round . Passing Cuffs Music shop, in Powis Street, I noticed a young lady with blonde hair, behind the counter. She was very pretty. I actually went in once or twice to get a closer look! This young shop assistant turned out to be the new treasurer for Youth for Christ! I lost no time in getting to know her. Eventually, in November 1963, we were engaged. We were married on July 31, 1965. We bought a house at 61 Nithdale Road for just under £3000. Our first child, Ruth, was born 15 December 1966 at St Nicolas Hospital.

Let me reminisce on my schooling and work. The children who went to Earl Rise School (Infants and Junior) were rather rough, as I remember. They were poor by comparison to me, I believe. I can remember children in very poor clothing and often there were purple marks on their lips and the back of their necks. I realised many years later it was because they had sores and boils, due mainly to a poor diet. The purple stains were from Iodine, which was used as an antiseptic. I never suffered from boils! The teachers there, I remember, were Miss Denton, an infant teacher, who, when she moved to Devon, we all cried over when she left; Mr Tolbot, a hard little man; and Mr Vaughan: mum liked him and felt he helped me a lot. My reading and writing were rather weak for years, so I did not make much progress in education. I was a rather naive and gullible sort of boy; the other boys seemed to be much harder. Consequently I was sometimes the butt of their teasing and kidding, but not bullying. I did not pass the eleven plus so I went to Plum Lane Secondary Modern School. I spent four reasonably happy and rather unproductive years there. Teachers I remember were, Mr Ben Kearns, a Scot, who taught me in the first two years; Mr Gilham the headmaster; Mr Green, a big man who caned me and others many times for being cheeky; Mr Anderson: he was my teacher when I left school. The music teacher was Mr Shakespear.

We had several school trips. The first I went on was the first time I had been away from home on my own. It was near the Dymchurch Railway. The site was an old army camp. We slept in large wooden huts: old barracks. I was very homesick.

The other school holiday was to Scotland at Kilmory Castle, on the west coast, for two weeks. I was about fourteen then. The second week a selected number of boys, me included, went to camp under canvas for about six days, on the islands known as the Garvelachs (Islands of the Sea). This was very exciting. We roamed around the island, drawing and measuring it and so on. I think it was a sort of trial for the Duke of Edinburgh award that started shortly afterwards (1954/5). I was actually filmed holding a surveying pole, on top of a large rock. It was out on the BBC news. Somehow I managed to come 3rd in the exams, held at the end of term, for a number of years. I left school with no qualifications (O-levels), but very good references. I got a job as a junior laboratory technician at Red Lion Lane Grammar School near Shooter's Hill. The teachers I worked for were Mr Baily, Physicsand Mr White 'Chalky,' Chemistry. My starting pay was £2/17s a week. I gave Mum a pound, saved a pound and had 17/- to spend. I never knew such wealth! I had an account with the Westminster Bank. I was very nervous going into such an awesome place to cash a cheque. I started work early January 1957. I turned up at the school at about 8.00 a.m. on a frosty morning, to find the other technician, Mr McCabb, was not there. The School Secretary sent me up the road to where he lived. I found him to be an aged irascible Scot, most annoyed to be made to go to the school so early in the morning during the school holidays. I was shocked to see bottles of spirits on his sideboard. My main duties were to gather chemicals and physics apparatus together and put them on large wooden trays in preparation for the lesson. I learnt a lot doing this. I tried various pieces of physics equipment, and dabbled with chemicals, being interested in science, astronomy and chemistry.

I used to make telescopes out of lenses purchased for a few pence from a Mr Knight's shop near Woolwich Dockyard station, later in Plumstead High Street. His brother lived next door to us at 82 Southport Rd. He had a good range of microscopes, lenses and small telescopes and a lot of war surplus optics. I never had a proper telescope but made them up from spectacle lenses (1" diameter) and tubes made from rolled up magazines. An old music stand was used as a telescope stand. My brother bought me a Norton's Star Atlas, which taught me a lot (I still have it). It described telescopes that I could never hope to own. I spent many evenings out in the back garden with the Star Atlas and my homemade telescope. I saw my first comet; it was in April 1957, in the constellation of Andromeda, as recorded in my Star Atlas. I also used to collect and make chemicals at home. I did simple electrical experiments with batteries and made gunpowder! I made a galvanometer, an electrometer and an electrophorus. I had a book that had all the details to do everything a boy would want to do, if he had the ability; which I didn't.

When I started work I also went, for two and a half days a week, to South East London Technical College, Deptford, to study for the City and Guilds of London Institute certificate in Laboratory Technician's work. This certificate took around two years, and I passed. I went on and got the final certificate as well. I think we were the first to do the course. I used to travel by bus to Deptford and walk up Friendly Street to the college. This was a grand place to me. I bought a blazer with the badge of the college and a college scarf as well. One of the teachers there was a technician in the Chemistry Department at Imperial College, South Kensington. He told me there was a position for a technician in the Physics department there. I was interviewed by professor D.J. McGee. I got the job and worked as an assistant to postgraduates doing their PhD's. While there I saw there were other technicians studying for degrees (General Physics). I decided that I must get a degree in physics. After I got the Final City and Guilds I went day release and night school at Woolwich Polytechnic to get three A Levels in Physics, Pure and Applied Maths. I also took O-level Chemistry without ever going to a lecture; I learnt it all as a technician! So in 1964 I started my degree (BSc Special, Physics) at Woolwich Polytechnic. I did not find it easy! I graduated in 1967. The lecturers were of varying ability; Mr Fry (Maureen's father) and Mr Hyde were very good.

In early autumn, 1967 Maureen, baby Ruth and I moved to Devon. We lived at first in a company house (STC) at White Rock (Paignton), then in December we bought a house: White Acre, 6 Gillard Road, Brixham. Gillard Road is the road that leads up to Berry Head. We joined the Baptist Church there. Mr Arthur Neil was the pastor. It was in Brixham that I first went out preaching in a number of churches (Dartmouth and Stokefleming Congregational, Dartmouth Baptist, Moretonhampstead Baptist and others). I worked at STC, which is inland from Paignton. I worked on photocathodes that are used in image intensifiers. After five years in Devon we moved to Chelmsford. Lydia and Nicola were born in Devon, Lydia in Torbay Hospital and Nicola in the Cottage Hospital at the bottom of Rea Barn, a steep hill in Brixham. On the Sunday morning of Lydia's birth (she was born about mid-day) I was preaching somewhere. It was then afternoon when I visited Maureen and first saw Lydia. Rebekah and Sarah were born in Chelmsford, in the maternity ward at St John's Hospital, Wood Street.

I joined EEV (Chelmsford) and continued work on photocathodes till 1993 and then in the laboratory there until my retirement in December 2006. In 1985 I and others from EEV went to Ei, a large electronics company, outside the city of Nis in Yugoslavia, to begin a technological transfer of equipment and knowledge. This lasted till 1988. I spent about three to four months in Nis. It was a remarkable time, working with young men and women, all being university graduates. I was able to meet with Christians in the town. We stayed in a hotel in Niska Banja, a small village a few miles east of Nis. In 1985, on the initial visit, I was knocked down by a taxi in Belgrade and spent two nights in the hospital there. I suffered concussion, cuts and bruises and a very painful knee injury, which is still (2006) a bit stiff. In 1993 I was served with a notice of redundancy but was offered a position in the laboratories at English Electric. I have enjoyed my years there. I retire December 8th 2006 (God Willing).

Maureen and I joined Ebenezer Strict Baptist Church, Chelmsford, September 1973. I am (July 2006) the Sunday School Superintendent (commenced 1974) and a deacon (1976). Our daughters Ruth, Lydia, Nicola, Rebekah and Sarah must tell their own story. I continue preaching among Strict Baptist churches, UEC churches and Congregational churches as well as open air preaching in connection with the Essex Protestant Council.

David Butler.



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