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A Young Boy Remembers The War Years in Plumstead

I was born in Plumstead (at St. Nicholas Hospital), in September of 1938.

Chris Kichenham being held by his
Chris Kichenham being held by his “Nan” Ada Jane Kitchenham

I 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.

The war 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.

hris' Aunt Winifred Kempton, with Ann Bowman in the background,at 8 Ennis Road, around 1958
Aunt Winifred Kempton, with Ann Bowman in the background,at 8 Ennis Road, around 1958.

Once 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 their targets.

Now, 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 it.

Mum Kitchenham c.1956

After 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.


Chris and his Dad standing in the doorway of the Woodman Public House
My 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.

Aunt Ethel
Aunt 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.

Ethel King with son Graham.
Photo c.1957

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'.




Nurse Val Carey outside St. Nicholas Hospital.
Photo c.1957

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)

Chris Kitchenham

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