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Myrtle Waylett (nee Bradford) Story

I was born on 21.08.1941 and raised at Woodhurst Road, Abbey Wood, SE2.

I went to Church Manorway School (infants), then on to Bannockburn Junior School and then back to Church Manorway Senior School.

I had four brothers and two sisters but, sadly, in the summer of 1949, my eldest sister, Margaret (then 12 years old), met with a tragic accident at the level crossing in Abbey Wood. She had been fishing with one of my brothers, but came back early, leaving him still fishing for newts and frogs. On the way back, she had to walk along the grass verge at the edge of the railway line where, unbeknown to the public, the signal wires ran through the grass. She caught her toe in this wire and fell straight onto the live rail. She was burnt to death instantly.

That day, a beautiful summer's day, our family had all decided to go over to my dad's allotment and have a picnic on the grass close to their shed. There was mum, aunt Ann, me, my little sister Marion, only two years old, and youngest brother Edward, six months old. As we walked down the road to that same level crossing, there were police, lots of people and an ambulance. Mum and aunt Ann were saying, "I wonder what's going on. Perhaps someone has been run over by a train." As we got nearer, a lady said to my mum that a young woman had committed suicide. My mum's brain immediately kicked in, realising that Margaret was in that vicinity, and she began to cry, fearing the worst. Someone took us all into their house and gave us tea and my dad was summoned from his allotment.

My little sister and I were whisked off to a friend's house, where we played happily until later in the evening, not realising the impact of what had happened until we got home and the household was in such distress. My dad shut himself in the bedroom but mum, of course, consoled constantly by aunt Ann, had to carry on, get the tea and generally see to the family. Dad went to the hospital in the ambulance and had to identify her body, which, of course, was very badly burnt.

He was never the same after that. We could not mention her name in his presence ever again. Mum was able to talk about it but none of us ever really got over it. I inherited her little silver ring that she had bought with her birthday money and I have passed this on to my beautiful granddaughter, Emily.

Needless to say, we were never offered compensation, nor was there any admission of bad practice or blame on behalf of British Rail and Mum used to say that no amount of compensation would bring our Margaret back anyway
Just recalling these events in this story has made me cry, even after all these years.

Anyway, on to better memories:
Before Margaret died, all us kids often took trips across the Woolwich Ferry and visit the park in North Woolwich. We used to love the old ferryboats where we could go down and view the engine room and smell the grease and the heat. We found it so fascinating. The smell of the river and the white foam around the boat, the wind in our hair and our jam sandwiches and bottle of lemonade in a shopping bag-what freedom we had.

After Margaret died, I grew up very quickly and had to take responsibility for my three younger siblings. Not that this happened too often as mum didn't work (not with seven kids to see to-and she was a wonderful mum) but if we went roaming the streets or over the railway bridge at the bottom of Church Manorway and into the fields beyond or to the park in Blithdale Road, I had to look after the others. I think I went from eight to fifteen years old in a very short while.

After leaving school I went on to commercial college to learn typing, shorthand, book keeping etc., getting my first job at the age of 17.

By then I was courting a young man from Charlton who was doing an apprenticeship in the Woolwich Arsenal. His name was Tony Gibbs and we were married in September 1961 at St Nicholas Church, Plumstead. Our marriage lasted for 20 years.

During that time, I worked in offices, just opposite the Arsenal Main Gate, overlooking the market and was there for about four years before starting my family.

All four of my brothers, Jim, Donald, Tony and Edward, all went to Wickham Lane (affectionately known as "Whack 'em College"). Bostall Woods virtually backed onto this school and all of us have great memories of roaming the woods, picking bluebells (and getting chased by the keeper), collecting chestnuts in autumn and picnics on the grandstand. It was our playground. I spent some of my courting time in the woods too, but I won't go into details on that one!

My eldest brother, Jim Bradford, now in his 70's, (2006), used to get bullied somewhat until, that is, he had a friend called Johnny Beadle. John was a very strange boy (in a nice sort of way). He was the strong, silent type and he and my brother were bosom pals for many years. John, I am told, lived on cheese sandwiches and was so strong that he could lift the back end of a car off the road with one hand (or was that my brother's slight exaggeration). Anyway, he was very powerful. One day, on the way home from school, Jim was being pursued by some boys who used to bully him. But this particular day, they were in for a surprise as Johnny was lying in wait up a tree. Jim obviously led them to that tree and at the appropriate time, John dropped from the tree, onto one of the other boys and proceeded to give him a pasting. Jim was never bullied again!

Tony Gibbs and I used to go to ballroom dancing at evening classes and we have some great memories of that too. I still do ballroom dancing, even though I am in my middle 60's and riddled with arthritis, but it helps keep the old body mobile and I love it. Some of the music we dance to is very evocative of those early days at night school, when all the girls used to rush to the cloakroom to put on our make-up out of the sight of our parents, do our hair for the umpteenth time, and then join the rather impatient boys in the school hall ready to start our dance lessons.

I am sure there are lots more memories still dormant in my brain, of Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Woolwich, the parks, the woods, the ferry, the cinemas where we went once a week, Saturday morning pictures at the Century Cinema in Plumstead and walking home through the back streets; buying lingo fizz (a kind of sherbet that fizzed on your tongue and was so acid that it must have caused untold damage on our teeth).

Myrtle (2006)

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