Friday, 29 November 2013

Anthony J Sargeant 1944-1949: ‘Birth to Infants School’ - Memories? False Memory? Remembering Memories?

It is difficult to disentangle real events, real facts, real experiences, real sensations from our ‘remembered memory’, that memory which we successively and unknowingly edit and re-invent whenever we ‘remember’ the past.

So what do I think I remember of the earliest years?  - those years from 1944 until the age of five in 1949 when I started at Elfrida Infants’ School in Elfrida Crescent, just off of King Alfred Avenue on the Bellingham Council Estate in South London.

I have a remembrance of frequent power-cuts at that time. The power-cuts were due to coal shortages for the power stations in the severe winters of 1948, and  1949. It is an often forgotten fact that conscription of young men, not to national service in the military, but unromantically, to the coal mines, continued for some years after the Second World War had finished. These young conscripts were the ‘Bevin Boys’ named after Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour in 1943 - at which time it was realised that the depletion of the labour force in the coal mines by conscripting young men to serve in the military was having a serious impact on the war effort. 

I remember the power-cuts because we would sometimes go round to my grandparents’ house in King Alfred Avenue, where we would sit in the kitchen at the back of the house which still had gaslight. Indeed all of the streets of the Bellingham Estate were lit by gas-lights until about 1950. Only when one got to Southend Lane the ‘modern’ dual carriageway bounding the estate on the southern and eastern side did tall mercury vapour street lights really ‘light’ the streets as opposed to simply providing the dim, but soft and comforting, yellow glimmer emitted by the gas lights – or at least they did until the power cuts extinguished their sharp blue-white glare.

Anthony J Sargeant Tony

‘Suicide bomber or short cut to paradise’ by Anthony Sargeant

Suicide Bomber by Anthony J Sargeant

She left her home,
got on the bus,
to go to work,
or so they thought.

But later when the
news came through
then they knew
that was not true.

Those who love too much
are killed by us,
not on a bus
in flames and pain.

Tony Sargeant,2004

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Evolution and Religion

Religion and Evolution - a comment by Tony Sargeant
Natural selection favoured a rather small and inconspicuous group of mammals who would survive by working co-operatively in small groups.

These groups needed to communicate in order to work together.

The better they were able to communicate – the better their chance of survival.

As that ability to communicate developed so did the mammals need to express the need to be part of community – to embed the understanding that the individual was necessarily part of something that transcended its own individual survival 

That transcendent other is expressed in religious terms

Anthony J Sargeant

Killing Love

Untitled by Anthony J Sargeant

Love is killed
by deafness
which blinds
and blindness 
which deafens
and our lips
are stilled.

Tony Sargeant

The Red Hat

On the benefit of growing old  - by Anthony J Sargeant

At last at last released
From staid respectability
She wore a hat of red
And a dress of purple-ility

(September 2005 on seeing a group of ladies in Rye High Street

Tony Sargeant with apologies to Jenny Joseph)

The Bathroom Sink by Anthony J Sargeant

The Bathroom Sink

What he had done
he did not know.
He just felt 
the unexpected blow.

In place of love and kisses
he bled,
bright red,
onto white porcelain.

Tony Sargeant 2013

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Meditation on Eve and Adam
by Tony Sargeant

Eve is seen as the cause of the fall – the one who succumbed to temptation. 
The one who was prepared to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge – of good and evil – despite being warned not to – because the consequences would be dangerous and unpredictable – and yet and yet she has the courage so to do.

She has the courage –
And her courage – her curiosity – releases humankind from the womb of dependency.
Releases humankind from ‘The Garden of Eden’ and sets them free 
free to choose
free to get things wrong
and free to get things right.
Free to do good 
And free to do evil.

And all these things will happen because of Eve’s courage.

And the man, Adam?
He is pathetic – a scared little rabbit.
“Oh dear, what have you done Dear?
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

Huh! – pathetic!

What the woman has done is to give humankind, female and male, the chance to become fully human. Hallelujah!

And just in case The Man should be tempted to regress to the infantile dependent state – thumb in mouth – as men can do sometimes (lest I should be thought sexist women as well of course) – 
Just in case … an angel with a flaming sword stands guard at the entrance to The Garden of Eden – the womb of life – to prevent humankind climbing back in.

You can see how important that courageous decision was that was taken by Eve.

Unfortunately the men who wrote down this story chose so to do in such a way that subsequent generations of men used it to blame and subjugate women. 

Anthony Sargeant (note the Gnostic Ophite sect regarded the serpent as the source of real wisdom! Also in Judaism ‘the Naasseni’)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

New Website

Tony Sargeant

Shopping for food in the 1940s and 1950s - Bellingham Council Estate, South London

Shopping for food in the 1940s and 1950s - Bellingham Council Estate, South London
Milk was delivered daily by the milkman – glass pint bottles with foil tops – we had red top with thick yellow cream at the neck of the bottle. My mother always had the cream in her tea. Silver top milk was slightly cheaper but without the cream. 

Other related memories are of NHS concentrated orange juice in small square bottles; NHS powdered milk in round tins with blue and white printing; Galloways’ Cough Syrup delightful and containing opium albeit in very low concentration (as printed on the detailed label). Thick delicious Cod Liver Oil and Malt in wide necked dark brown glass jars. 

Bread was delivered by a small bakers van from the South Surburban Co-operative Society (SSCS). The ‘breadman’ would arrive at the door (I only remember him appearing in the late winter afternoons when it was already dark) with a large wicker basket containing bread and usually some cakes with which to tempt customers. Quite a lot of the day-to-day food-stuff was ordered from the Bellingham branch of the SSCS and delivered on a weekly basis in a cardboard box the contents of which would be carefully checked on arrival by my mother and woe betide the shop which was in Randlesdown Road if there were any errors. The delivery system was important because any food bought would have to be carried across the estate a distance of a mile or more. Even allowing for the fact that women went shopping most days you would not want to be carrying too many cans of baked beans or processed peas that sort of distance. As a member of the Co-op we had a share number (155607) and every time we bought something the money spent would be noted down on a small yellow slip which the customer retained with a carbon copy underneath for the Co-op accounting department to calculate the dividend due at the end of each year. My mother always checked this, never quite trusting others to get this right.

Meat like many foodstuffs was still on ration up until the 1950s and we bought ours from the Co-Op butchers, which was next door to the main shop, which sold dry groceries and some other products such as butter and bacon – sliced while you waited on an enormous red slicing machine to the thickness the customer wanted. This was the first shop in the neighbourhood to become self-service with wire hand baskets (no trolleys because nearly all shoppers were housewives on foot and they had to carry anything they bought home in shopping bags).  Our greengrocery was bought from an open fronted shop just over the Railway Bridge on Randlesdown Road. Fruit and vegetables being displayed in boxes and racks spilling out onto the pavement – King Edward potatoes at 2 or 3d per pound, 

(note: d not p in the days when many hours were expended teaching small children to divide and multiply in pounds shillings and pence for goods bought in ounces, pounds and stones avoirpoidus of course – not to mention pecks and bushels. What fond remembrances that brings back of the backs of exercise books of the era printed with tables of all the imperial measures), 

cabbages cauliflowers onions and brussel sprouts. British apples and pears and soft fruit - cherries, strawberries, blackberries and red currants but only in season and mostly from the Garden of England, Kent. I do remember mum buying us pomegranates as well as the occasional peach. But no really exotic fruit in those days – I was 17 before I tasted my first melon in 1961 – although hardly an exotic fruit by modern standards.

Living in a small maisonette meant that there was little privacy and I think that both of my parents were under a lot of stress not only in their relationship but also financially in those early years despite my father taking on a lot of overtime to make ends meet. The consequence of all the stresses was that the child grew up to be a painfully shy and nervous adult. Although I did develop strategies for coping with my shyness in professional situations I have never enjoyed social situations where I have to meet large numbers of people. 

The extreme nervousness also persists: Loud noises or being surprised by someone from behind still makes me jump.

And another legacy?  Growing up and in adulthood a hatred of injustice towards other people in whatever guise – whether institutional or personal – which may be the reason for my political allegiance as a lifelong socialist.

During my early years my mother didn’t work outside the home as was normal for married women with small children at that time, but she was an out-worker for Fergusons a knitwear company in Newcastle on Tyne, specialising in baby clothes. They sent her parcels with wool and instructions and she sent back finished knitwear. She was a very good and very fast knitter and so she was given the more complicated items to make. As a consequence I retain the knowledge and skill to make wool pompoms around two cupboard discs with which task I helped mum in completing babies hats. 

It wasn’t until I was ten years old that my mother started to work outside of the home. First as a part-time electoral canvasser and then as an accounts clerk for James Robertson’s Jam manufacturers who had their London Factory and Offices in a grand rather art deco building on the Bromley Road just beyond Bellingham traffic lights. In the summer if the wind was in the right direction the delicious smell of strawberry jam would fill the air on the Bellingham estate, a smell that 60 years later takes me back to childhood – a madeleine moment?

Early Memories of Our Home

Early memories of our home – 39 Worsley Bridge Road. 

My parents bought the ground floor maisonette in 1943. Quite a surprising thing to do in the middle of the war and with very little money, but considering the bomb threat maybe the houses were cheaper than they might have been?  Worsley Bridge Road was one of a few roads of private housing on the south side of the estate squeezed in between the gasworks and the Kent Boundary line and indeed the road continued across a bridge over the River Ravensbourne into Beckenham. Our address was Lower Sydenham with the post code SE26 and not SE6 (Bellingham). Until 1953 or so, around the time that sweets came off the ration (which memorable day I remember going with my brother to the newsagents halfway up Southend Lane to buy sweets for the first time without a ration-book), the road was ‘unadopted’, which meant just a loose stone roadway with grass verges. Horse and carts were still around in those days and I remember going out to shovel up the horse dung from the stony road to put around the rhubarb as fertiliser. 

My Father was working as an engineer maintaining the printing presses at the Amalgamated Press in Summner Street and would get the train from Lower Sydenham Station to London Bridge. Sometimes when he was working overtime at the weekend he would take us with him to work. Very often he had little to do and so we would get to go on a tour of the printing works before going home leaving the doorkeeper/watchman to clock my Father out on the time machine some hours later. ‘The Print’ was rife with such practices in the 1950s and indeed until Fleet Street itself was effectively destroyed in the Murdoch era.

The maisonette consisted of a small hallway leading onto one living room, two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a combined bathroom/lavatory. My Brother and I shared the slightly larger bedroom at the back of the house with two single beds and a single bar electric fire built into one corner. There was no central heating of course and our bedclothes, long before the days of duvets, were layers of heavy blankets which pinned you to the bed once you were tucked-in for the night! In the winter frost would form on the inside of the windows. Mum and Dad had a double bed in the slightly smaller bedroom along with a range of wartime ‘Utility’ furniture which seemed to be built out of veneered cardboard. The garden was a good size accessed from the Kitchen. There was a lawn and flower beds immediately behind the house and then at the end of the garden there was a plot where Mum grew runner beans, tomatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables as well as loganberries and blackberries – the latter trained over the Anderson Shelter at the far end of the garden where the garden tools were stored along with the mangle for washdays. In the beginning we kept some chickens for eggs and also for meat. I remember granddad coming round to dispatch a chicken with a sharp penknife to cut its throat. 

The one item of luxury that we had was a large Ferranti radio which stood in the corner of the living room with short wave, medium wave and long wave bands, each with evocative names on the tuning panel Hamburg, London, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Odessa, Paris, Moscow, Hilversum and so on. Not that I had any idea where many of those places were in those days. Years later Eileen and I were to live very close to Hilversum, and it was not until then that I understood that in the Netherlands all of the Radio, and by then Television Broadcasting, was provided from a central facility in Hilversum with different broadcasters effectively renting facilities – very Dutch. A very crowded Hilversum shopping centre also featured as the venue for the trauma of losing our son Thomas when he was just three years old: Fortunately he came to no harm - just wandered off by himself rather than having been abducted – but we were temporarily traumatised. 

On the opposite side of the road to the Maisonette was the Baird Television Company Factory and further down just before crossing into Kent was Lower Sydenham Station, and around it further small factories, a technical college and a Science Museum store. As a consequence quite a lot of cars would park on the road and so I learnt, anorak style, to identify almost every pre- and post-war car at a distance – although we did not have a car ourselves until 1953 when my Dad bought a 1935 Standard 10. Dad demolished part of the front wall so that the car could be parked in the front garden where to protect it from the weather it was covered by a heavy tarpaulin. It was a pig of car, very difficult to start, the starter motor was fairly useless and mostly dad had to resort to multiple efforts with the starting handle. On one memorable occasion Dad and a friend from work, with my brother and I in the back seat, were driving up Sydenham Hill when a hot exhaust pipe set fire to the wooden floorboards and Dad had to run into the nearest shop to get jugs of water to put the fire out. Eventually the Standard 10 was part exchanged for a super car which I regret we did not keep. Today, if you could find one it would cost a fortune. It was a 1936 Vauxhall 16 horse power convertible. A beautiful car that saw a lot of mileage on Family holidays from Worsley Bridge Road to Weston super-mare following those linear page by page AA route maps. These were the days when AA patrolmen standing by their motorbikes with toolkit sidecars would salute members as they passed by AA telephone boxes.

Bellingham Council Estate

The Bellingham Council Estate
In more recent times the designation ‘council estate’ acquired too many negative associations with dysfunctional families and old sofas and other debris in the front garden but the Bellingham Council estate of my childhood and of my parents was quite other: It was a large sprawling village of cottagey houses of varying styles and sizes arranged along tree lined avenues and crescents and pleasant greens. The houses had back gardens tended with great devotion, and in the islands of land behind some of the rows of back-gardens from adjoining streets were allotments where those living in the estate’s maisonettes grew vegetables, fruit, and flowers for the house. The small front gardens were hedged ubiquitously with dark green privet and the identical half glazed front doors were painted in a limited range of standard colours. This uniformity, far from turning the estate into a flat repetitive landscape, worked to bind together the delightful variety and orientation of the houses built of red and yellow brick into an attractive village. What could have been an exercise in providing decent, but mundane homes, was instead inspired architecture and town planning by the LCC Architects Department: A great social and socialist achievement of which Londoners should be proud. 

In the 1920s the Bellingham Council Estate was a community of young working class families, “the deserving poor” perhaps, made up of families where the men were skilled and semi-skilled workers in regular employment who could commute to the great factories of Inner London: The deserving poor, or perhaps the ‘more’ deserving poor. My Mother always maintained that there was a difference between those housed on the Bellingham estate compared to the Downham Estate just down the road, which was much bigger and less ‘villagey’ with fewer green spaces and trees. 

The consequence of the imposed demographic of rehousing young  working class families was that a whole generation of children, including my parents grew up together – only to reach adulthood just as the Second World War began in 1939. My father was 20 having just finished a five year apprenticeship as a printing engineer with Hoes who manufactured printing presses for the newspaper and magazine industry. In 1939 he had just started working for the Amalgamated Press on Bankside in Southwark where his Father was also a printing engineer, and who later became Chief Engineer, making the transition from greasy blue overalls to a suit with a white shirt, tie,and stiff starched collars –  laundered weekly by The Glennifer Laundry. 

Years later in 1958, my own father made the same transition at the age of 39, eventually becoming Chief Engineer of what, by then, had become Fleetway Publications. Many years later I too was to make a further aspirational transition becoming the first member of my family to go to university.

My father, Ronald, was the eldest of three brothers, Uncle Len was two years younger, and Uncle Alec must have been six or seven years younger. They moved from The Old Kent Road to 35 King Alfred Avenue when my father was five or six. The Sargeant brothers living as they did in the centre of the estate were it seems well known, fun loving lads and popular among their peers. Like most of their generation they smoked quite heavily and were all to die unpleasant deaths in old age as a consequence. Uncle Len was the first to die in a 'Home for the Incurables’ in Roehampton. Then my Father died a miserable demented death of cancer which had spread to his liver giving much pain. In the last few months he became confused and paranoid as the blood reaching his brain became increasingly full of toxins. The last to go was Uncle Alec.
But all that lay in the future. 

Growing up on the estate in the 1920s and 30s must have seemed utopian for those rehoused from the inner London slums of Bermondsey and Camberwell to the very edge of the city when there were still open Kentish fields to the south of the new ‘village’. My father and his brothers would have left school at 14 years old. The two older brothers took up apprenticeships as printing engineers, working during the day and attending classes in mathematics for engineers in the evenings. My father had also joined the Territorial Army when he was 18 and so was among the first to be called-up on the outbreak of war. 

The older brothers went off to war leaving behind Alec who was too young to join up in 1939. My father’s first posting was to West Africa, ‘The White-man’s Graveyard’, and so it almost proved. Years later I was to hear the story for the first time after his terminal cancer had been diagnosed. My father caught malaria and was thought to be so close to death that he was put in the mortuary tent, but he recovered enough to be invalided back to England. Suffering all his life from sea-sickness, a weakness I inherited, he slept on deck, which as the troopship was torpedoed and sunk in the Irish Sea on its way to Liverpool allowed him to evacuate the sinking ship instead of being trapped below decks. Picked up by another ship in the convoy he again remained on deck and once again survived when that ship was also torpedoed by an enemy submarine. My father told me this story for the first time a few months before his death, saying that everything since then had been a bonus. My father came home to convalesce in Weston-Super-Mare and not long after married my mother in February 1941.

The Bellingham Council Estate was partly ‘thematic’ – many of the streets, the two schools and the Church of England Parish had names taken from Saxon History. Hence King Alfred Avenue which was perhaps the grandest and widest street lined with mature London Plane trees when I knew it, running from the top of the hill on which the estate was built down past my grandparents’ house and Elfrida School, which my father and later my brother and I attended, to the large circular green at the heart of the estate. On one side of ‘The Green’ sat the parish church of St Dunstan’s a large hulk of red brick in a vaguely byzantine style, and opposite it, Bellingham Congregational Church: A plainer squat building, as befits the denomination, flanked by a church hall and a manse. Dr Walker’s General Practioner’s surgery, distinctively different in style to the estate houses lay between them.  King Alfred Avenue continued on the other side of The Green, coming to a stop at Athelney Street with the second of the estate schools, Altheney Street School, which my mother attended, facing back up the Avenue. Both Elfrida and Athelney Street were Elementary Schools providing education from five years until 14 years and the end of compulsory education, unless children were bright enough, and lucky enough to be able to take up a scholarship to one of the local Grammar schools at age eleven. My mother was, and wasn’t, respectively. More of that a little later.

[Elfrida was the wife of the King Edgar, and mother of Ethelred the Unready
St Dunstan, sometime Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was a 10th Century Saxon saint. 
The Isle of Altheney in Wessex was the hiding place of Alfred the Great before he went on to defeat the Danes in the 9th Century.]

The schools broke from the style of the earlier three storey London Board Schools, infants school on the ground floor, girls on the middle floor and boys on the top floor. With separate playgrounds and staircases for “Girls and Infants” and “Boys”. What does Conan-Doyle have Holmes say to Watson? 
 ‘……  Holmes was sunk in profound thought, and hardly opened his mouth until we had passed Clapham Junction.
“It’s a very cheering thing to come into London by any of these lines which run high and allow you to look down upon the houses like this.”
I thought he was joking, for the view was sordid enough, but he soon explained himself.
“Look at those big isolated clumps of buildings rising above the slates, like brick islands in a lead-coloured sea.”
“The Board Schools”.
Lighthouses my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules, with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future …..”

Instead the later LCC Elementary Schools reflected the mood of the early twentieth century where healthy bodies were nourished with fresh air and light. They had separate mixed sex infants’ schools to one side and then the main schools were airy single storey buildings with pitched roofs and high ceilings radiating out from either side of two school halls, completely separating and duplicating the classrooms for boys on one side and girls on the other. The separate entrances were at the far end of each ‘arm’ leading into the playgrounds which had a high wooden fence where the playgrounds abutted behind the two separate school halls. 

The estate radiated out from the central Green with its churches, although the two public houses just off the edge of the estate probably provided an equally important social meeting place. The King Alfred Inn lay beyond the top of King Alfred Avenue on the other side of Southend Lane, the modern dual carriageway which bounded the southern side of the estate. It was a large white concrete Road House of a pub with a paved beer garden around the side and at the back where children were let loose with a glass of lemonade and a bag of smith’s crisps with little twists of blue waxed paper holding salt while their parents drank inside. No children were allowed inside Public Houses in those days of course. Sitting as it did on the top of the hill with Southend Lane dropping away towards the Gas Works there was clear view across to the heights of Sydenham Hill. It was from this vantage point that in 1936 my Mother watched as The Crystal Palace, which had been removed from it 1851 site in Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill in 1854 , burnt to the ground in an enormous fire.

The Northern side of the estate was constrained by the London to Sevenoaks Railway line and just beyond that the A21, Bromley Road, with its small clutter of shops around the traffic lights. Randlesdown Road radiating out from Bellingham Green went up a ramp to a bridge to cross the railway line. The station booking office was at the top of the bridge with stairs down to the ground level platforms. The estate side of the road up to the station was lined on one side with shops and on the other by Playing Fields Association Grounds which the schools used for games. On the other side between the bridge and the main road was the open air swimming pool where years later I was to work as a lifeguard during a few mis-spent summers of my youth.

Immediately on the estate side of the station was The Fellowship Inn: built in Mock Tudor style with entrances to the saloon and public bars on the bridge itself. Descending the flight of steps by the side, with their built-in Ladies' and Gentelmens’ lavatories, led to the Off-Licence and a large hall for functions. It was here that my parents wedding reception was held in 1941, and which was made even more famous years later as a training venue for ‘Our Enery’ – Henry Cooper the great British heavyweight boxer of the 1960s – whose family lived at Farmstead Road on the Bellingham Estate.

Two roads behind The Fellowship Hall was the east end of Broadmead and the house where my Mother grew up and where her parents were killed on the last night of the London Blitz, on the 25th May 1941. 

My Mother, Gladys Amelia Hill, was born in 1921 and her sister, my aunt Doris, two years later. The family had been living in Peckham before moving to the Bellingham Estate in 1923. My maternal grandfather was a bus conductor working for The General Omnibus Company, later to become part of London Transport. My Mother attended Athelney Street Elementary School and at the age of eleven passed the entrance exam for Prendergast Girls’ Grammar School: A great achievement. Unfortunately in order to take up the place her father was required to sign an undertaking that she would stay at school until she was sixteen years old and not leave at the age of fourteen when compulsory schooling ended. Her Father refused to sign because he wanted my mother to start earning money and contribute to the family income as soon as possible: A great tragedy. She became Head Girl at Athelney Street but according to plan (her father’s plan that is!), she duly left school in 1935 to become a clerk at the offices of William Hartley and Co Ltd, close to London Bridge Station. 

When single young women were conscripted for war work in 1940 she was sent to live in lodgings and work at a factory in Bury, north of Manchester, which she hated and was desperately unhappy which was not an uncommon experience. She managed to get back to Bellingham to work as a booking clerk at Beckenham Hill Station where I think she remained until marrying. My Parents married in February 1941. Their own  parish church was St Dunstan’s but my mother had ‘taken against’ the vicar for some reason and so she used a friend’s address in Allerford Road, which was just off the estate, as her place of residence, thereby making herself eligible to be married in the Parish Church of St John’s on the Bromley Road. The large reception was held in the function hall of The Fellowship Inn. 

Three months later on May 25th 1941, the last night of the London Blitz my mother was staying with her new in-laws when a high explosive bomb landed on her parent’s house in Broadmead. Her father, mother and younger sister Doris were sheltering in the Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden.  These shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal, who had responsibility for air-raid precautions. They were the government’s response to the lack of community air-raid shelters. They were built around curved corrugated iron sections bolted together, half buried in the ground and then covered with earth. Inside bunk beds provided sleeping accommodation for up to six people. The components were delivered free to poorer households. After the war many were dug up and converted to garden sheds. One such was at the end of the garden of our house in Worsley Bridge Road until we moved in 1955. It housed gardening tools but also the heavy cast Iron Mangle with wooden rollers that my mother used on wash-days to squeeze excess water out of the washing, which had been done with the aid of a copper boiler and corrugated glass wash-board. No washing machines or spin driers in the 1940s-50s, at least not in our sort of home. The washing was then hung out on the line which ran the length of the garden and had a forked wooden prop inserted in the middle to lift the whole line into the air . Some careful timing was needed because we lived only a few hundred yards from Sydenham Gas Works where town gas was produced by heating coal in furnaces. During part of the process soot would routinely escape into the atmosphere and would blow with the prevailing wind onto the surrounding houses, gardens and washing lines. 

Because the Anderson shelters flexed and did not have heavy concrete slabs which might collapse onto the occupants they did provide some protection from blast and shock damage: But not if the bomb was too large and too close to the shelter as it was on the 25th May. The high explosive bomb landed on the house totally demolishing it and the blast hit the Anderson shelter. My Grandparents were killed and my Aunt Doris badly injured. My grandparents were buried together in Hither Green Cemetery in a grave marked with a wooden cross. As children we sometimes went to the cemetery with Mum to tend the grave. Later my other grandparents were also to be buried in Hither Green Cemetery but not for another forty or more years.

Tony Sargeant Early Years

Origins – The Early Years
Anthony Sargeant (Tony)

On the morning of the 22nd July 1944 Hitler sent a V1 flying bomb, the fore-runner of the cruise missile, from a launch site in the Pas de Calais aimed at London. As it cruised across the Kent countryside with its deadly payload attempts to shoot it down failed. It continued on its way until around 3.41 pm.  My mother heavily pregnant with me was beginning to prepare the tea-time meal of liver and bacon when it finally started its descent. The engine cut out and it plummeted to earth and exploded loudly but harmlessly at the end of Worsley Bridge Road not far from our house. It had fallen just short of London landing in Kentish fields which still existed just to the south of the London County Council’s Bellingham Council estate. The bomb landed in a field used as a sports ground  by the Hong Kong and Shangai Bank – a bank born of empire in 1865  – which like many other banks bought fields just outside London to use as sports grounds for their staff on half-days (Wednesday afternoon) and Saturdays.  That the bomb fell short of heavily populated areas of London was a success perhaps for the counter espionage tactic of feeding misleading information back to the Germans. The Germans believed their ‘agents’ who reported that the flying bombs were overshooting their London targets: this caused them to pull back the range so that many fell in more open countryside to the south of the capital.  Nevertheless a glance at the records shows 67 V1 bombs landing on Beckenham alone during the period from June 1944 until the end of August 1944. These unpredictable daylight attacks from pilotless high speed pulse jet missiles must have been terrifying after a period when conventional German air attacks had been reduced to a minimum by the superiority of the allied air forces. 

Years later I unknowingly renewed my ante-natal connection with the Hong Kong and Shangai Bank. Having left school and working in a range of part-time and short term jobs I used to play rugby as a guest player for various teams on Wednesday afternoons. Brixton Building College was one such team because my friend ‘Bert’ Baker studied there Another such team was The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, probably for no better reason than that my friends and I thought it a wonderful name. Part of the fun of Wednesday games was that a few friends and I who were playing 1st team and County rugby would suddenly, and from the oppositions point of view unexpectedly, transform one of these lower ranked Wednesday teams into something rather more formidable. It gave us the fun of more uninhibited play, running and scoring without the seriousness of Saturday 1st team matches.

But to return to that V1: Perhaps the shock of the explosion induced my birth. Certainly I was born at home not long after the bomb exploded. On such stories are family myths created. In any case my Mother was disappointed. She had been hoping for a girl and instead she got another boy and the prudent economics of working class life, at least my Mother’s, dictated that there were to be no more children: So just two boys, David born in May 1942 and myself  two years later. My father was a Staff Sergeant in the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) and was posted to France soon after my birth. He did not return to England until after the war had ended in Europe having been part of the Allied Army as it advanced across France then down through Belgium to Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands and finally into a conquered Germany. 

I had been ‘induced’ if indeed that is what happened, in a ground floor maisonette just off  the edge of The Bellingham Council Estate, which was part of the London County Council’s slum clearance programme after the First World War (David Lloyd George’s “Homes fit for Heroes”) . My parents’ families were rehoused there in the 1920’s from inner London. My Father’s family moved from Malt Street just off the Old Kent Road (the cheapest property on the Monopoly board and not without reason) and my mother’s family moved from a rented back-to-back terraced house in Peckham.