We delivered a 4 week Memory Box project at Golding Homes residence, Hardwick House, in August 2016, then a further project covering 4 more residences in 2017. A blog containing all the stories from those who took part can be found here.
October 1st 2015 was national OlderPeople’sDay and we were privileged to be invited by Golding Homes to their resident’s Afternoon Tea Party to capture some of their stories.
Wartime memories were most apparent – but there are a couple of other gems too!
Helen shares her most treasured memory …
My most special memory is of when I joined the WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corp as it was then) and did my army training at Guildford and had my passing out parade. The Queen Mother was there, she stopped and actually spoke to me and shook my hand. She asked me what I had done and I told her I was in the catering corps, going on to Beaconsfield in Bucks to do my qualification. She was lovely, so nice. I was only 17/18. I don’t think you ever forget meeting royalty. I come from Northumberland so I was all on my own, as there were too many of us (five brothers and me), they couldn’t all get on the train and come down to see me pass out, it cost too much money.
It wasn’t the only time I met royalty. I was married to a soldier and we were with commando forces in Plymouth at the Salvation Army Citadel. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh came down to see the marines; it was in the Sergeant’s Mess and was lovely. Meeting royalty is out of this world, I’m very much a Royalist and privileged to have a coin of the longest reigning monarch. She’s reigned so long and still going strong, and long may she carry on.
Mr Hatcher, ex RAF, tells of Maidstone’s tragic toll during the Battle of Britain
This Out of the Blue magazine came out in October 1940, by Anthony Webb and was printed by Scarbox Printers of West Malling.
It shows you the amount of bombs dropped in Maidstone, and the names and addresses of exactly where the bombs fell. At the Foresters Arms in Knightrider Street, Maidstone – that was a 1000 bomb there and unfortunately, when they went along to diffuse it, it blew up in front of them. Pace Street, where the library is now, is where a spitfire crashed. My school friend lived there – I was 12 – my teacher told me: “He won’t be in today – he got killed last night.” I stood along King Street – the whole family got killed when the spitfire crashed, drowned in the cellar, trying to stay safe. (A little further research suggests this could have been the infamous September 27, 1940, the worst day of bombing Maidstone sufffered. Over 50 bombs fell on the town, killing 23 people – major flooding was caused by the water mains being hit).
It was after the war that Mr Hatcher did his national service …
Our time was up sadly, so I must catch up with him again and get the full story of his time on Kind Hearts and Coronets – it’s got to be followed up, hasn’t it?
Janet on …
My best holiday ever … was in Australia. I went to Sydney for 4 weeks about 7 years ago and stayed with my brother-in-law. We were just outside the city but not in the outback, so we didn’t see so many creepy crawlies, although, I lived in Perth for a year so I wasn’t scared of them anyway. The only spiders I came across were redbacks – and they were small enough to put under your foot and stamp down hard! I don’t like spiders or snakes. I can cope with anything else. But you’re not allowed to kill a snake unless you know it’s poisonous. At which I always think I’m going to say “Hello, are you poisonous?” “Yes, I am” *Splat* Ridiculous!
The golden age of television … were the 60s and 70s. I think at the moment there’s way too much choice and a lot of people spend all night channel hopping and never actually watch anything. There wasn’t any bad language, any of that sort of thing, and a lot of it was good clean comedy. I liked that.
The Silver Jubilee … I can remember exactly what I was doing. I was sitting on a rubber ring trying to get a two month old baby to feed. My daughter was outside with her dad and all the other children from where we lived, playing games for the afternoon entertainment. It wasn’t quite a street party, as our houses were all built round a square, which had a nice safe green area in the middle. I couldn’t do much as I’d not long come out of hospital with my son. He’s 37 now and 6ft 2in tall! I don’t like to think about where all that time’s gone!
And my earliest childhood memory? Sitting in my grandmother’s garden in between my father’s knees, podding peas.
In conversation with Janet (left) and Kathleen (right) …
Kathleen: I’ve lived in Maidstone all my life. I remember the trams and we never had no street lights, so it was pitch dark, I can remember The Star in Week Street, my brother was a bouncer …
Janet: It was a big hotel with a ballroom and they let outsiders come in to dance …
Kathleen: Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls used to go there …
Kathleen: I can remember my brother bought a hearse to sell cockles and winkles and stuff! I couldn’t believe it when this hearse come round the corner.
Janet: What on earth did your mum say?
Kathleen: Oh, mum, mum was upset about it.
Janet: I bet she was!
Kathleen: Oh my mum, she asked, has someone died in the family?
They remember sheltering during the war …
Kathleen: I can remember the air raid shelter in the back garden with doodlebugs going over and I can remember we had a street party out in the street when the end of the war come, and one neighbour baked a cake with blue rise in it! I can always remember that, it’s stuck in my mind.
Janet: Shall I tell you something my mother said? When we moved to Maidstone. I remember saying to my mum once that Maidstone’s the best place in the world and she said: “I don’t know what’s so special about Maidstone!”
Kathleen: Oh, Maidstone’s a lovely place, I didn’t like London, the pace was too quick. We used to go up to London once a month to C&A and mum used to rig us out. Every so often we’d go hop picking with her and the Londoners used to come down and that was their holiday.
… about the Coronation:
Janet: I remember getting a television in 1953 for the Coronation, and some of the neighbours came round …
Kathleen: You were posh if you had a television!
Janet: When you think, kids what they have now … you couldn’t have sweets cos they were rationed. Kids don’t know how lucky they are.
But what are children missing these days?
Doris, Gwen and Brenda remember their childhoods
We used to put on plays in the big shed at the bottom of our garden and invite all the kids round. My mum used to put out squash and biscuits and we’d charge a penny each for that and it would pay for the crepe paper we used – awful if it rained, it’d get all soggy! We had great fun but you don’t see any of that now. When I had my children I used to get them out into the woods and do the things we did.
Gwen, on winning a fancy dress competition:
I come from a family of ten, we used to go hop picking with an upside down umbrella and we had to fill that up before we were allowed to go and play. We’d light a fire and use a billy can for rabbit stew, and we’d go scrumping. We played Cowboys and Indians – my brothers used to tie us to a tree, and the village bobby – Ginger, his name was, would get us by the scruff of the neck and send us back if he caught us playing hookey from school! I remember my brother used to make homemade go karts with pram wheels and just a bit of wood and a bit of string to steer it with!
Gwen and Doris on their hop picking days
Peter and Sylvia share memories of Peter’s Dad
Peter: Mum and dad got married at Wandsworth Town Hall in 1940, before he went to Dunkirk – where he got wounded and was sent back and discharged. This is dad’s soldier book – which has inside, a last will and testament page, and a letter sent to tell his dad (my grandad) of his wounding. There’s a Certificate of Discharge from the army because he was no longer fit enough for soldiering.
I’ve still got my dad’s old driving licences, which first of all came into law in 1935. They were renewed yearly – I’ve got several, going right through to the mid ’70s when he stopped driving.
Grandad Willie was a bit of a character …
Sylvia’s family were also South Londoners: I don’t have much knowledge about that time, I was born just after the war – father was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans but he wasn’t one to talk about it. I have nothing on it – mum used to talk about it. Children today don’t appear to be taught about the war and will forget – how are youngsters supposed to appreciate what they’ve got now?
Peter: We couldn’t help but know about the war – we were born then. We lived it …
He had two vivid memories – the second of which was of his dad putting up boards along the sides of the bunk beds in the shelter – I’ll let him tell you the first!
We’d like to express our gratitude to all the residents who were kind enough to recount these stories. Also, huge thanks to Golding Homes for allowing us the opportunity to take part in this special day.