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As Time Goes By: A Medley Of Memories

...I’ll never forget my visit, where I endured a dinner of boiled fish with cabbage and something with custard. Food was rationed, so perhaps that was all she was able to provide. After that episode, I became unavailable. After all, you know, poor Alf was no taller than myself...

Eileen Perrin recalls wartime boyfriends.

To read more of Eileen’s thoroughly enjoyable life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

From the prisoner-of-war camp in Poland we heard that my cousin George Coan in the Royal Artillery, who had been captured at Dunkirk, had been put in charge of forty other soldiers, probably because he had been in the regular army.

A photo had been sent to his mother showing a group of soldiers standing in the snow, with George in the front. Not one wore a greatcoat in the cold.

Later in the war we were told that he had died of pneumonia.

My two cousin Arthurs, Arthur Coan (George’s brother) on my Dad’s side of the family and Arthur Black on my Mother’s side, would often visit us at Queensbury, and they were both on my mailing list.

Arthur Coan was called up and joined the London Scottish regiment, but Auntie Flo’s son Arthur Black was exempt, since he had been injured by a piece of flying shrapnel which had penetrated his liver, and from which he took a long time to recover.

However I do recall that later during the war, he took me up to the Lyceum off the Strand in London, where they had regular dances and jitterbug sessions. We didn’t do much dancing, but looked on in amazement at the American servicemen jitterbugging to the ever-popular ‘In the Mood’, going wild with their girls, sliding them under their legs or flinging them up in the air.

Mum and I still went to the ‘pictures’ regularly and saw the famous film ‘In Which We Serve’ starring John Mills and Noel Coward.

At the Dock and Traffic office of the P.L.A. I was chatted up by several of the uniformed Messenger staff, and went to the cinema with one of them.

Alf Dunn, had come back to see us after returning from Canada where he had been trained as Bomb Aimer for R.A.F. Air Crew. This was in 1942. He asked me out, and I remember being taken to his home to meet his mother. I can see her now, a very old-fashioned plump lady in a cross-over pinafore,

I’ll never forget my visit, where I endured a dinner of boiled fish with cabbage and something with custard. Food was rationed, so perhaps that was all she was able to provide. After that episode, I became unavailable. After all, you know, poor Alf was no taller than myself.

I heard from my pen friend Jim Fenn the ASDICS operator on a minesweeper, that he had married and he sent photos of them outside the church.

Sometimes in the evening two of the other girls Florrie Brown and Pat Booth, who worked with me, went on the bus from Aldgate to the London Hospital in Whitechapel where we worked as volunteers, mopping the ward floors, and washing up by hand. There was piles of it, as there were no dishwasher machines then.

There were occasional lunch time recitals in the tidied-up remains, after the 1940 blitz, of the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower. I remember hearing the violinist Albert Salmon play there. The Revd. Philip Clayton (Tubby Clayton) was incumbent. He was the founder of Toc H which encouraged wartime camaraderie through Christian fellowship.

Tommy Sign, who was the messenger for our Dock and Traffic department had a father and two older brothers who had worked in the docks. He was a great favourite with the office men and I liked him a lot. One evening, just before he went away to join the R.A.F. Tom took me home to have tea with his mother and then out to the cinema.

He was called up for the Royal Air Force and we corresponded over the years that followed, and kept in touch when both of us were married. He was attached to the Tactical Air Force and went all through to D day.

One day some of us office girls went over to the London Dock where a captured German U-boat was tied up, having been transferred there from a berth at Tower Pier. We were lucky, as the public had to queue for several hours before being allowed on board. As we climbed down a vertical ladder, waiting below was a sailor to show us round the cramped quarters.

I still corresponded with Les, the tall quiet boy from Henrietta Street, my friend from Odhams Press. He was called up for the Royal Navy in 1942. At H.M.S. Ganges in Fareham, a Naval shore training school, he had climbed the mast in their huge parade ground. One boy had climbed all the stages up to the top and stood up on the ‘button’ which was about 12 inches circumference.

Les told me that at first he couldn’t get used to sleeping in dormitories as some of the lads came from Borstals, and the language and subjects they talked about were really shocking.
Very soon Les was able to volunteer for the Fleet Air Arm and went in as an Air Engine Fitter. I did not see much of him but we kept up a desultory correspondence.

The film ‘Casablanca’ came out starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart with the never–to-be-forgotten nostalgic song ‘As Time Goes By’.

In 1942 on the other side of the world, China and Burma had been invaded by the Japanese. In 1943 an initial force of special troops, to be known as the Chindits, led by Major Orde Wingate, were formed to fight behind the lines in the jungles of Burma to root out the Japanese. They were landed on improvised air strips in jungle clearings, and sustained with air-drops of supplies. The initial force included men of the Gurkha Rifles.
Later help was given by American airmen and troops.

Years later my husband and I met someone who had been fighting in Burma, who told us how, covered in a wounded comrade‘s blood, he had carried him on his back, through the trees and down to the river where a boat took them to relative safety.

In the summer of 1943 I went with my old school friend Joan Reynolds for a holiday in Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. Along the river bank we met a young man named Jack Irish who was on leave from the Merchant Navy. He took us for a walk across the fields to Goodrich castle, which was not open to the public, being wartime. One awful memory I have, was of stepping back as we went along the path up to the castle gate, and falling backwards into the grassy moat.

We saw Jack several times during our week and he took us home to meet his mother and sister Joan. Hs father was an ex-policeman and was working for the A.A.

Later that year his sister Joan came to stay with my parents, when her husband in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had been sent home from France to a London hospital suffering from shell-shock.


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