The day war broke out Christopher Rogers was eight years old. He was the youngest of four children and they lived with their parents in Stepney. Chris’s father would turn up at the docks each day hoping the ganger would pick him for a day’s work. Life wasn’t easy but the parents were hardworking and took good care of the children.
One of Christopher’s earliest memories was when a welfare lady was giving his hard worked mother some respite by driving her and Chris to her own house. As they entered the drive he heard some stirring music being played on a pianola. It was Marche Militaire by Schubert and by a strange coincidence the first time Chris visited me to talk about his childhood he heard the very same music on his car radio.
They lived in a row of terraced houses with a view of the cranes from
docks over the roof tops and Chris remembers being frightened of the menacing, metal
arms of the cranes. London
All of us of that era remember the fateful Sunday morning when Neville Chamberlain said on the wireless- “No such undertaking has been given,” and we knew we were at war.
Two days later Christopher and his elder brother Charlie went to their respective schools carrying their gas masks and were told to go to straight to Charlie’s school. He was not to return to
for another 73 years. He was evacuated
aged eight and returned aged 80 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
All the teachers and pupils were strangers to Chris. Charabancs were lined up outside the school and they took the children to Baker Street Station. None of them knew where they were going –some thought they were going on a picnic and – typically of the time - they did as they were told without question.
There were barriers up at the station to keep the parents out – there had to be no tears – no fuss. Evacuate forthwith was the catch phrase of the hour. They came to the end of the line at
Harrow on the Hill and
the engines were changed; a steam train took over and they ended up in Chesham
During this period children were being evacuated to places all over the British Isles and also further afield in the
and Australia so it must
have been a little surprising when Chris and his brother realised they were
just 28 miles from Charing Cross and could see the glow of ’s lights - before the black- out was
The children walked in a crocodile along ‘The Backs’ which ran parallel to the railway lines and when they reached the local school they were given a drink and a sandwich and waited to see what would happen next. Looking back Chris said it was like a cattle market. The villagers told the billeting officer what they required and suitable children were selected. Nobody wanted two boys and Chris and Charlie were left unselected.
They were taken to a Mrs C but she wanted two girls. They were trundled to another place in the
High St to a Mr M.
‘Mr M didn’t want us so in desperation we were taken back to Mrs C. We stayed with her for the minimum time allowed: six months.’
Chris can’t remember his feelings at the time but he often wondered about his parents looking at the two empty chairs at tea time.
Mrs C’s house was down a ginnel behind a sweet shop and a shoe shop. The boys shared a bedroom and the highlight of the week was Sunday tea with a boiled egg-their weekly ration - and ‘soldiers’ (fingers of toast dipped in the egg yolk)
The local school was full so they were educated in the local church – St Mary’s. Chris was lucky in having large feet which qualified him for extra cheese rations
He remembers his father visiting after a month or two - laden with comics for the boys.
The bombing started in 1940 and the first year was known as ‘the phoney war’. Many of the parents took their children back to the city.
Chris and Charlie were taken – after 6/12 – to a new billet in
. - which Chris is reluctant to talk
about. I don’t think they were ill
treated but there was no love and money was the incentive for some of the
villagers to take in these little strangers.
They were paid ten shillings and sixpence for one child and seventeen
and sixpence for two. A shilling went a
long way in those days. Pond Park
Then Chris got impetigo and had to be moved to a hostel. Impetigo, scabies and nits were common during this period and – unfairly - the evacuees were usually blamed.
The bombing became relentless - planes would drop incendiary bombs which would light up the whole of
making the black–out ineffectual. It was
too much for Chris’s mother who was recovering from appendicitis so the parents
also came to Chesham and eventually the family were reunited. The boy’s grandfather remained in the house
in London London for the rest of his life and Chris and
his parents never lived in
‘Didn’t your grandpa want to join the family,’ I asked Chris?
‘Was he asked,’ Chris answered?
In fact Chris didn’t return to
Jane Street in Whitechapel until he was
in his eighties and came up to
for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. London Jane Street was now
just a small close after Mulberry School
for Girls was built over it.
‘It was sad to see how little remains of it. I miss
– its part of me,’ says Chris and even today – in his eighties never misses an
opportunity to go up to the capital, to satisfy his two great passions: cricket
and the musical theatre. London
Chris remembers the day he saw his father looking distraught and asked his mother what was the matter. It seemed Chris’s Grandma and aunt had refused to go in the shelter during an air-raid and got a direct hit. His father had to sift through the rubble and found a hand. The remains were collected in sacks
Another devastating memory was when Chris‘s cousin, who was in Bomber Command, was shot down over the North Sea. Of 795 that took off from British bases to target
on March30 1944, 95 would not return – a brutal illustration of the dangers faced
by the young men of Bomber Command. Of
its 125,000 men - all of whom were volunteers 55,753 would not survive the war. Nuremberg
In 1944 the dreaded doodle bugs started. You would hear them and then the engine would cut out and there was a deathly silence and you were lucky if you survived.
At one time they would be coming over every twenty minutes. Londoners - men, women and children were having as tough a time as any front line soldiers.
When the war ended Chris was 14; he left school and got a job making surgical instruments earning £1- 3 shillings a week. From then until his National Service he drifted from job to job which including making Ercol furniture and Goya perfume - .always trying to get more money to help his mother. Chris was very close to his mother and an unforgettable memory was when she took him to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’. he was about seven years old and when the black and white film changed to glorious Technicolor he was entranced and has been a fan of the musical theatre ever since. When the film ended Chris refused to leave, stayed alone to see the film again and had to face the wrath of his father when he got home. In those days a’clip round the ear’ and worse was not unusual.
At call –up time Chris went in the army rather than the navy or the air-force because
‘I couldn’t swim and I couldn’t fly.’
Within a year he was part of an advance party that went to
to set up barracks for the unit. He was
a Germany Battery clerk and eventually as a lance corporal
received two stripes. At the end of his
spell of duty he was told that if he signed on he would become the first
sergeant recruited from National Service but he missed his home and family and
turned down the opportunity.
I asked Chris if he fraternised with the Germans; they would go into town to the beer gardens but he said he and his family had suffered too much to mix with the German people. He told me if ever he went on a world tour he would only visit countries who were pro British.
‘Be back by Tuesday,’ he quipped.
He had a break visiting the Isle of Silt in Westmorland which he assures me is in
The unit came back to the Woolwich Depot, he was demobbed and went back to work at Goya.
They didn’t have holidays but any spare time Chris would spend at cricket matches and watched test matches at Lords. He had played cricket at school and continued to play for most of his life. Nowadays he watches his grandson (also Chris) play and the cricket ground in Minehead is just round the corner from his house. His favourite position was fielding and he enjoyed anticipating, running and catching.
Surrey is his
During the war there was a man shortage and no lack of jobs; but afterwards – with all the men demobbed - it was a different story and Chris was made redundant at Goya despite the fact that he had been reinstated. He had met a girl at Goya and they became engaged but Chris
‘didn’t meet with the full approval of her family.’ They gave the girl such a hard time that Chris broke it off.
Although he was never out of work Chris was very restless and drifted from job to job the incentive being to earn more money to help his mother. By now his elder siblings were all married and then he met the love of his life: Fay.
It was just an ordinary night out with his pal Olly and Olly’s girl friend Mabel but when they met up with Mabel on the top of a
bus she had
brought her friend Fay. Olly suggested
they had a drink and go dancing. It
wasn’t love at first sight but London
‘We had the last dance together and then I saw her home and that was that, ‘said
The families were all Londoners - they all got on and in due course Chris and Fay were married in Great Missenden.
A great sadness was when Fay’s uncle was killed on the beach at
Fay’s mother became very ill with breast cancer and the young married couple went to live with Fay’s family and nursed her until she died.
Eventually Chris and Fay set up home at Amersham and had three daughters who now have their own families: Beverley the eldest has three boys, Gail has one son- his grandfather’s namesake, and Dawn - a boy and a girl. Dawn’s daughter gave Chris his first great grand-daughter
When Chris and Fay reached their Silver Wedding Chris planned a surprise – a trip to a lovely little Pension in the
but at the last minute it was discovered that on Chris’s birth certificate his
name was Christopher John Rodrigues instead of Christopher John Rogers and the
whole surprise trip was in jeopardy. At
the last minute Chris signed a Statutory Declaration stating that the two names
were one and the same person and their second honeymoon was saved. But the mystery of his father’s signature S.
Chris’s father came from
and Chris – like most of his school
mates was of Jewish origin. As we
reminisced about war-time we both remembered the horror of that news reel that
was shown in all the cinemas about Holland Belsen. I wondered if Chris had ever thought about
what would have happened if his father hadn’t come to . He said he hadn’t but he still has the
special candle sticks that had belonged to Fay’s mother. Britain
It was a very sad blow to all the family when Fay died very suddenly in December 2009. They rallied round Christopher – the head of the family and a true patriarch and he had the good sense to join the Bereavement Group in Minehead now known as the Friendship group. Chris was one of the first members. His daughter Gail owns the beauty salon I use and it was through her that I joined the group and met Chris. The bond we share is the recognition that we have both lost a once in a lifetime partner.
Chris is much loved and spoilt (I tell him) by his family who love to surprise him with treats from his bucket list. He has had many exciting trips to the States and treasures the times he spends with his extended family. Occasionally he mentions things he would still like to do and I have to remember I am sworn to secrecy when Gail is styling my hair and giving me the third degree.
Gail remembers when her fifteenth birthday and had the usual presents then out of the blue came a brand new bicycle for her and one for her younger sister and £50 for the eldest to spend as she wished.
Chris said it was to make up for the times when they didn’t have special presents.
He always believed in keeping out of debt and not living beyond their means and because of this he thought his children had suffered and wanted to make up for it.
What he fails to realise is that his three girls were given plenty of the essentials: love and care.
See Two lots of photos below