Thursday, November 06, 2014

Christopher's story

Christopher’s Story

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 London docks over the roof tops and Chris remembers being frightened of the menacing, metal arms of the cranes.

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 Jane Street 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 USA, Canada 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 London’s lights - before the black- out was enforced.


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.

Chris said:

 ‘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 Pond Park. - 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.

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 London 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 for the rest of his life and Chris and his parents never lived in London again.

‘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 London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  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 London – 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.


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 Nuremberg 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.


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 Germany to set up barracks for the unit.  He was a 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 Germany. 

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.

These days Surrey is his favourite team.


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 London bus she had brought her friend Fay.  Olly suggested they had a drink and go dancing.  It wasn’t love at first sight but

 ‘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 Dunkirk.

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 Madison.


When Chris and Fay reached their Silver Wedding Chris planned a surprise – a trip to a lovely little Pension in the Tyrol 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. Rodrigues remains.


Chris’s father came from Holland 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 Belsen.  I wondered if Chris had ever thought about what would have happened if his father hadn’t come to Britain.  He said he hadn’t but he still has the special candle sticks that had belonged to Fay’s mother.


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



AndrewM said...

Sylt (German pronunciation: [ˈzʏlt]; Danish: Sild; Söl'ring North Frisian: Söl) is an island in northern Germany, part of Nordfriesland district, Schleswig-Holstein, and well known for the distinctive shape of its shoreline. It belongs to the North Frisian Islands and is the largest island in North Frisia. The northernmost island of Germany, it is known for its tourist resorts, notably Westerland.

I do love a bit of Schleswig/Holstein.

Interesting and poignant tale. Good work!


maurcheen said...

A wonderful story, so very well told. :-)


Pat said...

Andrew M: thanks for the info and for the appreciation.xox

Maurcheen: thank you - Christopher will be pleased and so am I.xox

angryparsnip said...

What a sad/wonderful story.
You have such a light and engaging way of writing.

cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Parsnip: I hope I did him justice. Chris isn't one to blow his trumpet. Much tea was drunk:)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a wonderful and poignant story, Pat----you tell it so well.....Beautifully written, my dear. Those War years in the U.K.were so very hard on family's....It's amazing that the people who survived did so as well as they did!

Granny Annie said...

You are a wonderful story teller Pat. Has Christopher read this? He must love it as I would imagine his children do or will.

Granny Annie said...

You are a wonderful story teller Pat. Has Christopher read this? He must love it as I would imagine his children do or will.

Mage said...

What a wonderful story accompanied by those beautiful pictures. Thank you so much. Yes, you did him justice.

Pat said...

Naomi: I think the unsung heroes are often the ones who just kept going no matter what fate threw at them. Steadfast and true.

Granny Annie: I've yet to hear what he - and the girls - think of the final version but a member of his family told me it had given him a reason to get up in the morning. I couldn't ask for more than that.

Mage: I'm so glad you think so Mage. I shall hear from the horses mouth no doubt before long:)

Anonymous said...

What a lovely heart warming story.

Pat said...

give it another go: thank you Helen:)

Kim Ayres said...

What a tale. Reminds me of the sentiment (expressed by Alan Bennett? Can't remember. Anyway...) that all lives are epic. We never know the stories of others until they are told.

Any you're a wonderful storyteller, Pat - I'm sure Chris will be delighted with this :)

Pat said...

Kim: I'm so glad you liked it - thank you for your kind words.
Alan Bennett can usually hit the nail on the head can't he. What a writer!

kenju said...

You are such a good story teller!! I cannot imagine a childhood lived during the war near the heart of the strife. How sad for everyone, but especially the children. I am glad to know that he is loved and cared for now, and pleased that he has a friend to tell the story!

Pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Best wishes to Chris.

Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful story!! xxx

Pat said...

Anon: I will. Don't be shy.

Johng1962: so glad you liked it John.

Tabor said...

Stopped by from Mage's site to read your blog and find it such an important story. I was born right after the war ended and never had a clue. I am a pampered American, and perhaps that is our greatest weakness.

Pat said...

Tabor: so pleased you popped over and appreciated Christopher's story. I don't believe Americans are pampered. All of us differ and - as the French say 'Vive la difference:)

FrenchSon said...

Sounds to me like you should be writing two books - biography & autography.

Pat said...

FrenchSon: and there was I wondering how I could fill the long lonely hours this winter.
What a good idea:)

Ms Scarlet said...

Most of my relatives were in London during the blitz... my uncle was an Auxiliary Fire Fighter. Another uncle was in the Navy... somehow, none of my relatives were lost during the war... a lot of near misses though!!
You tell a wonderful story, Pat.

Exile on Pain Street said...

Wow! That was fantastic! Thanks, tons, or calling it to my attention. I've been away on a holiday and have fallen far behind my reading.

What a harrowing tale. How could you go through the rest of your life not hating the Germans? This is a madness that would not be forgiven. The sweep of this story had a cinematic quality to it.

I don't know what 'walking in a crocodile' means. Is the phrase still in use? Also, I don't know what a 'ginnel' is. Same language but not the same.

Pat said...

Scarlet: you are a bright girl - have you any idea how I can get rid of the blank space above you in the comments box?
Both your uncles must have had a gruelling time and I'll bet they didn't talk about it. The Fire Fighter would really know what the Blitz was all about. Thank you.

Exile: hope your holiday was a good one. We were certainly - especially as children - brain washed into hating Germans but in my case it only lasted until I met a party of young Germans in the late forties.
School parties walk in a long 'crocodile' to keep control. Not sure if they use the expression these days.
Ginnel is an outdoor narrow passage way common in Lancashire.

Ms Scarlet said...

I think you will have to delete your reply to Judy, and then rewrite it!
I don't know why those blank spaces happen.

Pat said...

Blogger Pat said...
Judy: soon there won't be any left who remember it so well.
I'm pleased that he shared it with me and he has been very patient with my interminable questions:)

Pat said...

Scarlet: as my son kindly pointed out:
'The big gap is because some plonker leant on the return key when they were writing their comment.

Oh – that was you.'

He reminded me how to get rid of it - I had already tried it but this time it worked. One of my other sons bought me a wrist rest and this causes me occasionally to land on the return key. Thanks for your help Scarlet.

AndrewM said...

English to American translation services:

"He couldn't stop a pig in a ginnel"

"That fellow appears to have bowed legs"

Pat said...

AndrewM:many thanks:)

Pat said...

Comment from Margaret Scott by email:
Dear Pat, your blog, Chris his story, was so interesting. The memories about his evacuation especially so. Loved all the old photos of him and the wedding one . He and Fay were a handsome couple. Please tell him how much we enjoyed his memories. And what stunning children he has. Three beautiful girls.


Guyana-Gyal said...

Yes indeed, poignant story, but happy too.

I agree, you should be writing! I waited until I could read slowly, because I wanted to savour.

I like reading the stories of those who got through that war, soldiers and citizens.

Writing makes me happy, the hours fly, I don't even realise I'm alone.

LL Cool Joe said...

Excellent story Pat, I really enjoyed reading it. Beautifully written.

Pat said...

GG: it is so much more difficult to get back to it after a gap but you are quite right I should and I will. Once into it I'll remember why I started in the first place. Thank you.

Joey: so glad. I'm always eager for your opinion.