I was born in London in 1929. It was the Great Depression at that time so it was a great mistake to have made me. During the Depression we just got poorer and poorer. My dad was a cooper (barrel maker) and kept losing his job. He was put into making roads after that, and in those days roads were made of bitumen soaked blocks that were made in Australia! My childhood was spent listening to night time altercations between my parents. You couldn’t afford divorce in those days. My father was a heavy drinker and every pay packet went to the pub.
I was born in Battersea, which is a low class area. I was there until I was 9, when the Second World War broke out. The day after war was declared my mother swapped her wedding ring for cash so that she could afford to send me, my brother and her as far away from London as possible. At that time it did look like the Nazis were going to just swim across the Channel and walk through England. We didn’t have defences up yet.
We went to the coach station and my mum bought us tickets as far away from London as she could think of. So at 5pm that day we arrived in Devon. My dad stayed in London. My older sister stayed too, she was 19, and she just said if the Nazis arrived she’d take off her corsets and wash her face and they wouldn’t look at her.
We stayed in Devon for a year, until a few bombs were dropped in a neighbouring town down there and my mother panicked. So we went home, back to London, just in time for the Blitz. Every night we would walk to the deepest, safest air raid shelter in the area and spend the night there. I was just a child, I went to sleep. I remember coming back up in the morning and the streets were full of glass and shrapnel.
Later, in the 1940s, I passed the civil service exams and ended up in offices in Whitehall where all of the government buildings are. The National Health Service came into being in England at about that time so lots of help was needed. Through work, if there was anything going on with royalty, being a procession or something, we had a ballot for window seats. I won twice and watched the royals go by in their coats. They looked very frail, and you felt very sorry for them with all that burden on their shoulders. This was at the time when Queen Elizabeth’s dad was getting sick but they didn’t tell the public. They put lots of tan make up on him to compensate.