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Memories ompiled by Bill Joyce, presented by Margaret Craddock

Bill Joyce's War

I was born in June 1939 to Harry and Emma Joyce in the Royal London Hospital , (that’s within the sound of Bow Bells, making me a “Cockney”); my birth certificate confirms that.  The rest is word of mouth from my late mother and father. Apparently after a difficult birth the doctor advised my mother to drink a bottle of milk stout each day to build up her strength.

Prior to the war my father was a French Polisher in the furniture trade. When war broke out there was labour direction.  He had to go and work in a gun factory by day, and was an ARP warden at night.  He had failed the medical to go in to the RAF.

Furnace Cottages

September 1939 war broke out and shortly after my mother and I were evacuated to Taunton in Somerset . The people who took us in belonged to the Temperance Society and accused my mother of being an alcoholic when she had her one bottle of milk stout each night.  This upset my mother and she returned to London .  By this time bombs were dropping every night, and when my father went to the ARP station that night he said his wife and baby son had returned home.  His mate had got some friends in Northamptonshire and thought that they might take us in.  My father asked him to let him have their address, so he could send us there.  The address was Furnace Cottages, Finedon.

We left London early next day by train.  When we got to Bedford it was pulled into a siding as there was an air raid.  Mum thought the Germans were chasing her.  When we finally arrived at Wellingborough we caught a bus to Finedon, asked for directions to Furnace Cottages, and were told to go back to Wellingborough and get the Kettering bus to Hill Top. Mum did this and walked the three-quarters of a mile down the lane passing two women collecting firewood.  When arriving at the address and finding no one in, we waited until someone arrived.  It was one of the women we had passed in the lane.  She couldn’t take us in as she had another family coming. However, she asked if her daughter Eve could help.  That was the other woman in the lane - her husband Walt was in the army in Burma , so she took us in.  What an ordeal for a mum alone in strange territory with luggage and with a baby.  She used to have tears in her eyes when she told this story.  We lived with Eve for quite a while.

In 1942 a German bomb blew up our house in London - a lovely Victorian house overlooking Victoria Park split into flats and owned by the Crown.  It was rebuilt after the war in the same style but you can still see the newer brickwork,   I last saw it in 2003.  My father’s health deteriorated.  A cottage in the row became vacant and he joined us to await an operation.  Two other aunts from London joined us each with a son about my age for a while.  The cottages had no services, water was from hand pumps in the yard, cooking was done on a solid fuel range, lighting was candles or oil lamps.  We had to bring a battery into Masons Garage in Burton for charging to power the radio.  I dread to think what happened to sewage.  Dad’s sister wanted to buy a house to share with us in the Harrowden Road , Hill Top. The uncertainty of the war made it a bad idea.

Finedon Street

In 1943 we moved into Burton sharing a house in Finedon Street with the owner.  Mum was expecting my sister Sylvia and due to the difficulties four-and-a-half years before had to go to Weston Favell Maternity Hospital .  At the same time my father was rushed into Northampton General Hospital for an emergency operation.  The surgeon had six men on his list that day.  Dad was the only one to survive the operation, the others all died on the operating table. They didn’t know where I was.  No one had phones and in those days Northampton was a long way.  As new arrivals in the town we didn’t know anyone.  I was passed around to other Londoners who looked after me until Dad’s sister could come from London to take over.

When Dad recovered he was offered a job as a French Polisher in Kettering but labour direction wouldn’t let him take it and he was sent to work at Weetabix where he worked shifts.  In his spare time he did French polishing for pin money - getting white teapot rings out of dining tables was the most lucrative.  After the war nearly every pub and club in Burton had a bar French polished by him.

Duke Street

In 1945 Mum was expecting my brother. We were offered a three-bedroom house in Duke Street .  When my brother John was born a week after the war ended, my sister and I went to stay in London with Dad’s sister for a while and I can vaguely remember the street party outside their house.

Throughout my childhood Dad would say, “when we go back to London ” until one day he said, “I don’t think we will ever go back to London ”.  We lived in Duke Street for thirty years, first renting then buying it for £250.  Dad finally joined the RAF, as a civilian carpenter working at Grafton Underwood, Chelveston and Molesworth for about twenty years.  He died in 1978 and was still known as “Cockney Harry”.  Mum lived into her 90’s, and both are buried in Burton Cemetery .

Although I was born in London I consider myself a “Burtonian”, that’s if the nearly seventy years spent in the area qualifies me?  During the 1960’s I worked away from the town  but my home address was always Burton Latimer.

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