Interview with Rita Chapman


Interview with Rita Chapman


Rita Chapman lived in London during the Blitz. She witnessed the sight of the burning docks from her garden. Her family sheltered in their Anderson shelter but twice got buried and had to be dug out. The rescue crews asked them to keep singing until they could locate them and bring them out. Rationing and queuing were part of her everyday life. Every flat in her block had children living in them until they were all evacuated leaving Rita and one other girl in the block with their families. Rita also describes the anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons and other sights that were common in wartime London.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage





01:10:15 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 15th of February 2017 and this is the second in the series, “And We Were There Too.” And we’re talking to Rita Chapman who lived in London at the time. So, Rita what are you earliest recollections of life?
RC: Oh, standing in our back garden in Lettsom Street which was Camberwell SE5 and seeing the docks on fire. That’s the first recollection I’ve got. I can’t think —
CB: So, where were you living?
RC: Oh, Lettsom Street. Camberwell SE5. And I was looking forward to going to school and then I was being moved up to East Dulwich. And I went to school at Lindholme Private School. I stayed there until I was fifteen. When I left school I went to the United Friendly Insurance Company in their ordinary branch department. And I stayed with them seven years and took my insurance exams. And then after that I always wanted to do my nursing training which my father was against. But I was getting older by then and didn’t need his permission. And I went to Kings College Hospital. Once again back to Denmark Hill or Camberwell SE5 and did my training. When I got married I went in to the pub trade. My, although my father was in the pub trade I didn’t have a great deal of dealings with it until I was married. And then I finished my training and went in the pub trade. And I’ve done that for thirty three years.
CB: And your father had a, was in the pub trade. Did he have a pub or what was it?
RC: Oh yes.
CB: Or did he work for the brewery?
RC: In those days you didn’t really have managers in pubs. You went to a training and you had to put down a substantial amount of money and like become, can’t say owner. I can’t think of the actual term. But you had to, you didn’t manage it it was yours and you either sank or you swam. One or the other. But would you like me to go back talking more about the war now?
CB: Yes. What age were you when the war started?
RC: Yes. I was living in Camberwell when the war started. When we got bombed out the first time we had an Anderson shelter in the back garden and we’d been [laughs] we’d been around to the local pub and come back and got in the shelter. And they started to dig us out and told us to sing. That is, I can always remember that. That they told us to sing. It always struck me as funny. And after that they repaired the house and we went back to live there. Then we got an incendiary bomb through the roof. Once again we got thrown out. And other things I can remember is going shopping with my mother and she would say, we’d just shopping or lining up for this, lining up for that and the planes would come over and they would machine gun us. And people used to shout out, ‘Lay that child down in the gutter.’ I spent many hours in the gutter [laughs] But really I can remember the street shelters where we used to be out and you had to run into the shelter, and at night oh then we had another hit on the house in Lettsom Street and then we were transferred up to a block of council flats at Peckham Rye. SE15. And one of the things you remember about that more than anything it was a flat that had been reinforced and you used, the parents used to put children to bed at night. Off you went to bed about 8 o’clock all laughing your heads off because it was altogether, you know. All roughly the same age. Kids, six and seven. That sort of age. I can’t remember. I can’t really remember a great deal. A great deal more about it. Apart from the fact that they used to drop a flare before they dropped a bomb and us kids used to watch for the flares when it was dark at night. ‘Ah, there’s going to be another bomb,’ Not realising how serious everything was. And really to us it was like a big party. Especially if we could rush down and see where the bomb had fell.
Other: Was it, was it a land mine?
RC: It’s true. Yeah. I really can’t think of much else you’d like to know.
CB: Well, who else, who do you know was hurt in the bombing?
RC: Pardon?
CB: How many people do you know, did you know, who were hurt?
RC: Oh. Really a great deal of people. I can’t give you a number on that because some were severely hurt and you never see them again.
CB: Right.
RC: And oh, another thing I can remember the men used to get badly burned. Especially on their faces. And they used to put this blue stuff all over their face. And you could see. If you saw a man come towards with all like blue paint, it wasn’t a paint, of course not, but like a blue paint on them you knew that they’d been involved in a fire. So that’s another thing we used to see.
CB: What sort of tasks would they have been doing?
RC: What sort of —
CB: To get. What sort of things would they have been doing to get —?
RC: Like firemen, you know.
CB: Right.
RC: And that sort of thing. Or just rushing in to help and not thinking about it. And that’s how they got burned and of course they were scarred for life then in those days. I know you wouldn’t be quite so much now but in those days you were.
CB: So, with the fire, the damage to your house, was it on fire at any time or was it simply — ?
RC: Oh yes. Yes. Of course. I mean incendiary bomb automatically puts it on fire.
CB: Right.
RC: But when you get the direct hit you, it’s just that all the rubble comes down and usually there’s something left up there like the, up in one of the bedrooms you would see the fireplace still there or something. That’s the sort of thing that used to happen. And as I say they used to keep saying ‘Please keep, please keep singing.’ And I could never think why I was singing.
Other: So they could hear you.
RC: I don’t know really whether it had any significance or not. But that’s what they used to say.
CB: Right. Ok. And in these circumstances where were you when you were doing the singing? You talked about the Anderson shelter.
RC: Oh, the Anderson shelter. Well, we’d get, we got buried. We were buried three times over all. But I suppose really it couldn’t have been very very deep. Although it did feel it at the time you know. You think. ‘Oh, am I going to get out of here?’
CB: Well, as a child of course you’re quite small aren’t you?
RC: Yes.
CB: In that.
Other: That’s why they were singing.
RC: Well, as I say I think the first time we got bombed out I was about coming up six, I think.
CB: Right.
RC: And of course I was ten, ten and a half when the war finished.
CB: Yeah. So we’re talking about the Blitz.
RC: Yeah, the —
CB: Rather than the Battle of Britain, aren’t we?
RC: Oh well. You never knew when the sirens were going to go. You never knew, if you went out shopping whether you were going to come home or not. My father was in the First World War therefore he didn’t, he was injured so therefore he never went in the Second World War. But when he went to work you never knew whether he was coming home or not. That’s just things that you used to think about, you know. Of course and I was always with adults and you become quite old fashioned really.
CB: That’s interesting. You say you were with adults because —
RC: Well, there was no other children about. They’d all been evacuated apart from one girl that lived in the block of flats where I did. But my father would not let me go. I know it’s a wrong attitude to have but he used to say, ‘If we’re going to get killed we’ll all be killed together.’
CB: Right.
RC: Which, of course is entirely wrong but —
CB: And this, this other girl. What happened to her in the end?
RC: Well, Thelma. Her name was Thelma. She was with us all during the war but then when we all sort of split up after the war, went our various ways and living in different places I never see her again. But really she was only, her parents and her were only neighbours. And why, why she never went to be evacuated I really don’t know.
CB: So, there were a number of families with children who’d been evacuated.
RC: Everybody in the flats. All the children went. There was forty eight flats in our block. You had to have children to have one of the flats. And there was only me and this girl left. All the other children got evacuated. Oh, and everywhere we went we had to carry our gasmasks.
CB: Did you wear it much?
RC: Well, only to try it on and to play about with it and play games. But yes, we used to like wearing our gas masks. But it wasn’t official, you know.
CB: No.
RC: We didn’t have to use it in an official capacity.
Other: [unclear]
RC: But we always carried our gasmasks.
CB: It was a good game.
RC: Well. Of course. Kids like. But as I say I was lucky. I went to a private school and they had all the things done. That was in a house, and, a very big one I might add and they had a place reinforced for us. So basically I never what you’d call missed any, well a very minor amount of schooling.
CB: And was the school fairly well attended or was it —
RC: Oh yes. I can’t remember the exact number but there would be about fifty of us I suppose. It was attached to a school that was in Camberwell and it was called the Mary Datchelor. And this was our private wing away from it. Of course, everybody that went there was paid for. All our parents had to pay for us. And even to a pencil or even pen or pencil or exercise book. Our parents had to buy it all and pay for, pay a fee for us to be there. And if you wanted to carry on schooling after fifteen you got transferred, I didn’t go but to the Mary Datchelor and then you could stay on. I believe it was ‘til you were eighteen and then of course university if you wanted to go.
CB: So, this was a private wing of that school.
RC: Yes. The Datchelor.
CB: What — back in, back in your own street what was the approach of other families to you and Thelma?
RC: Well —
CB: Because their children weren’t there so —
RC: They were a bit against our parents in a way about keeping us there but it never, we never, we weren’t made to feel awkward or anything. But I can, I know that they spoke to my parents about it and all that but of course couldn’t do anything about it.
CB: I wondered if they gave you some attention that they, simply because their children weren’t there.
RC: Well, sometimes we got if we were lucky I might have got a few sweets. But that’s about it all. A few extra sweets. But no. Of course you’ve got to remember at that time there was a lot of black market went on and my father, I might add was well into it and we really didn’t — I’ve thought of this since I’ve been older. We really didn’t go short of anything. Not what you’d call short anyway.
CB: Because the docks were still operating presumably.
RC: A doctor.
Other: Yes.
CB: The docks.
Other: Yes.
RC: Oh, the docks.
CB: The docks were still operating.
RC: Oh yeah. The docks were still operating. Yes. I mean they never shut, shut them right down but that was, I believe it was about the 4th of September the first time the docks got hit.
CB: 1940.
RC: Yes. And I can remember from our back garden then in Lettsom Street, number 49 we could see the docks. And of course you can see the fire. All very exciting for us children.
CB: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. At what stage did the evacuation of children take place? Before then was it?
RC: I believe it was before. Before the, it all started. I think they went the end of ’39.
CB: Yeah.
RC: I might be wrong on that but I know you could see them all in their line and all their —
Other: [unclear]
RC: Tickets on them with their names and where they were going and all that.
Other: It was the same day after day.
RC: And of course I could only just stand and watch.
Other: Yeah.
CB: And when you, when they were, they were going on trains.
RC: Oh yes. On trains and —
CB: What was their parents —
RC: They had to go into like a, like the station platforms and that and people come forward and took what they wanted. A boy or a girl. Or two boys or two girls. Lots of brothers and sisters got split up.
CB: Did they? At the other end.
RC: Yeah. Yeah. But even so, you know and some of them were really only little. They didn’t sort of say oh because they’re four and a half or three they can’t go. They went. And of course that was, that was it.
CB: And where were they going because this is East London?
RC: All different seaside places.
CB: The seaside.
RC: Or up the north. Or away from where there was any bombing. I think some even come down to Aylesbury didn’t they? Because they didn’t get exactly bombing here. Here in Aylesbury you didn’t.
Other: It didn’t start —
RC: Well, I didn’t live here then but I mean I have been told you got the odd bomb dropped, didn’t you?
Other: It didn’t start for a while.
RC: Oh.
CB: What —
Other: Anywhere.
CB: What did you know about what was being dropped by the Germans?
RC: Nothing much.
CB: The bombs.
RC: I just, I just knew that the, if you saw the flare or a star you knew there was going to be a bomb so get out of it. What bombs they were I can’t tell you. I can’t remember. But they were certainly powerful whatever they were.
CB: Because one of the things they dropped was a landmine.
RC: Oh yes. That’s right.
CB: So that came down.
RC: I remember land mines because you could tread on those couldn’t you?
CB: Well, the land mine was pretty big but there were smaller.
Other: Came down —
RC: Yeah. I forgot land mines.
CB: Yeah. What about —
RC: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Butterfly bombs? The butterfly bombs.
Other: Came down.
CB: Floated. Floated down.
RC: That’s right. There used to be land mines. Yeah. But I, I oh and the gunfire and the barrage balloons. If you saw the barrage balloons go up you knew you was in trouble.
CB: So, when there wasn’t a raid.
RC: Just carry on as normal.
CB: Were the barrage balloons down near the ground?
RC: Yeah. On the ground.
CB: On the ground.
RC: On the ground.
CB: Right.
RC: Yes. Yes.
CB: And who were they operated by?
RC: I don’t know what you called. There was men operated them.
CB: There were.
RC: To put them up and take them down.
CB: Right.
Other: RAF.
RC: And you’d be surprised how quickly they were put up.
CB: They could get them up.
RC: You could go to places where they were down. Where they kept them. And you’d be there and they’d have to go up so up they’d go.
CB: Yes. And the anti-aircraft guns. Were there any?
RC: Yes. You’d get that.
CB: Any firing near you? Were they situated near you?
RC: Yes. Yes. There was some guns. Some guns quite near us.
CB: Where would they be? What sort of place?
RC: Peckham Rye Park.
CB: Right.
RC: Which is, is partly a park and partly a big Common.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And it’s still the same today.
CB: And were they manned by men or women?
RC: Men. Most of the women went on to the land. On to the, that’s right. The land. You know. Land girls. You didn’t see many girls in uniform. Oh, you did see nurses. Nurses in uniform. But you didn’t see many like. Sometimes you saw ATS. ATS girls. Oh, and in the flats you had [pause] oh God what did you call them? Wardens. And they —
CB: Air raid wardens.
RC: Air raid wardens. Yes. And they used to have to see that all the blackout was pulled over and you could count, you know. They knew the number of the flats by adding them up. Like I lived at 29 so you counted up six I think it was and that was the flat, the flat above. And he said, ‘Put that light out.’
CB: Apart from the bombs dropping what else was dropping?
RC: I don’t —
CB: Because the anti-aircraft guns were busy.
RC: Yeah.
CB: So, to what extent did you get the shrapnel?
RC: Oh, we got loads and loads of shrapnel. We used to collect it.
CB: Was it dangerous to walk in the street?
RC: Yes.
CB: With that dropping.
RC: Yes. It would be really but of course you don’t think of this.
CB: No.
RC: You just go.
CB: But —
RC: I’m not saying the adults hadn’t thought about it. Of course they did. But us kids we’d just go. We didn’t — we, we weren’t old enough to realise how bad it really was. Which perhaps was a good thing.
CB: And what, how did the parents brief you about the shrapnel coming from the anti-aircraft guns?
RC: Oh, I was only ever told, ‘Please be careful with the shrapnel coming down,’ and, you know. ‘Do tell us if you get hit by any,’ and all that sort of thing and, but as I say we used to collect it.
CB: Yeah. Did you do that later the next day?
RC: Oh, the next day. There was always shrapnel about. You didn’t have to be, think, ‘Oh I must take that. It won’t be there tomorrow.’ That piece may not be there but there was plenty of the others. Oh, and there was a lot of looting went on when the houses got knocked down. Obviously there was furniture wasn’t there? All about and that, you know. Albeit it might be broken. But you used to get these people going over the rubble to see what they could find. It’s true.
Other: You don’t think about that.
CB: No.
RC: You used to always get like rag and bone men.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And all that.
CB: And what did the police do about that?
RC: Nothing much. We never saw a policeman very often.
CB: They were pretty short of police were they? Or they didn’t bother?
RC: Didn’t see them very often at all.
Other: They’d all joined up.
RC: And they used to close their eyes to lots of things.
CB: Yeah. They didn’t have the resources.
RC: No. But as I say I make it all sound like a party and I suppose in a way it was to us children.
CB: Would you say that it was exciting for children?
RC: Sorry?
CB: Was it exciting?
RC: Yes.
CB: For children. Or boring?
RC: Yes. Yeah. Yes. Yes. You did used to get a bit excited about it, you know. And I think our parents were pleased that we were like that and not morbid. Which you so easily could have been. But the worst part was like, you never knew if dad was coming home from work. That was one of the things I did remember. I always, if he was a bit late because of traffic, trams. We had trams and buses and they got held up. You used to say, ‘Oh he’s late. I wonder what’s happened to him.’ That’s the sort of thing. That did used to happen.
CB: And what about food? That was part of this black market operation.
RC: Oh yes. There was never much food. I can’t remember the quantity in our ration books what we were given but it was something like this. Two ounces of cheese a week. Two ounces of butter. One egg. And about four ounces of meat or something like that. That’s, that’s how it was. And of course fish wasn’t on rations so if you got fish you was in a queue. And also you could get horse meat. And people used to pass it off as steak. And used to get whale meat and they’d pass that off as steak but of course you’ve got to remember that there’s oil in that so when you bit into it you got a mouth full of oil. So I didn’t like whale meat [laughs] Oh, that was horrible. And the potatoes and greens if there was any. But you was always in a queue and quite often you’d get there and they was, you would think oh I’m not too far back today but it would all be gone. And apples of course. If they were in season you lived on apples. You got apple pie. Apple this. Apple that. Everything looked like an apple. But there wasn’t things like bananas or anything. Oh, and sweets were on ration and I think we were [pause] I think it was about a half a pound we got in a week, I think. Something like that. Or six ounces. I’m not quite sure.
Other: Clothing coupons.
RC: I wasn’t really involved with the rationing. I mean I just I was lucky if I got something naturally.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. What about drinks? Did they give you lemonades or was it plain water?
RC: No. There, there was some lemonade you could get. There was things like that. Oh and you used to go into a restaurant. The restaurants used to have a quota and you got to know which restaurant was going to serve a lunch. A hot lunch. Like a roast dinner or something or a steak and kidney pie that day. So you got in the queue to go there.
CB: How often were you disappointed in queuing?
RC: Oh, you very often got disappointed. It was just the way of life that you never got there. But at school I used to get a half a day every Wednesday and I used to — we had a departmental store in Rye Lane called Jones and Higgins, I was taken there for lunch every Wednesday. And you never knew what you were going to get but I always got there every Wednesday to lunch.
CB: So there was a shortage of children on the street as it were but in other areas were there more children? Or had most of them been evacuated elsewhere also?
RC: Most of the areas a lot of the children had gone so I couldn’t really tell you in in numbers but everywhere children were evacuated. And of course cinemas and that. They were open but nine time times out of ten they’d, they’d shut, you know. Oh, we’ve had so and so happen or, ‘We’ve had a bomb come through the roof.’ So you could just get disappointed. I did get to a couple of pantomimes but more by luck than judgement. There you go. That’s what happened.
CB: And as the war progressed then it got quieter.
RC: No. It got worse didn’t it? Because we used to have —
Other: Buzz bombs.
RC: V-2s or —
CB: V-1 and V-2.
RC: V-1s. And they used to cut out didn’t they?
CB: The V-2, V-1s. Yes.
RC: And you could be sitting indoors or perhaps in the shelter because the shelter was open all the time. You didn’t have to shut it. And you’d sit there, you’d think, oh, oh that engine’s cut out. It did sound as if it was over the top of us. I’m not saying it was but it used to sound like that and of course it just dropped, didn’t it, after that? And I believe the V-2s were a bit different weren’t they?
CB: Well, you couldn’t see those coming.
RC: Oh. I knew there was something different about them. But luckily we didn’t get hit with a V-1 or a V-2. And the shelters and the flats that I lived in, in the council flats, they never got hit either. So we were alright.
CB: Yes.
RC: Very lucky if you like to put it and we used to have air raid wardens out all, at the night, all long, you know. Helping us and all that. People used to club together more didn’t they? And all, and it you shared more things. Oh, I’ve got so and so, you know. So, I’ve got some extra butter or some extra fats if you like and I liked cheese so we’d do a swap. I know that used to go on.
CB: So, this is all based on the ration but how did the black market work? What sort of things were on the black market?
RC: Everything really.
CB: Food as well?
RC: Everything. I don’t say you could get much clothes or anything like that but food which is really all I was interested in was the food. What I was going to get to eat. Like my father used to go to a special sweet shop every week. Every Saturday on his way home from work and he’d always come home and give me whatever they’d given him. And I used to think oh, Mars bar. Bar of chocolate. And that happened every week. What he paid for it I can’t tell you because it was costly for the time obviously. And oh, one thing we used to have. Oh, my mother used to be, the butcher’s she went to she used to wash their little white coats for them. And of course she’d collect the dirties and give the clean and in the pockets was always enough steak for two adults and a child. I don’t mean a fantastic amount but a lot for the day. And every Saturday and to this day I don’t do it but every Saturday we had steak, proper steak, gravy, mashed potatoes and whatever greens or peas or whatever she could buy. And I always, and I don’t do it to this day. I never cook it unless somebody wants it. I’ve never had, I’ve never had steak and mashed potatoes again. I had it every Saturday for years [laughs] And we used to get a little joint on a Sunday and I realise it was a little joint. Oh, and sometimes you could get a chicken. But not everybody was as lucky as that.
CB: Right.
RC: But you’d got to have the money to do it.
CB: Yeah.
RC: You can’t do it without money whatever happens [pause] My father had a pension from the First World War. It was a good pension for the time and he got that pension right up to the day he died. And he died a week after I got married so that shows you how long he had it for. Quite a long time.
CB: How did you meet your husband?
RC: My husband. He was a British Legion man. And in those days — oh and I used to help out with the British Red Cross. In other words I’d give my time free go in to the place like the Palladium and doing the first — standing there, see the show. Go in uniform and do any first aid that was needed. Well, and when it got to Poppy Day, November the 11th but it’s as you know that’s run by the British Legion. They used to, the British Legion that Jim belonged to they used to detail a man off who had a car which he had and he looked after so many sellers. By that I stood, always stood outside the Co-op in Rye Lane. And that manager used to come out and give me very thick cardboard to stand on and I always got coffee and cakes all the time. And the people from the Legion, Jim he used to come and pick me up and take me back to the Legion headquarters in the area for a lunch. That was alright. And he said to me, ‘Oh, I’ll run you home. Don’t worry. What time are you finishing?’ I said, ‘About five.’ And I said, ‘And I’m working tonight at the Palladium.’ Oh, we could stand and sell our poppies in nursing uniform. You can’t do it now but you could. You could then. So naturally that got you money to stand as, in your nursing uniform. And I never thought but on your tin you had to put your name and address and your phone number and he wrote to me the following week and asked me to go out. And I don’t know how he got it. Oh, I think my phone number must have been on the tin because he phoned home and I wasn’t there. And my mother answered and she said , ‘Oh yes. But let me ask you a question. Have you got a car?’ He said, ‘Yes. I have.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘You’ll be alright then because she won’t go out with anybody without a car.’ [laughs] I thought, ‘Thank you very much, mother.’ But never mind. That’s what we done. That’s how I met him and we were married for forty three years.
CB: Fantastic. We’ll break there for a mo.
[recording paused]
RC: Yes. I think they —
CB: So the two —
RC: Allocated that they could go every now and again. Every couple of months or something.
CB: This is the parents of the children who had been evacuated.
RC: Yeah. The children that were evacuated. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
RC: Yes. That’s right. I’m sure. I forgot all about that. Yeah. I’m afraid I used to think mostly of myself.
CB: That’s ok because that’s what we want but in the background you’ve got people missing their children.
RC: Yes, that’s right. And there were always lots of tears when they got home. I can remember that. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And people who lived in the countryside you didn’t have much to do with.
RC: I never went to the country.
CB: Because you were in the town.
RC: No.
CB: No.
RC: No.
CB: Have you lived most of your life in the London area or did you come —
RC: Yes. I came, I came down here in 1962.
CB: Right. Just for a visit or did you move here?
RC: No. The house that I have on Bedgrove was got through the London Transport.
CB: Oh.
RC: And, I’ve got to think. Yes. That’s right. Got through the London Transport and I’ve got a three bedroom semi-detached house and it cost two thousand pound.
CB: Did it really?
RC: Don’t sound possible does it?
CB: Amazing. No garage in those days.
RC: Not in those days.
CB: Yeah.
RC: We’ve got one now and of course there was no central heating. We’ve had, we had all that put in. But —
CB: What made you come to Aylesbury?
RC: Well, although my husband was always running pubs he kept his job with the London Transport. And when, the houses originally on Bedgrove were built, were built by H C James. And James gave the Transport sixteen plots of land for the men to have a house built and they put the, my husband then was on the clock, you know.
CB: Clocking in and clocking out. Yeah.
RC: Clocking in.
CB: Yeah.
RC: Clocking in. And they put their number of their clock number in a hat and I don’t know who they got to pick them, and their numbers were picked out and we got number sixteen. Yeah. And we had to put a hundred pound down as a deposit.
CB: So, was your husband and you were you both buying the whole thing or just part of it with, with London Transport?
RC: Buying the whole thing with London Transport.
CB: You were. Right. Ok. Good. Stop there again.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. You just said you never saw children when you were out.
RC: Not as such. You might see the odd one but you never saw children and all that sort of thing.
CB: So, the parents went out to the countryside to visit the children but not —
RC: Yes. They did. I can’t remember if they could go whenever they could or whether they used to get help because you’ve got to remember a lot of people couldn’t afford the fare. I know money wasn’t very high was it, in those days?
CB: No. No.
RC: If you lived comfortably or if you were comfortably off you were lucky. But you don’t realise it. You, you just accept it.
CB: Yeah. So, at what stage did the children return to London from being evacuated?
RC: Oh, some came back before the actual war finished. And the majority came back when it, what would it be? We were back before. Was it VJ Day or something we went to? Or something like that because I went didn’t I? With Barry and you. No. You didn’t come did you?
Other: No. It was VE Day.
RC: Yeah.
Other: And then there was VJ Day.
RC: They were back and there were street parties and everything. Flags and goodness knows what.
CB: Ok. So, describe the street parties if you would. Please.
RC: Oh well. There used to be long trestle tables and paper covers on them, you know [unclear] the condition. And all the mum’s used to club together with what they could because things were still on ration and, you know put their currants and their fats. Oh, you had jellies blancmanges, cakes, sandwiches. Horrible paste sandwiches. Salmon and shrimp paste.
CB: Any spam?
RC: Oh God. Yes. Of course. Well, not much because they saved that for their dinners. Because you used to have to have spam fritters. In other words a light batter and fry them. Oh, I don’t like things like that I don’t. Because they think now it’s fashionable now, don’t they? To eat spam. Oh, another thing that wasn’t rationed and if you were lucky enough to know it was the fish and chip shop. So, most people had fish and chips once a week.
Other: Friday night.
RC: Because you could go up there and get that.
CB: So, why was fish and chips not rationed?
RC: Oh, I can’t answer it for you. I don’t know. It wasn’t rationed.
CB: Could it be that it was relatively easy to get because of the fishing?
RC: Well —
CB: And it’s near the coast.
RC: But the registered fish and chips shops were allocated so much and if you were lucky enough to get some. If not you went to another one because Fridays was always fish and chip day wasn’t it?
Other: Oh yeah.
RC: I don’t say they opened every day of the week, or opened lunchtimes as well. But you’d see a long queue for fish and chips.
CB: What was the fish mainly?
RC: Cod. You never had any fancy stuff like.
Other: Conga.
RC: Eh?
Other: Conga.
RC: Oh and —
CB: Conga?
RC: Never had things like scampi.
CB: Right. No.
Other: Conga was conger eel.
CB: Oh, it’s an eel is it? Right.
RC: Well, I think there was rock salmon because you’re not allowed to say that now. Rock salmon it used to be some times.
Other: Would you like a cup of tea?
CB: We’re going to stop again while we —
RC: Had to serve fish and chips.
CB: Oh right, just —
[recording paused]
RC: Oh dear.
CB: So, you actually worked in a chip, a fish and chip shop.
RC: I have worked in a fish and chip shop.
CB: So what’s the technique and how do you serve it?
RC: Well, I’ve worked in three fish and chip shops here in Aylesbury.
CB: Right.
RC: And the one that I worked in last on Bedgrove, at one stage they had every fish and chip shop in Aylesbury and they offered money to the husbands to set all of us up in a fish shop. My husband didn’t want it. He — no. But when you went in they’d always say to you, ‘Now, you can eat as many chips as you like.’ And of course you think that’s great when you first get there and of course once you begin to work there you cannot smell the fish and chips. You know, like you walk along and say, ‘Fish and chip shop.’ If you work in a fish and chip shop you can’t smell it. And usually they give you, if you do a lunchtime shift they either give you something to bring home or you sit down in there and you can eat whatever you like. Whatever’s going. Whatever’s left over if you like. The first thing you learn apart from putting chips in as it was, it’s not now, in a bag. You know, put enough, you pick a scoop of chips up, put in there that’s alright. The first thing you learn is how to pick up a piece of fish and not break it. Because if you break it officially they can’t sell it.
CB: Oh.
RC: And another thing is in those days I mean I’m going back a few years now you could have, you could buy cold fish. In other words what was left over at lunchtime you could put and sell it for half price in the evenings. You’re not allowed to do that now.
Other: Do you want a drink of water? Do you want a drink of water?
RC: But I absolutely enjoy working in a fish shop. It’s lovely.
CB: What is it you like most about that?
RC: I don’t know. I just like serving like I like serving in a pub. But I liked, I love picking up that fish and knowing I can do it. I can fry as well.
CB: Right. So, to what extent is it the people coming in? The variety of people.
RC: Oh, some people. Of course it has altered a lot and it’s got very sophisticated to what it was.
CB: Right.
RC: But people are generally speaking if you’re nice to them they’re generally nice to you. That’s what you’ve got to think about because —
CB: Tea or coffee?
RC: Coffee please. I don’t —
CB: Tea.
RC: But I’ve had, I’ve served in, in lots of places and all like that in lots of fish shops and everything. Because I like being with the public. I mean when I retired from nursing I went back as a volunteer at the hospital. They put me on outpatients. And it was at Stoke Mandeville. Well, outpatients used to run alongside A&E so as you came in you went down here to A&E and I was in the front desk. I used to look after sixteen doctors. And what happened, you had a, above you had all the names of the doctors that were working that day and where they were. You knew from experience where they were but it was up there. And people like yourself would come towards me with a letter to show me where they were going or they would know where they were going and they’d tell me because they could never find their way about. And you would direct them, you know. Because it was next to A&E you used to get quite a lot of people have a go at you and also at the particular time I was there they were building up at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and therefore you had a great deal of trouble to park. And they used to come in moaning about that. And I’ve had, well I had this man walk in. One man walks in with his hands like this. And I couldn’t think what was wrong. Whatever had he got in his hand? I couldn’t see. and he got up to me. He threw the tablets at me. He said, ‘He’s in the car. What are you going to do about it?’ So, I said, ‘Nothing. Go to A&E.’ You see, he’d got a druggie in his car.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And would I go and help him? Another time I was there and a man’s coming towards me which I thought at the time must be his son. It worked out it was but that’s how I thought of it. And this boy was covered from head to foot in blood. And I thought, Oh God whatever’s happened here? You know. And he just came up to me and said, ‘Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to clean him up for me and see what’s wrong with him?’ I said, ‘No. I’m not,’ I said, ‘You go down to A&E.’ ‘You’ve got too much,’ he said to me, ‘old chat,’ and of course you don’t answer back and it’s very hard not to.
CB: Yeah.
RC: But I stayed there three and a half years and then they computerised the A&E department. The bit behind me. They computerised the outpatients. Where you come. And they said I was taking a paid person’s job. I used to do them two days a week and an odd day if they were short.
CB: I think we’ll stop for a bit.
[recording paused]
CB: Let me just do this. So, you mentioned earlier that the fish and chip shops were allocated.
RC: Well, that’s the way I see it.
CB: Yes.
RC: Because, yeah.
CB: So —
RC: Thank you.
CB: Did you get to the stage where actually they ran out of fish and chips because it didn’t meet the demands?
RC: Oh yes. Yes. But you knew you’d more coming in but you’d got to be shut for a couple of days. I see —
CB: Right.
RC: What you mean. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that, you know. But it wasn’t like that when I worked on Bedgrove. It was all, all full steam ahead.
CB: Yeah. Organised. Yeah.
RC: But the reason I learned to fry — the people up on Bedgrove that was a family and the son that run the Bedgrove shop had been involved in a very serious accident. He’d lost an eye, got one leg and his father had bought the Bedgrove shop so he’d got a shop of his own. You know.
CB: Yeah.
RC: Well, this particular night I’m up there working with him because you’re not as busy every night of the week. Like Monday you’re not going to be so busy as you are Friday. And he fell over. Because out the back we had a place where you could, you know get the fish ready and of course it was wet out there and he fell over. So we got him, put him up. He got himself up really. And I set him down. I said, ‘You can’t work. I’ll have to get your dad.’ And I phoned his dad. He came up and he said, ‘Rita, can you run this shop? I’ll come back at closing time.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I’ll run the shop for you.’
CB: Right.
RC: Thank you. But be a devil.
CB: I’ll come back to that in a minute. Yeah.
RC: But —
CB: So, you ran the shop.
RC: I said, ‘Yes. I can run the shop’. He said, ‘You can put extra chips on can’t you? But listen here. You are not to serve any plaice and you tell them we haven’t got any tonight,’ he said, ‘Because,’ he said, ‘If you —’ he’d not, he was saving his, you know looking after himself because he said, ‘If you break any and you’ve got the whole responsibility of the shop I’m going to lose a lot of money.’ So, I hadn’t run out but I had, just said I haven’t got any. I wasn’t doing any that night. But it was lovely. I loved all that.
CB: Right.
Other: I don’t think I’ve lived.
CB: You’re right there.
RC: I don’t like fish and chips that much. I don’t eat it very often. Only here.
CB: So, we’re talking, we’re talking about the supply of fish and chips but the pubs which your father was running what was the supply situation with beer there? Because there was a lot of damage to transport.
RC: The beer wasn’t too bad. But what was in very very short supply was bottled Guinness. You didn’t have draught Guinness in those days. Bottle Guinness was very very short and most of the women, like my mother for instance and that sort of age group like thirty five all drank a nice Guinness. They tried to get you to drink milk stout which, well milk stout is sweet. And I can always remember that you always had to put a few under the counter. You didn’t have lager in those days. I’m not saying you couldn’t get it in a posh hotel but you couldn’t get it in an everyday pub. And did you know that we used to have just beer houses? You know what? You know —
CB: Yes. Yes.
RC: Just a beer house.
CB: So, describe a beer house.
RC: It just sells beer. Nothing else. It’s doesn’t, I’m not saying it don’t sell lemonade but it does not sell spirits. Because one of the pubs my dad had was a beer, beer house. Horrible. But you don’t see them now.
CB: Who were most of the clientele?
RC: Sorry?
CB: Who were the main people? Who were the customers?
RC: Men.
CB: In his pubs.
RC: Men.
CB: Yeah. Doing what? What jobs?
RC: Drink as many pints as they could in as quick a time as they could,
CB: Yeah. But what, what jobs did they have?
RC: Mostly on the building. Roof tilers. Since I’ve lived down here I went to work in a club. It was by Hazel’s. It was called Aylesbury Social Club. Remember it? Trevor Ives run it, didn’t he? Oh, he did. And we used to get women in there. But we used to have all of these roof tilers come in. And they used to come in on a Friday night and hand over the bar just things wasn’t as dear as they are today. And they would, just say for arguments sake it was fifteen quid and they’d say, ‘When that’s gone we’ve got no more.’ Because you could get a lot of beer for fifteen quid in those days. I’d have them on the floor. So, I used to phone the police. They used to come and help me and we’d leave them on the floor. I’ve had —
[recording pauses]
CB: The off licence.
RC: Victoria Wine was in Cambridge Street. Not there now. It’s now a shop that does alterations on clothes. And the place used to notify you by ringing you up and telling you if there were drunks or anything who had been let out of prison. Because they were going to come in to you and demand a certain amount of stuff. But another thing you used to do in the old days if we were in a pub and we had several pubs but we put managers in and we went around them. And my husband saw a fight, as he thought, starting. Two men. Not women. He’d say, ‘Right. Go and stop that will you?’ You always sent the woman out and you wouldn’t have got knifed or anything but you would today. And the ruling is today if you manage a house you do not come from behind the counter.
CB: Why is that?
RC: Well, so, so you don’t get killed. Knifed.
Other: You’re safe behind the counter.
RC: And if I go in a pub today and I drink gin and tonic.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And I’m in there on my own I get, I think to myself I ought to go to the loo I pick up my gin and tonic and take it with me so they don’t spike it.
CB: Yes.
RC: Because years ago women never went in a pub on their own did they? I’ll tell you a story. Make you laugh. It’s not recent. But I like winkles and shrimps. And when I was a child we had winkles and shrimps every Sunday. Now, the first Sunday I lived down here I said, ‘Oh, I’m going into town to get some winkles and shrimps.’ And there used to be a bus in those days on a Sunday and it was down by the Duck. I don’t know if you know where the Duck used to be. Oh, Tring Road.
CB: Yes.
RC: Come down Bedgrove.
CB: Yeah.
RC: On the Tring Road. So, off I go, get the bus and I couldn’t find a winkle and shrimp stall anywhere. So, I saw a Jumper so I said, oh an Inspector. Better known as a Jumper. I said to him, ‘Next bus to Bedgrove?’ ‘Oh, there’s nothing, my love. About an hour and a half.’ Ok. So I said, ‘Ok. Alright.’ And there’s a pub at Kingsbury. It went up three steps. It’s still there but they’ve altered it a bit, haven’t they?
Other: Where?
RC: A pub at Kingsbury.
Other: That goes up some steps.
RC: I think it’s called Fevers now.
Other: I’m sorry. I don’t know.
RC: And you go up the three, up these three steps. Opening time 12 o’clock. Closed 2 o’clock. Twenty minutes drinking up time. It was [unclear] pub. No women in there. All men. You never got women in there. So, damn it I’m going in. So I opened the door and I go in and I walk up to the bar and you could have heard a pin drop. So, I thought hmmn I’ve got to scout this out haven’t I? So I asked for a gin and tonic. Got it. And I always, unless I’ve got people with me stand at the counter. And I stood there and I never bought another drink ‘til closing time. They all bought me a drink [laughs]
Other: You were feeling no pain when you left.
RC: You couldn’t do that today. It’s not the same.
Other: I would never go in today.
RC: Another day you couldn’t do years ago.
Other: Wouldn’t go in a pub.
RC: You couldn’t go into a pub. You could buy a glass of wine but you couldn’t buy a bottle of wine, open it and drink it on the premises.
Other: Oh yeah. Well —
RC: You see it takes more money by them selling it by the glass.
CB: Yes.
RC: But you can now.
CB: Yeah. Now you talked about Jumper. What’s the origin of that title for the Inspector?
RC: Well, an Inspector has to go on so many buses during their so many hours and check the tickets.
Other: Inspector.
RC: That’s what he does. He comes on with his board and sees you’ve paid the right money and all like that and they were always known as Jumpers.
CB: Because they were given —
RC: That was their job. They jump off one bus.
CB: They, they —
Other: On to another.
RC: And on. I mean they had the list of where, what they’d got to do. Like you got to get on the 63, then you got to get on the 12. But you know that’s his problem but you know, ‘Oh blooming hell. A Jumper.’
CB: I’m stopping again [pause] Or I was.
[recording paused]
RC: The car. And he’d say, ‘Rita, as you step out the car you talk differently.’
CB: When you went to see your mother in law.
RC: Yeah. Me and her didn’t hit it but that doesn’t matter. That’s another story. We had winkles and shrimps and a money lender.
RC: The money lender.
CB: Yeah.
CB: So, there were, how many of those were there around?
RC: I don’t, there used to be a lot but there isn’t many now I don’t think.
CB: What service were they giving?
RC: Well —
Other: [unclear]
RC: If you wanted to borrow some money and you knew a money lender you’d go and say, for arguments sake, ‘I want to borrow twenty five quid,’ because it wasn’t big amounts. And they’d tell you what percentage they were going to charge you for having it and how long you’d got before you’d got to pay it back. And she had a rag and bone stall. Not a stall. You know, a cart. And much to my parent’s disgust. And she had lots of sons. Well, I didn’t know them all because some of them had died but she had six boys that I knew. And she used to call my husband her posh son because he wouldn’t work on the stalls. And I used to go up to her, ‘Here Mary where’s the — is the stall down East Lane today?’ Well, she had East Lane. All the local markets. You must know East Lane, don’t you? Well it’s not East Lane is it? It’s only East Lane on a Sunday. But yeah, I said, ‘Can I go down? Do you think they need a hand? I’ll cart the horse for them.’
Other: I haven’t lived —
RC: I liked —
[recording paused]
CB: Now, during the war most of life continued as before even though it was difficult with bombing.
RC: Yes.
CB: And shortage of food. But how did the rag and bone system work in those days?
RC: Well, a lot of things they used to do. Although we’re saying rag and bone it didn’t always have to be rags. Where a place was bombed out and stuff used to be there that’s where your looting comes in.
CB: Go on.
RC: Yeah. I’m not saying she didn’t get some rag and bone. People used to do that. But she’d go over the bomb site wouldn’t she?
CB: Right. So, what was the role of the rag and bone merchant?
RC: Well, she used to go around and calling out rag and bone didn’t they?
CB: Oh, ra-bones.
RC: Yeah. And you used to get things for like a few coppers didn’t you?
CB: So, what was the origin of the rags and the bones? Where did they get them from?
RC: Well, she’d always done it. All her life.
CB: No. No. Where did she get the stuff from?
RC: I don’t really know.
CB: Right.
RC: But I know about the looting and all that.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
RC: But they, people used to like drop it off at the house and all that. That’s another thing that used to happen, you know.
CB: Right.
RC: They got some old rags they didn’t want. They’d dump them on her doorstep but I’ll tell you this —
Other: But she used to have to give them a penny or two though didn’t she?
RC: But if you looked at her street door it opened straight out on to the pavement. A knocker. A brass knocker. Her doorstep, it was beautifully white. Shine. You’d think what a lovely clean house. You’d hardly find her inside. If you couldn’t find her you went up the pub. If you couldn’t find her there you went in the betting shop. She could, she was not very well educated I’ll tell you that but she could add up and work out the bets.
CB: Yeah. So, why, why did people buy rags and bones from these people?
RC: Well, I think that they sort of spotted something on the cart that they wanted and would offer you so much.
CB: Right.
RC: I never actually done any of that side. It didn’t appeal to me but I just liked being with the cockles and the whelks and the jellied eels.
CB: So, what I’m getting at is although it’s called rag and bone what else was there on the cart?
Other: Well, it was her —
RC: Whatever people gave you.
Other: She was buying from people.
CB: It was everything.
RC: An old colander.
CB: Yeah.
RC: Or there would be a shovel or something out the garden. That sort of thing.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
Other: But she would buy them from [unclear] Oh I forgot.
CB: Right. So, the fact that there was looting going on just meant there were different things available.
RC: Yes. Oh course.
CB: Yeah.
RC: A lot of looting went on. A tremendous amount.
CB: Yeah. And was that simply because it couldn’t be controlled or partly because the people there had been killed in the bombing anyway.
RC: Well, I don’t say they’d all been killed. But if they’d have been dug out they’d have been taken on to a Rescue Centre wouldn’t they?
CB: Right. And at the Rescue Centre? What happened there?
RC: They had blankets and pillows to lots of [pause] wooden things to lay on and all that sort of thing.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
RC: It was where you spent the night if you got bombed out. Down the Rescue Centre. People used to come looking for people that they hadn’t been able to dig out or hadn’t. So and so was there so they should be under that rubble. Like you see it now only of course it’s much bigger now.
CB: So, when the digging out took place some people were killed. So what did they do with the bodies?
RC: Just lay them out and put them in white shrouds.
CB: And were they waiting for them to be identified or was that done somewhere else?
RC: Yes. Sometimes they weren’t identifiable.
CB: Right. In what way?
RC: They would, they used to have I forget what they used to call it. They had a nickname for it. And they had this big black cart used to come along and stack the bodies on top of one another. It’s like years ago in a hospital you used to do a lot of the Last Offices is the correct wording for it. If you’re doing Last Offices and you all have to do that they used to come along with this thing on wheels and they used to, they used to do most of the laying out procedure in the ward and they’d pick the body up and take it to the mortuary. And they all tried all of you, by locking you, not exactly locking you in but pretending. Put you in the mortuary to frighten you. It didn’t frighten me because my mother and I used to go out doing laying out. I know what it’s like, so —
CB: So, what did you have to do when you’re laying out?
RC: Laying out people.
CB: So the body is already cold.
RC: Well, first of all you’d go in and see what what’s happening and one of the things that happened to us was my mother used to really do it and I used to help. But I can do it proper now. I’m talking about as a kid. I’d go with her. They’ve got to be cold. But I went this day with her and we went in like you do and they said where it was. And when we got in there, there was a man in the bed. He was covered up. Right up here. All covered up beautifully. An eiderdown on him. And my mother said, ‘Well, we can’t touch him.’ ‘Well, he was so cold we thought we ought to keep him warm.’ Can’t touch him you see. Oh dear.
Other: What do you mean you couldn’t touch him?
RC: You can’t lay a person out if they’re hot.
Other: Oh, if they’re hot. Oh, I see.
CB: Because they’d warmed him up.
Other: Yeah.
CB: By covering him over.
RC: And I’ll tell you another thing they do.
Other: Even though he was dead he’d warm up.
RC: They thought he was so cold to the touch that they ought to keep him warm. Well, of course —
Other: Oh, you mean —
RC: You couldn’t keep a straight face could you?
CB: No.
RC: And another thing that happened and this happens a lot. You can, they got them laying out and all like that and you might sit them up for some reason and they’d pass wind or something. Frighten you out of your life if you’re not expecting it.
CB: And how did you identify them? Did they have something tagged on them or was it written on the shroud or what was it?
RC: Well, people on the ones that were recognisable and there was people from the same family they could always recognise them. Or they’d got a ring on that they knew and all that sort of thing, you know. But really, it’s really if their faces were shot away or really it was very hard. But I’ve been brought up to do this because my grandmother I didn’t do it with her because I — and my mother could all do it.
CB: What sort of injuries were there to see with these victims?
RC: I suppose really there was always arms and legs injuries but most of it was facial. That’s the way I see it. They were always facial. Always burned or their face was terribly disfigured. Yeah.
CB: Because of the rubble? Because of the rubble or because of the blast?
RC: Probably the blast. Glass mostly.
CB: Right.
RC: They would have glass embedded in their skins.
CB: Right.
RC: And you mustn’t pull it out.
CB: So, why would you not? While they were alive you wouldn’t pull it out but when they’re cold.
RC: Once they’re dead you can do what you like.
CB: Right.
RC: But of course unless you’ve got a doctor and that you can’t certify them dead. I mean, I’ve been, I mean I’ve worked on the accidents here for the Bucks Constabulary.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And I worked in the traffic division. And you used to have to go out sometimes if you — I don’t know it now but I worked for them for seven years and on average in the whole of the county there used to be thirty to thirty one fatalities a month.
CB: In Buckinghamshire.
RC: Of course even if they live and they only live three days it’s still classed as a fatality.
CB: Yeah.
RC: And sometimes you’d be asked to go out and have a look at the scene and I’d go because I was qualified to go in my own right. Nothing to do with the police. And you’d go out with a young copper and he’d try to protect you because you’re a woman, you know. ‘You don’t want to look at that,’ and ‘You don’t want to be —’ And he’d be on the floor [laughs]
CB: So, fast backwards to the war. You’re a child watching this going on. What was your feeling and reaction to these dead bodies?
RC: Well, I just accepted it because I’d been brought up with it. It didn’t take the war for me to see a dead body. The first dead body I see was my mother’s mother. She lived down the road from us then. She lived in Pembroke Road then. And we always went to tea on a Sunday afternoon. And she and my granddad lived up in a flat upstairs. And I used to go down. I had a key. I could let myself in and I walked in. I couldn’t find her anywhere. And on the table — she was a woman for making jam. There was three pots of blackcurrant jam and they were warm. So, I thought well where has she gone? Went in the bedroom. I knew granddad was working because he worked on the parks and he used to be a park attendant. So, wherever can she be? I couldn’t find her. Now what made me do what I’m going to tell you next I don’t know. I walked in and walked around the foot of the bed and there she was on the floor. And her leg was sticking up like this and the rest of her was laying down. Well, having listened to my mother I knew then oh she’s dead. So I went downstairs to the people downstairs and told them. I said, ‘But I think you’ll find she’s dead.’ You know. Miss know it all. So the man said, ‘I’ll come up and have a look.’ Which he did. And he said, ‘Alright. I’ll deal with this bit,’ and he must have phoned a doctor or something and he said, ‘You go home and get your,’ well I was only up the road, he said, ‘You go home and get your mum and dad.’ And I did. And I got questioned by the police because of that. But —
CB: And you’re aged what?
RC: It wasn’t bad. And my mother sat in with me while they did it.
CB: Yeah.
RC: Because I found her. How they thought I could have killed her I don’t know but —
CB: But what age were you then?
RC: Oh, I don’t know. Not very old. About six. Six and a half. And I mean I don’t know how they thought I could have killed her. But anyway, and my mother kept answering for me. This sergeant said to her, ‘Would you mind being quiet please.’ [laughs] She often repeated that as the years went by. That the course so, but I had seen bodies before.
CB: Yes.
RC: But the first real person.
CB: Yeah. Was your grandmother.
RC: That I, what you’d call dealt with was my grandmother. Then of course it didn’t worry me and they shut me in the mortuary up at Stoke. Everybody got it in those days.
CB: Yeah.
RC: I don’t care. You can shut me in.
CB: Yeah.
RC: I expect you know they come out, and they still do today, they come out on drawers. I expect you know that.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
RC: And they have the, I call it a luggage label around their big toe. Yeah. I said, ‘You can’t frighten me with this. Don’t try.’
CB: So, as a child in London with the bodies being laid out and then to the mortuary.
RC: Well, we never actually touched them or anything.
CB: No. But you saw them.
RC: Oh you saw them. Yeah.
CB: What was the reaction of the family when they came around to see?
RC: Well, I can’t tell you all but there was always a lot of crying and shouting and all that sort of thing. And proper hysteria. You’d see a man clout some woman around the face. Obviously to shut her up. That was one of the things you do. It will always shut somebody up. And you’d often, if you’ve somebody goes into hysteria and you don’t quite know what you’re doing that’s the first thing you can do. And you used to see that you know. We said, ‘We’ll have a go at that,’ [laughs] But it doesn’t, nothing in the blood and thunder as it’s known doesn’t worry me at all. No. Nothing upsets me like that. I can do it all.
CB: Well, Rita Chapman. Thank you very much for your reminiscences.
RC: Oh, I’m ever so sorry that I’ve gone on and on and on.
CB: That’s what we wanted.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Rita Chapman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 30, 2024,

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