Interview with Honor Saunders


Interview with Honor Saunders


Honor Saunders lived through the London Blitz. She was initially evacuated but returned to London. Her father was a fire watcher and on one occasion took her to the road bridge near her home to watch London burning. Their own home was damaged by a V-1, and her uncle was a prisoner of the Japanese.



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01:02:42 audio recording




ASaundersH171003, PSaundersR-H1701


Spatial Coverage

Temporal Coverage


CB: After a very interesting talk with Roy we're now going to talk to his wife, Honor.
HS: Yes.
CB: And start off, if we may Honor by talking about your earliest recollections of life.
HS: It was my father was a good gardener and he grew fruit around the edges of his garden. And logan berries were unusual and I used to pick them and eat them with his approval. And the other thing that happened when I was about three was that unusually the Willesden Education Authority opened a nursery school in a room of the local primary school. And my mother was good. She took advantage of this opportunity and I went to nursery school and loved it.
CB: Then, what else? What happened then?
HS: Well, before the war started I was evacuated to an aunt in Gloucestershire. I think the family must have thought war was coming. I was perfectly happy there but I cannot remember anything about it. And as nothing happened we came back again.
CB: In the Phoney War.
HS: Yes.
CB: Because you're age six at this point.
HS: I suppose I must have been. Yeah. And then of course we had my, I was lucky because I had my mother with me because Jill was then under five. She was born in 1936 and so your mother could go as well then. But again, the same procedure happened. Nothing much happened did it? So we all came home again. I’m surprised, and I have discussed this with Roy that we got much education really because we came and went. And then I was at home during the bombing. My house was about a side road and six terraced houses away from a railway line with a road bridge over it. My father took me up to the road bridge to show me London burning because Neasden is on the higher ground. You know, to the outskirts of London. And being on a road bridge anyway we could see.
CB: What was the impression you had about London burning?
HS: Well, I think I, my father was showing it to me as a historical thing and I couldn't say that it upset me greatly. It was just a point of historical interest. Isn't, that's what I think I felt.
CB: This is daylight or in the evening?
HS: In the evening.
CB: So we're talking about September October ‘40.
HS: Well, it was dark. I think it showed up the burning better.
CB: And what was your father doing as a job at that time?
HS: Well, he had been an independent builder. But he was born in 1900 so he was about forty and that made him called up in the, to the idea of being put in a useful occupation. There was an electrical factory near at hand and he was called up to go and work there to change the building into aircraft production. The Spitfire. He was very patriotic. He worked from 8 o'clock in the morning ‘til 6 o'clock at night and every other weekend. And he was the fire watch leader for our collection of houses. I used to collect sixpence a week from everybody and that was used for equipment for the fire watchers and to convert a road shelter into a comfortable shelter for the night for the people on fire watch. The nearest fire station would be across Gladstone Park. My father felt that women should not go across the park in the dark so the men in our little fire watch group all did extra fire watch duty because they excluded the women. On our porch, I don't think that the six pences could have gone on this but because he was the fire watch leader, on our porch outside the front door there was a stirrup pump and a bucket and some sandbags. They were never used.
CB: How close did the bombing get to where you lived?
HS: I’m trying to think. Next door but one it was thought to be a bomb but it wasn't. It was an unexploded shell that had come from an AA firing place. And they evacuated the house and then discovered it wasn't a bomb. There were no bombs actually falling in the area of our house but of course we heard the bombing raids. And the railway that was, you know adjacent where I went to see the fire of London, they had trains going up there with the AA guns on the train. And my father, because he was always jolly about the war except in one respect he used to say. ‘That's right, boys. Let them have it,’ when the guns got nearer. But of course really when the guns got nearer the raid was getting nearer wasn't it? We had a shelter in the garden but even though my father was a builder he put it in but it always let water. So we slept on blank, on mattresses under the stairs because the stairs are the safest place in a house. And my sister and I liked it. We thought it was rather jolly. And it didn't, I don't know why but the fact that the guns were getting nearer never bothered us either. When I went to school in the morning, down to Gladstone Park School we picked up any shrapnel thinking we were lucky when we found it and put it in our pockets because if you kept shrapnel in your pocket when it had been there for several weeks it became shiny. Though of course it wore out your pocket. The only time I remember being frightened was about the gas masks because we all had to go to collect the gas mask and some boys told me you had to crawl through a gas filled room. Of course you didn't but this worried me. The boys at our school weren't allowed to have their gas masks in cardboard boxes because they used to kick them about like a ball you see. They had to have them in tins. Cylinder tins. You know, like a large baked bean tin or something. Well the girls could keep their gas masks in cardboard boxes. And of course when my grandson did his topic on the war I was able to buy a gas mask from the car boot sale still in its cardboard box. A teacher would come round to see you’d put your gas mask on properly. Which she tested by putting a piece of cardboard over the nozzle and if when you breathe in you should keep the piece of cardboard on the gas mask, you know. What else would you like?
CB: We’ll pause there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: We, we talked earlier about your going to the bridge and watching London burning. What prompted your father to get you, to take you there and what was your actual reaction?
HS: Well, I think he thought it was an historical point. And I was not frightened because that was his attitude to it. It was something of terrible interest.
CB: And what was your reaction?
HS: Just what his was. That he was showing me something because I ought to know.
CB: In school you had to take your gas masks with you.
HS: Yes.
CB: How did the school brief you about the war?
HS: They didn't. Not in the junior school. But looking back on it I think some of it must have been very poignant for the teachers because the songs we sung were about, “Maybe Because I’m A Londoner That I Love London Town,” and, “London Pride,” and things like that. Rather sad pop songs really for a, because we left that school when we were eleven, for junior children to be singing. I don't think it affected us children. I didn't think about this aspect ‘til I grew up, but it must have been very poignant for the teachers, I think.
CB: So in, at age eleven, that was 1942 by which time things had got pretty bad.
HS: But the great thing was to get through your 11-plus. Which I did. And that made everyone happy. And then I went to Brondesbury and Kilburn High School which was of course a bit, much further into the bombing area wasn't it? And the school did get bombed but only at night fortunately. And we went back into it and some things were really more beautiful. The, the classrooms that were adjacent to the playground they were bombed. The roofs. So they weren't used anymore but of course they made lovely places at play time to go into.
CB: Yeah.
HS: Yes. And the, one of the halls had a gallery. And the bomb had gone the other side of the hall in the gallery but on the wall there was a piece of glass about that high with a waist like that. And I was told, you see if, if the wall had moved it would have broken the glass wouldn't it? But it didn't. So I don't think that war time affected schooling much because the teachers all kept going. The fact that the building was ramshackle, one remembers lovely summers in the playground in houses, well you called them little houses. Classrooms. And of course the rosebay willowherb grew everywhere when there was a, because they liked burnt things. So it didn't really. The only thing that I look back on it and think that the staff did wrong was if there were Doodlebugs about you all took your dinner down to a semi-basement and I suppose it was the time at an old-fashioned Girl’s School they kept going round asking us to be quiet. Well, it would have been better if we'd all made as much noise as possible because we knew that when you counted eight, didn't we?
CB: For the bomb to drop.
HS: Yes. So, really it would have been better.
CB: The V-1 this is.
HS: But I can't say that it worried me.
CB: So what you're talking about is that the V-1 flew over and when the engine stopped then the understanding was it would take —
HS: You counted eight.
CB: You’d count to eight before it hit.
HS: Yes. I presume that's right. It would have been better if we had all been singing or something wouldn't it?
CB: Yeah.
HS: Oh, the other thing we did at school. I wonder. There was a mine sweeper we adopted and so we knitted things for the minesweepers and sent them games. You know, like snakes and ladders. Which must have been quite amusing for the sailors to receive, I think. That's what we did.
CB: And what about the teaching? I mean who were the teachers? All women or were there men?
HS: They were all women. You know, quite if you like in an all-girls old school there was no question of you losing the teachers to be called up or anything. So that was an advantage eh?
CB: But the teachers themselves would have relatives at the war, wouldn’t they?
HS: Yes. They must have done. Must have done. None of them were married of course because until the war started, or a few years before you couldn't teach and be married.
CB: Oh right. What age did they allow teachers to marry?
HS: Well, I’m, I wouldn't like to be quoted about this. 1937 perhaps.
CB: No. No. Teachers themselves. At what age were they allowed to marry?
HS: Oh, it was only that they weren't allowed to teach while married until about 1937.
CB: I beg your pardon. I see what you mean.
HS: Which made some of them basically very angry really because they'd lost the opportunity to marry young enough to have children. They, even when I started teaching in 1941 we didn't get equal pay. It was gradually brought in.
RS: ‘51.
HS: ’51. Sorry, darling. He's better than I am. 1951. And I said to somebody at the school, well we hadn't got a head mistress, you see. I said, well, why doesn't Mrs so-and-so apply? And I was told that she was leaving as soon as possible because she was engaged to a man who was injured in the 1914-18 war. His pension wasn't enough for them to live on together and so she kept working to keep him. So as soon as she could get married she did get married. But I don't know really which year it was. Perhaps you can find it out. But then she was never paid equal pay all this time. And when she came to retire your pension was worked out on your last five years of working and these women had been on very low pay. And it was low. Someone I started teaching with left to become a bus conductress. She was a fool really in the long run but she earned more as a bus conductress than someone starting, because we were starting together in teaching.
CB: What was the age of most of the teachers then? Did they tend to be older?
HS: Well, it's hard to ask that question. They would have seemed older to me, wouldn't they?
CB: And how many men were there around who were teachers?
HS: I don't know because I went to a girls school.
CB: Right. Okay.
HS: Mind you, when my second school I was at where there were some men their jokes were about the war because until the war there was two separate teachers staff room even and the men and the women were kept apart. But then when the war started you had to do some fire watching in your place of work and immediately of course they were, I don't mean they were sleeping together literally but they were sleeping on bunk beds about the school. And thereafter this division, even in the staff room was stopped. They shared staff rooms. You know, there was no more of that men and women business.
CB: So, you're in North West London.
HS: Yes.
CB: And most of the bombing in the early stages you were pretty young but, seven.
HS: Yes.
CB: But what was your impression of the bombing of London which you'd watched with your father? But what was your impression of what was going on?
HS: I don't know. I mean, I think the impression was I had that we all had to put up with it and those people that could help with anything could. We kept bees at school. I know this was a funny thing. The bees had ration books by the way. The man who ran the Bee Club, not at school but we joined in with the big one, Mr Wilder. He had a gammy arm and could not carry buckets up ladders. His companion at his works had two arms but one leg. And so neither of them really when they were on fire watch duty were much good. He wrote an amusing letter to Canada which was printed in a paper out there and made quite an impression. You know, to say how everyone was doing their bit. And of course my father's lot where doing their bit with a vengeance weren't they? And we also had a salvage box on, outside our front door because the government wanted metal. So if you had anything metal or tin you saved it. Did you know that they cut down a lot of railings? Yes. And apparently they weren’t any use after they cut them down.
CB: Because they were cast iron. But it made it look good for the war effort.
HS: Yes. Well, I got the impression that everyone was trying.
CB: So you were a bit too young in many ways to get much involved with the ideas surrounding the bombing in East London but by the time the V weapons started, the V-1, you were by then thirteen.
HS: Very aware. Yes.
CB: Because we're talking about 1944.
HS: It was thirteen. I remember.
CB: So. Right. So, what's your first impression? Understanding of the arrival of the V-1 Doodlebug.
HS: I think one just, I mean they used to say you should go back home if there were Doodlebug raids but I never knew of anybody who did. I think you couldn't stop it. You just ploughed on. Your parents ploughed on and you ploughed on. And I mean, knowing that you could count eight was a comfort, I think. You do know, I think that my parent’s house was Doodlebugged.
CB: Please describe that. So —
HS: Yes.
CB: Can you just go back over the significance of counting eight is what?
HS: Because when, if you, if you could go on counting eight it would go up. Blow itself up after eight.
CB: We’re talking about —
HS: If it wasn't over you it was all right.
CB: Yeah. We're talking about aren't we the counting of eight starts when the engine stopped.
HS: Yes.
CB: And eight was notionally when it hit the ground.
HS: Yes. I don't know if that's true but that's what we did.
CB: As an average about right.
HS: Oh. Well, I can tell you about our blasting. My, because my mother asked me because I could go half price on the bus to go to Willesden to pay the electric light bill. Well, I guess I would have gone about 10 o'clock in the morning it wouldn't have been sooner or later I think. And I went to pay down in Willesden at the electric light bill on a bus. And then got on a bus to come home. And when I was coming home we got to this road bridge over the railways, over the railway and the bus driver stopped and he said, ‘You must all get out. I can't go on any further.’ Well, in my case it wasn't far to my home. And when I got there a Doodlebug had landed in a road behind. Now, we, we were on a slight hill. I don't know if it's anything to do with blast but we'd seen the houses on the slight hill were all well and truly blasted. You know. The roof. The windows and so forth. And so my mother said to me, ‘Go and get your father from the factory.’ So I walked to get my father and I thought this is like being in a film. See. I was thirteen at the time. I suppose it was. And when I got to the BTH it was a good thing my father was put into employment at the BTH because anyone that worked with them were very lucky. And as soon as I told the man on the gate he went straight away. He went and got my father and at the same time he alerted a team that the BTH had. I walked back home with my father who was very upset. He met my mother on the front doorstep and said, ‘Look. All we've worked for has gone.’ Actually, it hadn't, you see because BTH came and put tarpaulins on the roof. My father, knowing all people in the building trade could get the windows back pretty soon. My mother was very good at kind of claiming things and you could apply towards the expense of having something prepared, repaired. This was Neasden. The next station was Wembley Park. And the office for taking these forms to was Wembley Park. And because I could go so cheaply I was often sent with forms. So my mother kept applying. When, on the actual day the WVS came and they had, they were very efficient and very clever and they must have had rations. They made jam sandwiches and tea. And all the young people were told to go and sit on the curb and we were given jam sandwiches and tea. This, I thought well this is strange because my mother wouldn't have really liked me at thirteen to be sitting on a curb eating jam sandwiches. And then I thought, ‘Well, how is this helping?’ Now, I look back on it I can see how it was helping. The WVS were getting all the young people and children out of the houses weren't they? And the houses were full of broken glass and plaster work and so forth. So that to have us out of the way eating sandwiches and things on the curb was a great help. And apart from that then your parents needn't think about feeding you need they?
CB: Right.
HS: So that was all good.
CB: Yes. Yes. So you're a bit older now so again, and but we've got different weapons coming at you. So what did your parents do in a way of explaining what was going on?
HS: They didn't. You know. I didn't know about it until I went to Neasden shopping. And as I say Roy and I have discussed this. And that frightened me. Perhaps if they had explained it would have been better. But I said to another woman, well, ‘What was that?’ You know. It's a very, very big bang. And we were used to bangs because there were AA guns on the railway line. And she told me it was a new weapon. And I thought, ‘Gosh. This is frightening.’ The other thing that upset me about the war of course was North London is a very mixed neighbourhood. And we lived next door to David and Gerald. And their parents were called Eisenberg and they changed their name to Morris. And of course I I can't, I don't remember that I discussed this with my parents but I I kind of seemed to know what it was. And it was awful wasn't it? Because it wouldn't have saved them. And my father said, about the only thing he said that was against the war, everything else was going well, you know. According to him. I mean, he was one of the people that was up all night listening to the sinking of the Bismarck over and over again. And he said, my mother said every twenty minutes so he said, my father said to me, ‘If they get here they'll treat us like the Poles,’ and that, that was a worrying thing.
CB: And we're talking about the invasion of Poland which started the war. How many Poles were there around that you were conscious of in London?
HS: No. There I weren’t. I was more conscious with Jewish children.
CB: So in your area that’s not —
HS: A surprise.
CB: Golders Green. It's not East London. So were they, had they been moved from Eastern London to your area? Why were there Jewish children there?
HS: There were some children I think living with people. And it was after the war that more were brought in. We had a girl in our class because she was very clever but she was two years of course behind in her education. And she'd been in a ghetto. I did used to remember which one but I can't now. But of course I’d be about sixteen or so at the time wouldn't I?
CB: After the war. Yeah.
HS: Conscious. Yes. Conscious of fashion and so forth.
CB: Yeah.
HS: And it was awful because when any of these children came to Willesden they were well fed but she’d lost the ability to grow tall I suppose and she was kind of oblongish. You know. It was awful on suddenly eating when she hadn't ate. On the other hand we had a girl in our class called Daisy Wischer. And her father had done the sensible thing. He'd left, I think it was Poland because he could see what was happening to come to England when, well in 1931 it would have been. Because I was born then as well and Daisy used to say that she was the result of a practical joke. And what she meant was that her father had said to somebody, ‘What's a typically English girl's name?’ So this person has thoughtlessly said, ‘Daisy.’ So she would have rather been called [laughs] called something else, you see. So in all, so we were very conscious of it. That's all I can say. It was terrible.
CB: We’ll pause there for a mo.
[recording paused]
HS: We lived in Neasden. The North Circular Road runs through Neasden towards Wembley. I don't know what the east-west direction is of that. Do you? From Neasden to Wembley.
CB: Wembley is a bit further north.
RS: I was going to say. Yes.
Other: North and west. Sorry. North and east.
HS: Yes. Well, my grandparents, my father's parents lived in Wembley. So we were going along the North Circular Road from Neasden towards Wembley in a two-decker bus. And then, nobody was frightened but everyone was interested and excited because out of the window and with, the bus conductor was hanging out of the entry to the bus. You know, there was usually a pole. And we were all looking out of the window because there was a Doodlebug. And it was being chased by a plane. I was told that the pilot was trying to tip it to the open ground. You know, beyond Neasden and Wembley. I thought this was a bit far-fetched at the time. And though I could see the plane, you know around the doodlebug I couldn't believe it was trying to redirect it. But since I've grown up and read things I accept now that that's what it was doing. But nobody was frightened. Well, I mean it was being directed away from us wasn't it? And we all thought it was amusing. Interesting. That's what we all thought. And I was glad to have seen it.
CB: Did you see where it came down?
HS: No. Because we were going towards Wembley and it was going. I don't know.
CB: It didn't happen close by.
HS: No. So the pilot was doing good work because they wanted to get them away didn't they?
CB: Yeah. Well they wouldn't want to tip it straight into London.
HS: No.
CB: If they could let it keep going but of course —
HS: Yes.
CB: They wouldn't know when the engine would stop.
HS: No. But that’s what I saw. And I think it was an interesting experience partly because it was interesting and partly because the attitude of everybody on the bus. They didn't —
CB: Nobody worried.
HS: Not at all. No. The other thing about bombing is the, the government had a little man and he was called Billy Brown of London Town. He's quite notorious in some aspects because he used to be pictured and, you know stuck up all over the place. And one of the things he said was, “Be like dad. Keep mum.” Well, now that's not thought right is it? But the thing he did say was you see the government on underground trains and probably other trains as well puts crisscross stuff on the windows you see.
CB: For shattering.
HS: And, and Billy Brown said, “I trust you’ll pardon my suggestion. That stuff is there for your protection.” Because you see people want to see how.
CB: Pick it off.
HS: Pick it off. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HS: Well, I thought that was quite interesting really. But again, it never worried anyone, you know. He was amusing. I've forgotten what else he said but he was all over the place. Something else. A funny little creature was all over the place too.
RS: Squanderbug.
HS: Squander. No. It wasn’t the Squanderbug. Very good but that wasn't what I was thinking of but you are right. The government must have tried to put up funny things you see.
CB: To relieve the tension.
HS: And to try and make you do the right thing. This little fella appeared on a wall.
RS: Oh Chad.
HS: Chad. Yes. What was chad trying to do? It was something amusing. There was pictures on the wall with a funny little man’s upper part.
RS: With his nose draping over the wall.
Other: Oh, isn't that who was here, says it says something like, “Roy was here.” Or, “John was here,” and the curl of hair was around there.
HS: Probably. But he was also telling you something but I've forgotten what. We went to see a play with you, didn't we? About the war. About Bomber Command actually. Because Roy belongs to a group that goes to see plays organized by the blind people. And you are taken on the stage and shown where people come in and people go out, you see. Because he can't see. And the stage manager was there. And you know they were saying how they tried to make it accurate. So I said, ‘Well, if this was the war those windows, those big windows that are looking onto an airfield would have had criss-crosses on them.’ And they were quite surprised. They didn't seem to know that. But there we are.
CB: To what extent were you traveling around in London outside Neasden and therefore going more to the east and perhaps see the destruction?
HS: No. I wasn't. I mean you see Wembley did get bombed but not to that extent and of course there was the blackout. And you had to have number eight batteries in your torch. And I suppose, and all the entertainment was local. There was a Youth Club in the church hall and then people couldn't go away for holidays could they? I mean you seem to have done but most people couldn't. So the council used to do holidays at home. Bands and things in the park.
CB: Yes. Interesting. Instead of going on holiday. But we talked about, you talked about evacuation just before the war started and then another attempt at that. A second one.
HS: Yes.
CB: But when the Doodlebugs came, the V-1s, did your parents feel that it would be a good idea to get you out of London?
HS: Well, we went. I went. We went away, with my mother as well to North Shields which was lovely. They were ever so welcoming. And they didn’t seem to obey the rules in North Shields. They were still running a fun fair and you could buy ice cream. But we didn't, I don't know why we didn't stay very long but we didn't. And then came back. But I mean right until the end of the war there were still things going overhead. But I really, it was not explained to me. But I found North Shields very nice. And they were very welcoming to the people from London. But we didn't stay long and came back. Perhaps it was my education because it's more serious when you're secondary, isn't it?
CB: Yeah. How long do you think you stayed?
HS: In North Shields? Oh. Not more than two months. I don't know why.
CB: So the war finished. Then what? What about VE day. What did you do?
HS: Oh yes. We went into London. You see, my father thinking I should know historical things, yes he took me up into town.
CB: Your mother went as well?
HS: No. She stayed with my sister. And it was wonderful. I don't know how we got there really. There must have been some trains still going. And all along the streets there were people and where there were balconies there were bands playing and everyone's dancing round. I can't describe it to you.
CB: Which area are we talking about here? Is it the Strand or outside the Palace or where were you?
HS: We didn't get as far as outside the Palace. I think more Piccadilly Circus and that area. And I think it was one of those things he thought I ought to do. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. What was impressive was these people playing music on any balcony you know. Probably rotten music I expect because they can't have had professionals but there was music and there were people dancing, you know. It was. It was wonderful. It was a thing to remember.
CB: And as a young girl then you liked dancing.
HS: Oh yes.
CB: But were there any military people there as well who were celebrating?
HS: I think. Yes, I think there must have been because the streets were packed. You could hardly think you could get more people in it. No. It was wonderful and of course my father and everybody else felt it was wonderful.
CB: So —
HS: It was something you remember for the rest of your life.
CB: Yes. You're fourteen at that time. 1945.
HS: Yes.
CB: 8th of May.
HS: Yes.
CB: Then what?
HS: Well, the next sad thing I remember was my Uncle Ken. He was on that awful Burma Railway. I mean, he wasn't my uncle by blood. He married my mother's sister but I always thought of him as an uncle. He was, he’d just got to Singapore and was captured immediately and was treated terribly. And then my aunt only got two postcards from him in all the years he was there. And they were told they could only have five words and they had to make it personal so that the wife would know it was for him. From him. And he wrote, “Love to James,” because James was their cat. And no one could have invented that could he? Well, it was in the summer holiday and I was at my grandmother's. She hadn't got a telephone. And you, you’d have thought actually now I look back on it you thought the government could somehow have told the families of those that survived. But we didn't know he'd survived. And my grandmother went to the door and I was with her and a taxi man said exactly the right thing he would have been taught to say. He said, ‘Will you accept this man?’ This had the effect on my grandmother of making her furious. So she told him off brusquely. And she's no telephone. And ran out of the house to go and look for a telephone leaving me with Uncle Ken. He was wearing an American uniform that was big. We always thought the American uniforms were kind of tailored. And he looked awful. And there were red rings around his eyes and he was thin and standing up in this too big American uniform. And I was in the hall with him. My grandmother having run off. And he said after a bit, ‘Do you think we could go into the dining room?’ Poor man. Because he must have been waiting for this, mustn't he? And then I didn't know what to do with him. Of course when he did that I knew tea and so forth. Now, he had married my aunt just before the war started. And they'd been going out as a foursome with a couple about three houses away. She hadn't heard from her fiancé of course. And so he had to go and tell her that her fiancé had died. They had been in two huts a few huts apart from each other in this awful camp and they had not recognized one another. They must have looked awful. And Uncle Ken did not know that this friend of his had died until he saw death notices put up and he was on it. The friend, you know. So that was sad, that point of view but then my Uncle Ken, and I understand this is like it with many didn't keep on about his suffering at all until about six months before he died when my Auntie Grace said to me, ‘ I know I must keep bearing it,’ she said, ‘And listening to it over and over again.’ But in the last six months of his life he went over and over again all the terrible things, you know. And so that was all awful, wasn't it?
CB: Strange how he was running a record with the needle in the groove.
HS: And of course, if you loved him or were with him you just had to put up with it didn't you? Yeah.
CB: Right. Stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
HS: But Roy hasn’t.
CB: So how did you come to meet your husband, Roy?
HS: Ah, well, I must lead up to that because it's another thing that's most fortunate in my life. You gather I came from a working-class family. I had my Jill to be a witness. When I got the results of my school certificate which was sent on a postcard I went halfway up the stairs to look at it. My mother was talking either to friends or relations down at the bottom of the stairs. And I got eight or nine, didn't I? School certificates or something. Do you remember? I got a lot.
RS: Yes. More than I did anyway.
HS: Yes [laughs] And do you know none of them took any notice. This, of course Jill was at school and she realized about school certificates and things and she was amazed too. But they didn't because they were a working class family. I wanted to be a doctor. However, I had to leave school at sixteen and went to Pitman’s and went into an office when I was seventeen. And I’m not quite, but the person that taught me maths at school she gave me some maths lessons after I’d left school. And it never dawned on me that people got paid for coaching people. But it was good really. I didn't keep it up either. But it was good for what happened next. I met an old teacher on the train and she asked me what I was doing and I said, ‘I've been to Pitman’s and now I’m in an office.’ And she said, ‘Well, what did you want to do?’ and I told her I wanted to be a doctor, you see. And then she said to me, ‘Well, why didn't you stay at school?’ So I said what I thought was the truth. That we couldn't afford it. I told my mother when I got home. My mother was very angry and said I shouldn't have said that. I should have said we couldn't see our way to it. But now I look back on it I think they probably couldn't see their way to it. They wouldn't have known what next thing to do. Well, my head mistress at Brondesbury and Kilburn High School was a real trooper. She was friends with a teacher training college principal. And if you think about it I had no A Levels but I went there for an interview. And really these old maid women teachers, I wonder if they put more thought and affection into their pupils perhaps because they had no families of their own. I got accepted at Stockwell Teacher’s Training College which was, when you look back on it amazing. And it was in a beautiful place wasn't it, Roy? It was the old Palace of some bishops.
RS: Bishop of Southwark.
HS: Bishop of Southwark. At this time when that bishop had it for his Palace, apparently, to be okay as a bishop you’d better have a ruin in your grounds. So there was actually an artificial ruin in the ground and a lake. And it was quite a big place and unlike many training colleges at that time we had individual bedrooms. And it, it was wonderful really. Really it was and put me on a professional career level. They used to have dances once a fortnight in two huts in the grounds. If the first years wanted to go to a dance you had to polish the floor the night before. Thereafter you had big things called bumpers and you had to polish the floor. Well, Roy came to a dance didn't you? And we met one another and I thought well he was wonderful but he says he didn't think much about me. So I made sure that I polished the floor the next time there was a dance. It was once a fortnight. And after that we went out pretty steady.
CB: Never looked back.
HS: No. And we've been married now sixty years, you see.
CB: Have you really? Yeah.
HS: Yeah. And it's true what my old Auntie Ivy used to say if you do win through it gets better and better. It does really. And there we are. But of course the restriction in a women's college in those days were quite funny really.
CB: Yeah.
HS: No men in the building after 8 o'clock at night, for example. And then, but of course some people who were more spirited than me used to say, ‘Oh, well, it was my brother,’ or ‘It was my uncle.’ And you had to, had to sign in and out. And once Roy wanted to speak to me and, you know there weren't telephones. At least not in the thing. Not personal. And we had the romantic experience of him throwing gravel up at my window in order to be able to speak to me which is really rather jolly wasn’t it? [laughs] Yes. And then the college had, because we were really a working class college I think they were trying to improve us have that if you were going on an educational outing you could apply for some grant towards it. Well, there was the Festival of Britain.
CB: 1952.
HS: Yes.
RS: One.
CB: ‘51.
RS: Well, and there was a nearby Sculpture Park. So we girls applied for a cultural visit to the Sculpture Park. But we all went, didn't we? To the Festival of Britain. That was a nice outing. And that's where I met your grandfather. So my life changed completely by these, I wonder if women who liked children and became teachers but couldn't get married if they had more, you know maternal feelings for the girls they taught. That thought has occurred to me. And how they wangled it I do not know.
CB: I mean in practical terms because of the huge losses, death in the First World War there were very large numbers of women who were teaching who weren't married and had no prospect of getting married.
HS: No.
CB: Which went on of course straight into the Second World War.
HS: It's very sad isn't it? But it was like a happy miracle for me because I mean Neasden was all right but it wasn't in grounds with an artificial ruin and a lake and so forth.
RS: No.
HS: We've been back but it's been taken over. Just to look. But it's been taken over by the council hadn’t it when we looked? Because you see in Bromley that amount of ground would be very valuable wouldn't it?
CB: Fantastic. Thank you.
[recording paused]
HS: Makes me think that I can understand letting off the atomic bomb.
CB: This is, we're talking about the Burma Railway now. Yes. And Uncle Ken.
HS: Yes.
CB: Who died in ’88.
HS: Yes.
CB: He certainly lasted well.
HS: Yes.
CB: Let's just go on to the earlier positive brilliant time of when you met your right-hand man. And when you were married where was that? And when?
HS: Now, you say the day. I go out of my head.
RS: It's the man who are always supposed to forget.
CB: Yes.
RS: We married in 1954.
CB: Right.
HS: Yes.
RS: February.
CB: So it was a bit cold. Where was the wedding?
RS: St Catherine's Church, Neasden.
HS: Neasden.
RS: Or Dutton Hill. I’m not quite sure.
HS: I think it was called Neasden cum Kingsbury.
RS: Oh, it was. Yes. I’d forgotten that.
HS: Yes. But the joke is, you haven't asked where did we have our wedding reception?
CB: Oh yeah. Go on.
HS: We had it at the Ritz. However, it was the Ritz Cinema, Neasden.
CB: Was it? [laughs]
HS: It sounds good doesn't it?
CB: It does. Just we’ll obliterate that part and just leave it at the Ritz.
HS: That wouldn’t be accurate.
CB: No. And what about your honeymoon?
HS: We didn't go away till the summer, did we?
CB: Well, February wasn't a good time to go on a honeymoon really was it?
RS: No. We went to Lynton.
CB: Oh yeah.
RS: In the summer after the very bad flood.
Other: Oh really.
RS: That occurred in Lynmouth.
CB: Oh yes. In Devon this is. Yes.
RS: Up the cliff in Lynton there are two separate villages. Lynmouth and Lynton. And it had been cleared up pretty well. It left a huge amount of damage.
HS: And the rabbits had Myxomatosis.
RS: Did they?
Other: In ‘54. Yes.
RS: Yes.
Other: There were in ’55.
HS: I mean, you know when you're first married and you haven't got much money we were going out on walks an awful lot and it was quite spoiled if you saw a rabbit were Myxomatosis.
CB: Yeah. It's quite disturbing when you see them. Yeah.
HS: Yes.
CB: Right.
Other: Did you stay in the, I think it's the Castle Hill House Hotel?
HS: No. We stayed in a very funny place, didn't we? Do you remember. It was a Christian hostel.
RS: Yes.
HS: I don't know what you felt about it.
RS: It was cheap.
HS: It was cheap. Yes.
CB: With that thought we'll finish [laughs]
HS: It's a bit of a come down from dinner at the Ritz. I mean, isn't it?
CB: Yeah. The Rave at the Ritz. The Ritz rave.
HS: We've had a lucky life haven't we?
CB: Well, you’ve done well.
HS: And there we are.
CB: Right. Thank you very much.
HS: Thank you. Thank you.
CB: Roy and Honor Saunders. Thank you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Honor Saunders,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 4, 2021,

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