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From country boy to a town boy


The war years.
Evacuated at the age of four with my sister, aged eight, to Devon , We escaped most of the war. We returned for a year but, as it got bad again we were sent back to Devon. We finally came back when I was nine, to stay at my grandmother's house at Chancelot Road, or as we called it, 'Chance your lot' Road, just off tin cheque alley, McLeod Road, Abbey Wood, where the Co-op was. We lived here for the next two years.

Our house at Belvedere was being lived in by a bombed out family, I can remember going to Federation Woods where there was a prison of war camp and getting cigarettes and sweets from one or two of the prisoners.
There were plenty of bombsites around to play on and make cycle tracks. We would race around on home made go-carts (Perhaps this is what children need today:  a sense of adventure and achievement).

I remember an aeroplane crashing at what they called 'The Point,' it was a British plane with a Polish crew. It had hit a Barrage Balloon cable with the loss of the crew.

I also recall the Doodlebug shot down by the guns on Bostall Heath; they had hit it in the wrong place, which made it come straight down onto Smithies Road.

I was born in Woolwich, at the British Hospital For Mother and Babies; my mum and dad lived in Charlton at the time.  

Bostall Lane was my first school that I went to after the war. On a Saturday morning I would get six pence from my moneybox for Saturday morning pictures at the Kinema at the bottom of Lakedale Road. I remember the Kinerma Rangers. The sixpence was for my tram fare, the pictures, and two Woodbines, which soon came to an end when mother found out!   

Later on I got a Saturday job with Charley Roberts, who was just out of the army and had started a greengrocery business, delivering around the streets. He also had a shop just off of Plumstead  High Street . We would also go up to the Market at about five in the morning, to load up for the day.  It was at this time that I saw a banana for the first time. It was very much an 'under the counter' job and anyone who bought enough vegetables would get the bananas!

We went to the Royal Artillery Theatre. It cost one shilling up in the gods. Showing there was Cinderella and Tony Hancock. He was playing the part of Buttons and he was about sixteen years old. It was the first pantomime I had been to. I still go each year and will be going shortly to see Dick Whittington (November 2006).

As the war finished sweets became available (although we used to get them in the country). The first shop to sell them locally was near the Middle Gate of the Arsenal, but you had to take a pound of sugar and the rest in money. You would get in the queue and watch them making the sweets.

I also got my first new bike from Plumstead High Street. I had bikes before this, but they were either borrowed or made up ones.            
We used to get Bradshaw's coaches, in Lakedale Road, to go on day trips to the coast, at the front of the Bradshaw's greengrocer's shop, and the family used to come out to see us off.

My grandfather worked for Mr Beasley on the Dray carts. He loved his horses. He took me and my sister around the Brewery and also to see his horses in their stables. In the Bottling Dept. the noise was deafening; my mother also worked there. Mr Beasley did a bit of woodcarving and we had a black man's head carved by him. We don't have it now as my mother sold it for fifteen pounds to a tinker who came to the front door.

My granddad also drove the horse and carriage for Mr Beasley. When the motorcar eventually arrived, he went on to drive that. I remember my granddad taking me to Hastings and taking me to see Mr Beasley's  family grave, which is just outside Hastings. At one time Beasley's had a strike, which he refused to join and was sent to Coventry by the rest of the workers. My Nan and granddad, or to give them their proper titles, nana and papa, met when they were chauffeur and maid in a country house.

I wonder if any one remembers Robinson Clever and the Wurlitzer Organ at the Granada Woolwich; what a wonderful sight and sound; I still can't get his signature tune out of my mind!


John Miles



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