Yesterday I wrote about my husband Michael's mother, Rose Murray, on the anniversary of her birth in 1908.
As she got older we encouraged her to write down her life's story and aged about ninety two she made a start:
I was born on May 31st 1908 in a court off Petticoat Lane. My mother was Jewish and my father C of E. Ten weeks before I was born my mother lost her first child, a girl named Esther. I was always told she was beautiful so when I was born it must have been a great shock to my mother when she looked at me and realised I had a very bad purple birthmark on the right side of my face which went from my mouth up to my forehead. Maybe that was why she always resented me. I can only remember my mother ever kissing me once and that was when she came home from work, after having a few drinks with her friends. That night she gave me a penny which was a lot in those days and I couldn’t wait to run and buy my first treasure, a wooden doll which I adored. I was five by this time and we had moved down into Commercial Road. My father was a wonderful man and I think that in my whole life he was the only person that really loved me and I adored him. The first time I realised that there was something wrong with me was when I was out with my mother and a child shouted “Oh look at her face”, my mother turned me round and said “Now look at her ars”. It was very embarrassing for me because I did not know that I was any different from other children not being big enough to see in a mirror.
My first day at school was awful. I was very shy and I remember when I came home for lunch I screamed because I did not want to go back. But I got used to school and I remember my first Xmas there. Father Xmas came with a load of toys and he was holding each one out and asking who would like that toy. Then he came to a beautiful doll which I thought was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. He held it up and asked who would like it. I was too shy to say I would but because I was standing close to him he looked at me and said “I think this little girl would”. I couldn’t believe it was really mine. That in my mind was the best Xmas I ever had. I loved that doll and one day I was playing in the street with my doll when a big ginger boy rushed by me and snatched it out of my arms. Up to this day I have hated that boy. He took my greatest treasure from me.
My Father by this time was driving a lorry which was pretty good in those days so we moved into two rooms in Planet Street which is in the Commercial Road. One night my father came home from work and we had some neighbours in and they were all excited and worried because they were expecting war to be declared. It was 1914. One Saturday my father came home with a soldier. It appears they were recruiting men for the army and he wanted to enlist but he had to come and give my mother the wages first. Anyhow we were crying but he came home in the evening because they wouldn’t accept him because he was deaf in one ear. Being the man he was he wouldn’t give in so he enlisted again but he was turned down. The third time he was accepted because I think they needed lorry drivers.
The 1914 war is as vivid to me as the 1939 was. My father was drafted to Egypt which left me alone with my mother. One night my Auntie Edie came to see us and she said people were looking up to the sky because there was a cigar shaped silver looking thing up there which we found out after was a Zeppelin. It was few nights after when there was a terrific bang there was glass breaking everywhere. My mother shouted the Germans have set London on fire because the sky was all red, it seemed that way. We were all scared stiff until a man came down the street and told us it was an explosion at Silvertown.
When my father was sent abroad my mother was about three months pregnant and she had a most beautiful baby boy born on April 1st 1915. To me he was my lovely doll sent back to me. I worshipped him but unfortunately he was taken away from us when he was only two and a half. In those days you didn’t have the Health Service so he got measles and complications set in and he died at home without any hospital treatment. I was broken hearted at losing my lovely brother and I made myself ill. When I had to have a medical at school they said I would have to stay away from school and attend a clinic for prevention of consumption. I lost three years of schooling without ever going to a hospital or having an Exray.
The war was still going on and we were having Zeppelin raids. One night the guns were going heavily and all of us kids were called out into the street to cheer there in the sky was this big shaped object burning. The guns had caught it and it was coming down in flames. It is a sight I shall never forget. We got through the war somehow and we weren’t too badly off because as my father was a lorry driver taking the ammunition to the front he got a lot more money than an ordinary Tommy. At last, the war ended. It was wonderful, all the boys went around collecting firewood and we had big bonfires right down the centre of the street – the people went wild. Then the men started to come home. I remember as soon as my father came home I dragged him round to Watney Street to buy me a scooter which was wonderful to a child in those days because they had only just come out.
My father came home with a very bad cold and from the day he came out of the Army he was never the same again. After the war things got very bad, people were losing jobs and money was very scarce. My mother used to pawn my father’s best suit on Monday and get it out on Saturday. I had to go for it but although we were all poor we were very proud and I wouldn’t go to get the things out of pawn unless my mother gave me an extra penny for a sheet of brown paper to have the clothes wrapped. Everyone was in the situation, but people were a lot better. You could always borrow a cup of sugar a drop of milk a piece of soap. If one had they would share it. As time got on things got worse than ever. My mother had to go to money lenders who were real blood suckers. I dreaded Saturday because if my mother didn’t have the money to pay her debts I had to answer the door and say she was out. My poor father knew nothing of this my mother kept it away from him as he was a sick man. He kept having to have time out from work because he was so ill and eventually he was given the sack. After four years in the army he finished up on the scrap heap. He had to go on the dole and after so many months he was struck off, which meant he had to go to the R.O. which was the relieving office. They gave you food tickets. Although we were so hard up people still had their pride. You had to give the name of the shops to which you could get a piece of meat and groceries, because my mother didn’t want people to know we were on the R.O. she used to go all the way to Aldgate to change the tickets.
By this time I had left school at 14. I remember I cried on my 14th Birthday as I didn’t get one card. The lady who lived in the two rooms above us gave me a penny. Being a war widow with 5 children she was still better off than us because she had her war pension regularly every week. I forgot to mention that when I was 12 years old my mother gave birth to a beautiful little girl and she was so fair I said I would like her to be called Lily. So now I had a sister which I loved dearly. By the time I was 14 Lily was two and I took her everywhere with me. I was so proud of her.
I left school at 14 and found a job in a sweet factory. Looking back I don’t know how it was allowed to keep open. For a weeks work from 8 till 6 and half day on Saturday I got ten shillings a week. It was a God send to my mother but she kept saying I had to have a trade. Anyhow because I was caught talking to another girl we were both given the sack. My mother came in one day not long after I was given the sack and said they were advertising for an apprentice girl in tailoring in a street off the Commercial Road where we lived. Anyhow I got the job. The hours were 8 in the morning til 8 at night, wages were 6 shillings a week. And on Saturday I used to go in to help another girl to clean the workshop which was a room in the house where the governor lived. After working there for a good while my mother went to see the governor and said she thought it was time I got a raise, so I was given another two shillings. Now I was earning 8 shillings a week (40p in today's money). At that time we could go to the pictures for 6 pence and when I got my wages my mother gave me 1 shilling spending money. I couldn’t get to the pictures fast enough. It was a wonderful new world all the lovely clothes and dancing. I used to stay and see it all over again. I never wanted to come out into the world of reality.
Sadly, this was all that Rose was able to write. She couldn't sustain the interest or the concentration. But what a pity because what little she has written is a fascinating insight into her working class life and times. All I would say to anyone with elderly relatives or friends is don't leave it too late before you help them to capture their memories or they will be lost forever.