VE Day 75 years on

The pictures above show VE celebrations in the street in 1945, probably in London, alongside the official programme for the London Victory Celebrations in 1946. The latter is from my family archives – both parents lived and worked in London in reserved occupations during  WW2. They worked in a butcher’s shop by day, and as Civil Defence wardens by night. They went through the blitz, lucky if they managed to get 4 hours sleep, and they slept in a Morrison shelter in the front room.

WMorrison shelterhen I was a child they had a big clear out, and the Morrison shelter was set up in the front room so I could see it. Here’s what it looked like (not the actual one they used). I crawled inside and hated it. It was like a claustrophobic cage and I wonder how they managed to get any sleep at all; I’d have been constantly worrying that a bomb would hit the house and I’d be trapped inside. Notice how the roof of the shelter doubled up as a table.

Susie air raid shelter 2Prior to the Morrison shelter they’d lived in another house which had an Anderson shelter in the garden. My mum doesn’t look too bad standing outside it, with her pinny and sensible shoes. I don’t know when this was taken, but it’s during the war.

There are no photos of either parent in their air raid warden’s uniforms, but someone made a sketch of my dad in his. Note the short back and sides and the moustache – fashionable at the time, but it makes him look a bit serious (he wasn’t). The  drawing is dated 12th December 1941. He was in the Civil Defence for the long haul, until the end of the war.

Fred sketch


Now the 75th anniversary of VE Day upon us, I’ve been wondering what my parents would think of the Britain they worked for and supported the war effort for, 75 years on? They would certainly recognise and embrace the upsurge of community connection and kindness, friendliness and helpfulness that has become more evident since we’ve all been in the lockdown. Coronavirus and pandemics might ring bells for them; they were children in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic but I never heard them speak of any memories of it. The biggest thing that ever happened for them was WW2. They would certainly be able to empathise with the fear and concern about this, as-yet, unpredictable disease afflicting the global population. Fear would have been ever-present in their lives during the war, and maybe it’s something we are gradually getting used to as a “background” as we seek to get on with our lives in as normal a way as possible in these exceptional times. Does the fear and worry ever go away, or do we learn how to deal with it better and in more manageable ways? I guess it’s the latter.

With all this in mind, I’m not sure I want to sing “We’ll Meet Again” with the nation on Friday, or watch too much of the nostalgic stuff on TV, or hear the stirring Churchill speech we’re being promised, or take a part in the suggested socially distanced afternoon tea shared with neighbours outside our houses. I may choose to be a grumpy introvert and stay away – the waving of the Union Jack leaves me unmoved and I’ve managed to avoid it for a long time. That’s not to suggest it’s wrong to remember and acknowledge what people experienced during WW2 and 75 years ago, when it came to an end and new way of living evolved. It’s rather similar to where we’re at right now in 2020 – life is unlikely to be quite the same again. Something new and positive must evolve from this situation, we must adapt and go forward, consider the environent a lot more  – so many people have realised they appreciate it –  and a lot of things must change.

Looking to the future, that will be no bad thing.

Black and white photography

Bw diner Tucumcari

Traditional diner, Tucumcari, New Mexico

I recently watched a TV programme about Don McCullin, veteran photojournalist, whose iconic black and white photography had me looking at some of my own humble archive shots.

Famed for his war photography and images of urban strife, McCullin took viewers on a tour of modern day Britain as he revisted and photographed places he’d been to many years before. Armed with old-fashioned but stalwart cameras which have seen much action, he was equally comfortable wandering around in towns, talking to people, asking them if he could photgraph them and taking candid shots, as he was joining a local hunt in the countryside to get some excellent shots (although I was glad to hear he didn’t think much of fox hunting).

All his photographs are in black and white – the detail is superb. Viewers were taken, at the end of the day, into his dark room. He develops in the “old fashioned” way; no digital cameras for him. At 83, he’s still working…or should that be doing what he loves doing?

Every now and then I try my hand at some candid or street photography. In this shot the customer in the diner had laid his stetson on the seat beside him, and I liked the row of chairs lined up against the counter. But I didn’t ask if I could take his photo as I didn’t want him to pose. I had my lunch, left the diner and he was none the wiser.  But I’m glad he was there for my picture.

Bw old timer in diner

An old fashioned butcher’s shop


On holiday in France a few years ago I was fascinated to discover a real old-fashioned butcher’s shop in the city of Chartres. I’m a butcher’s daughter, coming from a family of master butchers. I didn’t follow the family trade and I rarely eat meat these days, so no chance of being a chip off the old block there (pun intended!).

Nonetheless, when I saw this shop I had to take a closer look as it appeared to be remarkably like the shop my Grandpa had in Croydon, south London, in the early 1900s.

It was. Taking a closer look I noticed there was a cash desk, with a cashier who handled payment for the purchases; the butcher didn’t handle money at all. I was rather taken by the dog inside the shop, hoping for some scraps! Forget Health & Safety regs there – this was life as it used to be.

The proprietor, Monsieur Pinson – an elegant man in his 80s – was serving customers. The shop was crowded and trade was brisk. That’s me in the photo, talking to the elderly gentleman who was going to buy his weekend joint. He said that the shop was the only one of its kind in the city, and it was the best too. He also wondered how long it would remain open as the proprietor was getting on a bit.

Sure enough, the next time we visited Chartres, the shop was closed and shuttered, but appeared to be untouched and unchanged. I wonder what had happened to it?

My Grandpa’s shop in Croydon no longer exists, but I do have this old sepia-toned photo. Grandpa's butcher's shop

The shop front is open – cold in winter no doubt, but maybe an effective way of keeping the meat cool and fresh. My Grandma sits at the back of the shop in the cash desk kiosk. Her job was to take payments and keep the books. My Grandpa stands on the right, sporting a magnificent moustache and a long white apron. Two employees stand behind the open counter, and my Dad – the butcher’s boy in striped apron and flat cap – stands near my Grandpa.

My Dad must have been around 7 or 8, meaning that this photo was taken just before, or during WW1 (1914-18). As a butcher’s boy, when he was a bit older, he used to deliver orders using a bicycle with a large basket on the front. He went on to train as a master butcher, managing several different shops in south London.

Dad & staff Old Kent Rd shop

That’s him with the pencil behind his ear in the Old Kent Road shop in the 1960s.