Bob has now been retired from full time work for 22 years. He lives in Lincolnshire, UK, close to his two daughters and five grandchildren.
Confessions of an East End Urchin
1940s, World War 2, Hitler bombing London in the Blitz, food shortages, rationing, poverty — a hard life for kids playing in the streets and on bomb sites.
This is me aged about 7 or 8 standing in the back garden of my house in East Ham, London. I'm standing on the spot where our Anderson Shelter used to be, so this was a few months after the end of World War 2. You can see the freshly replaced earth at my feet where the 3 or 4-foot deep pit had just been filled in, judging by the shovel and rake behind me.
My dad would have done that. Like most adults at that time, he was anxious to forget the war and move on, besides which I had three younger siblings aged 4 and 2 (twins) who needed a place to play, and the old corrugated iron shelter would have been very dangerous for toddlers.
The clothes I was wearing were probably just about all I had. I would have worn them to school, for playing out in the street, and probably Sunday best. The jacket was fashionable at the time, and ideal with its big pockets (as you can see, filled with all the junk boys collect). I was a bit of a "Just William", and a street urchin getting up to all the tricks kids of today are denied.
Updated 19th September 2014
East End Street Kids 1940s
I've no idea who the kids in this picture are, but they look just like the ones I went to school with, lived next door to, and "played in the street" with.
Playing in the street in those days did not just mean on the drive or the pavement outside the house as it might today. It meant literally anywhere within about a mile of home. My friends and I played and wandered wherever the fancy took us, from morning to dusk and sometimes after dark. We only came back if we were hungry or thirsty or had gotten hurt, and not always then!
What a fantastic playground the East End of London was in those days. There were bomb sites to investigate and climb over. We would search for "treasure", build camps and chuck stones and half-bricks at each other. There was the rubber dump which seemed to stretch forever, where old tyres from cars, lorries, tractors and even aircraft were piled up ready to be climbed over and crawled inside. There was the "dump", a vast area containing industrial slag heaps and discarded rubbish, where you could slide down the side of an enormous hill of black dust on a makeshift sled, or climb inside the rusting carcass of an abandoned vehicle.
There were rudimentary parks with small lakes and rivers where you could paddle, or catch "sticklebacks", or just chuck things in. There were trees, lamp-posts, walls that could be climbed. There were slow-moving horse-drawn delivery vehicles that you could run after and hang off the back of until the driver shouted and shook his whip at you. And finally, there was the railway at the top of my road where you could stand on the bridge and get covered in soot as a steam train passed underneath. When you got fed up with that, you could climb over the wall and play on the heaps of coal stored at the side of the tracks.
No wonder we were always filthy!!
Blitz Bomb Sites Everywhere: Kids' Paradise!
There were bomb sites all around us in East Ham in the 1940s. Unsafe buildings had been demolished and cleared of 90% of the rubble, but there was still enough left to keep us kids occupied day in day out.
Some sites, where several houses had been hit, were as big as half a football pitch, where gardens were included. Some had exposed cellars. They were great fun. I don't think we ever thought that these had once been people's homes or that the occupants had been killed. To us, they were just a glorious playground.
Grass and weeds had begun to take over and added to the jungle effect. We played "Cowboys and Indians" and galloped around re-enacting the latest films we had seen. We pointed two fingers at each other to simulate our six-guns and made "Peeoung!" noises supposed to be bullets ricocheting off rocks. When we shouted, "You're dead!", the other boy had to fall to the ground clutching his heart just like the "baddies" in the pictures.
Football in the Street
If there were enough kids out in the street, you could play football. There were no parked cars. Nobody in our street had one. Occasionally a delivery vehicle would come through but that only happened once or twice a day. So we would mark out goals in the middle of the road with our coats.
We all wanted to be Stanley Matthews, the great Stoke and Blackpool football hero, and arguments would break out. "I want to be him!" "You were him last time! It's my turn!" Someone else would chip in, "No it ain't! You said I could be 'im next time!"...
Arguments over, we were ALL Stanley Matthews. We'd start kicking a tatty old football about and doing lots of shouting. That's if somebody had a real football. More often than not, we made do with anything that was kickable, including tin cans or even somebody's school cap!
If a delivery van or cart came along, they would stop while we gathered up the "goals" before passing through. The drivers didn't seem to mind. Once they'd gone we carried on with our game.
Games We Played in the Gutter
The gutter on each side of all urban roads was defined by the kerb, a line of long, heavy granite stones about six inches high. The kerb signified the edge of the pavement. The gutter served to collect water when it rained and channel it along to the drains where it dispersed into the sewer pipes under the road. The gutter also made an ideal seat for 8-10 year olds to sit by the side of the road and play. The gutter, when dry, was also the perfect place to play marbles, as long as you kept well clear of the drain hole grills. The game of marbles was simple enough. One boy would roll one of his glass marbles a few feet along the gutter. The next boy would roll one of his to try to hit the first one. If he managed to hit it, the first marble became his. Then he would roll out a marble. This simple game could go on until one boy either lost all his marbles or got called in for his dinner. Marbles were eminently collectable, like priceless jewels. No two seemed to look alike. There were two basic sizes; ordinary and "kinger", which were about twice the diameter, rarer and obviously more valuable.
When we got fed up with marbles, or had lost them all, there was another distraction; rolling up tar balls.
Every so often, the road would be resurfaced. The road-menders would spray hot tar all over the road and spread grey stone chippings to cover the tar. When the tar cooled with the chippings firmly embedded in it, it became a good hard surface. After this, on a really hot day, any exposed tar at the edge would begin to melt again and run like candle wax into the gutter. We could sit with our feet in the gutter picking up tar and rolling it into shapes like Plasticine. It also had the consistency of chewing gum so I'm sure we tried licking it to see what it tasted like. 'Orrible! I imagine!!
There were very few cars about in those days just after the War. Certainly nobody living in our street owned one and probably never thought they ever would. If a car ever appeared parked up the road somewhere, it was a cause to run indoors and report the fact to Mum. She would wipe her hands on her apron and come to the door to look, to see whose house it was, and to speculate who the car belonged to. "Probably the doctor", she'd say, and go back inside to carry on with her baking or washing. Us kids would probably go up the street and hang about near the car, being nosey and wanting to see who came out of the house.
Because cars were a comparitive rarity, we sometimes sat in the gutter at the top of our street, "collecting car numbers", that is, writing down in an exercise book the registration number of every vehicle that passed . It was the most pointless activity ever, but some numbers seemed to have some special significance, for instance if the letters made an actual word. I expect we were constantly hoping to record something like "BUM 999" to be the envy of our friends!
Another favourite game was "Five Stones" sometimes known as "Jacks". You could buy a set of five hardened clay blocks about 1.5cm square with some corrugated sides. Or, if you had some extra cash, you could get a posh set of metal 3-dimensional star shapes which were easier to catch and pick up. If you had no money at all, you could find 5 pebbles in your garden or someone else's and make do.
I forget all the rules, but the game consisted of throwing the five stones up and catching them on the back of your hand. Depending on how many you caught, you then proceeded to throw one jack in the air and pick up one of the others before catching the first. That was "Onesies". On the next throw, you had to pick up two of the others, "Twosies", and so on.
A game that improved our dexterity and kept us occupied sitting in the gutter for hours.
Hanging on the Back of the Coalman's Cart
Every house was heated by coal fires where I lived in the 1940s. Coal was delivered in hundredweight sacks round the streets by coalmen driving horse drawn carts.
Whenever one of these rumbled by, a few of us kids would creep up behind it, hang on at the back, and try to see how far we could get before the coalman spotted us and chased us away. We were always too quick for him and ran off to a safe distance laughing and boasting about who held on longest.
When the coalman called at our house, Mum would pay him a few shillings for one or two bags, or whatever she could afford, and then he would get the bags off the cart and tip the contents down our coal-hole into our cellar.
Every house in our street had a cellar. The coal-hole was a round hole in the tiled path near each front door. It was about 12 inches across and had a simple lift-up cast iron cover. Underneath was a short chute down to the pile of coal. When we needed coal for the fire, Dad would go down the cellar steps from under the stairs inside the house with a bucket and shovel to get it from the pile. As you could imagine, the cellar was filthy with coal dust. That didn't stop me sometimes opening the coal-hole from outside to squeeze through and drop down the chute into the cellar if I needed to sneak into the house!
1940s Kids Hobbies
Collecting Old Fag Packets - mostly found in the gutter.
Every kid I knew collected cigarette packets. It was easy and cost nothing. In those days there were no litter bins on the streets. However, Londoners then were strangely more particular about litter than now, and never simply threw it on the pavement. Sweet bags, chip bags, and other assorted wrapping papers were screwed up tightly and dropped carefully in the gutter at the side of the road along with cigarette ends and used matches. This was considered good manners and also helped the army of road sweepers who kept the gutters clean.
Empty fag packets and match boxes were usually discarded without crushing and provided a treasure trove for schoolboy collectors.
All boys of my age just after the war used to "collect things". The list was endless. You name it - we collected it!
One of my favourites was my collection of fag packets. Most of the adults in my family smoked as the practice was widely considered not only fashionable but positively beneficial! Each adult had their own favoured brand so my collection was easy to start, first at home and then on visits to grandparents and aunts and uncles.
Once a collection got going and was safely stored in an old shoebox, we began to scour the gutters everywhere we went for more specimens. Some brands of cigarette were more common, some were less usual and a few were extremely rare. To discover, for instance, an empty packet of "Passing Clouds" was a triumph. If two or more boys spotted it at the same time, a fight ensued. To the winner the spoils!!
Make Do and Mend - 1940s Fags
I often walked through the streets with an aunt who was a heavy smoker. She was always on the lookout for "dog-ends", discarded cigarette ends, which she could use to make roll-ups.
My aunt wasn't poor, just frugal. She would suddenly stop and say, "Look, Robert, there's a big one!" I would pick it up out of the detritus in the gutter at the edge of the road and she would pop it into a tin for later.
We Made our Own Toys!
... sometimes with a bit of help from grownups.
We were always making bows and arrows, particularly after seeing a Cowboys and Indians film at Saturday morning pictures. For a few coppers (old pennies) out of our meagre pocket money, we could go to the "oil shop" on the corner of our road and buy a bamboo bean pole and a few pea-sticks. Somehow we would beg, borrow or scrounge a length of string and then we had everything we needed. You had to tie the string to one end of the beanpole, bend the pole a bit and tie on the other end. This sometimes required Dad's help to get the string taut enough. Then we were off, with parents' cries of, "Be careful with that thing! Don't come crying to me if you shoot some kid's eye out!" ringing in our ears.
Anything was a legitimate target. Trees, cats, dogs, other kids ...
We roamed the streets with these lethal weapons, re-enacting Custer's Last Stand or Geronimo raiding the US Cavalry's Fort. Despite our parents' warnings nobody ever seemed to get hurt, though we were told off a lot and often got chased out of someone's front garden when we were trying to hide from whoever was firing back at us.
Sometimes we shot arrows up into the air to see how high they would go. Sometimes they got lodged in trees or landed over a high fence in someone's back garden. Eventually we lost them all and that was the game over. We couldn't afford more pea-sticks!
We made lots of other toys, of course. We would hunt around for a small tree with cleft branches, from which to make a catapult. We would whittle a "Y" shape with our penknives. Every boy carried a penknife! Then it was back to the "oil shop" for a yard of rubber (they sold some strange things!) and a hunt for an old piece of leather for the sling. The whole thing was assembled by attaching the rubber to the cleft stick by binding it with thin twine, then we went off again on the rampage.
Ammunition was plentiful. Loose chippings left in the gutter by road menders, bits of rubble on bomb sites, stones from anybody's garden. We filled our pockets. The best fun was to put an old milk bottle or jam jar on a wall and try to smash it!
Guy Fawkes Night
Time for a bonfire and fireworks!
For a good month before November 5th, Guy Fawkes night, all the kids were excitedly preparing. Fireworks had to be bought. We had to get some money from somewhere. Pocket money was meagre, Mum and Dad were always hard up, so we had to do our bit. Lots of kids made a "Guy".
A "Guy" was an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Quality varied from a reasonable likeness made from old clothes stuffed with straw, with arms, legs, and a head with a shop-bought mask, to a miserable attempt consisting of a single old torn sack filled with crumpled newspaper with a pencil-drawn face on a sheet of paper pinned at the top. My guy was always a good one because I got enthusiastic help from my Aunt Daisy who always managed to come up with some old clothes.
The purpose of the guy was twofold; primarily to burn on top of the bonfire on fireworks night, but also to show to passers-by to beg money for fireworks! For some weeks before the big day, kids would cart their guy up to the high road, prop it up near the station or a bus stop and blatantly ask people for money. "Penny for the guy, Mister?", "Penny for the guy, Missus?" People were actually quite generous, despite the hard times everybody was going through.
Of course, having collected some money, we then couldn't wait to buy fireworks ...
A very different culture
Just after World War 2, fireworks once more appeared in shops and the Guy Fawkes bonfire tradition was revived. Fireworks in the late 1940s were nothing like they are today. They were smaller, less powerful, and designed for home use. There were hardly any public displays.
Shops put fireworks out on the counter for sale in boxed sets or loose. There were no safety precautions and anyone could touch them to sort out a selection. Any small child tall enough to reach could pick out and buy fireworks even if they came into the shop unaccompanied.
From the age of about seven my chums and I would take some of the money we earned from our "guys" and go to the corner shop to buy fireworks. For a few pence, we could each get a handful of penny bangers and a box of matches from the smiling shopkeeper who saw no wrong in obliging us. Then we would ride round the streets "no hands", lighting bangers and chucking them at each other for fun. The occasional burnt hand didn't seem to put us off. Sooner or later some bright spark would suggest putting a lighted banger into a milk bottle or jam jar to see what would happen. Fortunately we all had the sense to retire to a safe distance for the resulting explosion!
When Guy Fawkes night eventually came, Dad would build a small bonfire in our tiny back garden, fix the guy on top, and set it alight. As poor old Guy went up in smoke, he would produce a small box of assorted fireworks and proceed to light them one by one. There were Roman Candles, Rockets fired out of a milk bottle, Catherine Wheels that had to be nailed to the fence, Chinese Crackers that jumped all over the floor, and various kinds that could be held in the hand. Looking back now, they were all a bit naff but my brothers and sister and I watched with joy and cries of "Ooooh! ... Aaaah!"
In the darkness, we could see similar little displays going on in back gardens all around us. In fact, this was happening all over the city. The London Smog was always particularly bad in the week around Guy Fawkes Night!
Singing Christmas Carols
Another chance to earn a few pennies
As Christmas approaches in 2011, I am reminded of another activity we kids loved to do in the 1940s: carol singing. I would wander the streets far and wide with a couple of friends, all under 10 years old, out after dark, dressed as warmly as possible, bearing in mind we only wore short trousers, singing Christmas carols on people's doorsteps.
We must have looked pathetic! Bare knees turning blue, socks pulled up as far as they would go, tightly wound scarves with jacket collars up, woolen gloves full of holes and covered in snot, all topped off with knitted balaclavas under our school caps. What a sight! But we didn't care. We knew we would pocket a few pence extra pocket money.
Mind you, unlike today's kids, we did a proper job. We knew all the best carols by heart, at least a few verses, and sang them with gusto. We would pick a doorstep where we could see a light on inside the house, meaning someone was in. One of us would count us in and we would sing at least three carols right through. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", "Silent Night, Holy Night", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", etc, from our list of favourites. Then we would knock at the door. Very often the family inside would have been sitting listening to us and when we finally knocked they would open the door, smile and thank us, and offer us a penny or two. Sometimes they would ask us to sing one of their own favourites and stand in the doorway while we obliged. Then they might clap and wave us off to our next "gig".
So much Christmas spirit in those days. We were all poor but lived in friendly communities and made the best of what we had.
By way of contrast, last Christmas, I answered a knock at my door to find three gangly teenagers looking grimly at me. They waited until I appeared then in a bored monotone mumbled, "Wish you Mer Chrisma, wish you Mer Chrisma, wish you Mer Chrisma 'n' Hap New Year!". They then thrust their open palms at me expectantly.
"What was that?" I asked.
"Carol singing", grunted one.
"Do you actually know any carols?" I inquired.
"Ugh?" They stared vacantly at me.
I suggested they go away and learn some real traditional carols and come back and sing them for me, in which case I might give them something. Naturally I never saw them again! Bah! Humbug!!
Kids' Street Games
I came across this old picture on Wikipedia. It's a picture of some kids playing leapfrog in a street in Harlem probably in the 1930s. It reminded me of some of the games we played in the street and the school playground in the UK just after WW2. I remember leapfrog but I'd forgotten playing it in a line where each kid leaped over all the others and then bent over at the front for the next kid's turn. This way the line would move steadily along the road. Sometimes we did this on the way to school.
Another playground game was "Bung the Barrel". I think this involved a line of 4 or 5 boys bent double in a line coming out from a wall. Each boy had to hold firmly on to the boy in front. The other boys would run up in turn and leapfrog as far as they could up the line and then shuffle their way to the front. More boys would pile on until the weight got too much and we all collapsed in a heap laughing our heads off.
Slightly more sedate games were: "It" (possibly called Tag now) where one child was chosen to be "it" and had to chase all the others round the playground until they caught and touched someone else, then that kid became "it" and so it went on. Another was Hopscotch, where a lump of chalk, probably from the ground on a bomb site, was used to mark out numbered squares on the surface of the playground or pavement. There were various ways you could hop and jump up and down this matrix while singing out "rhymes". It was mostly girls who played Hopscotch, as it was with skipping with a rope. Boys' only use for a rope was playing high-jump, tying to a lamppost for a swing, or tying some kid you didn't like to a tree and leaving him there to be rescued by an angry teacher or parent.
Conkers - Annual Kid's Street Tournament
In the Autumn, between the summer holidays and Bonfire night, came the Conker Season. The horse chestnut trees began to shed their seed pods, and as they hit the ground the green spiky husks would split open revealing the large shiny brown nuts called "conkers". As soon as the conkers began to fall we started to collect them, filling our pockets with the biggest ones we could find. This sometimes involved an element of trespass if a good tree was found on private land. Occasionally we would hurl objects up into the tree to dislodge a particularly fine example which was not quite ready to fall of its own accord.
With pockets bulging, we would gleefully head for home to prepare our conkers for battle. This would involve "borrowing" Mum's best meat skewer to make a hole through the nut to thread it onto a piece of string or old boot lace securing it with a large knot on the other side. This had to be done carefully. I knew boys, including my own brother, who without thinking, skewered their own hands. We usually ignored the stories about making conkers extra hard by soaking them in vinegar or baking them in the oven. We were too impatient to get out into the street to play the game.
The game of Conkers simply involved two players taking it in turns to try to hit the other's conker and smash it to smithereens! One boy would dangle his conker on its string at about chest height. The other would line up his own conker with the string taut and would get one attempt to hit and damage the other. Sometimes the attacker would miss altogether and accuse the holder of moving. Arguments and fights often broke out. If a conker managed to smash another off its string, it became a "one-er" then a "two-er" and eventually a "king-er". Much bragging and boasting and psyching out went on! Plus there were plenty of bruises when flying conkers missed their target and made contact with one of the players!!
Rhubarb and Roses
Sorry if you are just having your breakfast!
There was lots of this stuff around in the 1940s. Horse manure! After the war, there were still many horse-drawn delivery vehicles on the streets of London. Bread, milk, coal, and various other commodities were brought to our doors by horse and cart. And, of course, all the horses occasionally made their own personal delivery!
You might think all the roads were awash with horse droppings, but this was not actually the case. Manure was a valuable fertilizer and, being free to pick up from the road, was much sought after by gardeners. That is, everybody with a couple of square feet of dirt in their backyard where they could grow rhubarb, spuds, cabbage, or even roses. We had some lovely rhubarb. Wonderful stuff for "afters" (dessert) with runny custard, and so easy to grow. It just came up every year and grew thick and juicy as long as you gave it a generous helping of "horse's doofers" every so often.
If someone came into the house, they might say, "Quick! A horse has just done a load at the top of the street. Go and pick it up!" That was my brother, Pete's job. Only about six years old, he would grab a bucket and the coal shovel by the fire, and run up the street and collect the hot steaming pile before anyone else got it. He would bring it back, grinning from ear to ear, and proudly show us all his "treasure!"
We didn't have much, but we made the best of it.
Our 1940s Holiday consisted of:
Christmas Eve - Go to bed with an empty pillowcase at the foot ready for all the hoped for presents which Santa was going to bring.
Christmas Morning - Wake up at "silly o'clock" and rummage around in the dark to find "Santa" had been! Finally persuade Mum and Dad to get up so you could open your presents. Conceal disappointment at finding the Train Set had not come again this year. "Maybe next year", Mum would say as you tried on your new pullover, scarf, gloves etc. Read Beano and Dandy albums while Mum cooked dinner.
Christmas Dinner - (Eaten at lunchtime) Usually Dad had managed to find a chicken. I was almost a man before I ever tasted turkey. Chicken was a great treat anyway. Christmas was the only time we ever had it. Throughout the year, we ate spam, corned beef, luncheon meat, powdered egg, and occasionally a bit of roast beef if we went to my aunt's for Sunday dinner.
My aunt and uncle usually joined us for Christmas dinner. There was no wine for the grown-ups. People like us didn't drink wine. Dad would produce a few small cans of Pale or Brown Ale for the men. The women would have a tiny glass of cheap Sherry. Us kids would have lemonade. We all tucked in, smiling and licking our lips. Everyone cleared their plates; we were always hungry. This is a war-time habit I have followed all my life.
After dinner, Dad would say to my uncle in his Scottish brogue, "D'you fancy a wee dram, Pat?" He would open a quarter bottle of Scotch Whiskey and pour them each a glass the size of a small thimble. They would sit back grinning at each other knowingly, savouring the taste of the precious liquid and making it last about half an hour.
Later we would all have tea and cake and play card games like "Beat Your Neighbour Out Of Doors" for match sticks. My aunt always brought a homemade fishing game where we took it in turns to fish an extra little present, wrapped in newspaper, out of a box using a stick with string and a hook on the end.
We would end up with a sing-song. We knew all the words to all the old war-time music hall songs like "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner" and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". Then it was bedtime. We'd had a great time, but we knew that was it all over for another year. Boxing day was just another day.
History is best kept alive by passing down stories of what things were like for ordinary people 50, 60, 70, 80 or more years ago.
Questions & Answers
Question: What did you eat as a seven-year-old in the '40s?
Answer: I was seven years old in 1945, the year WW2 ended. During the war, food was always scarce because of the general disruption at home and abroad and particularly to shipping. Everyone felt hungry a lot of the time, and we ate what we could get. The meat was short and like many other staple foods, was put on ration by the Government. We ate a lot of processed meat like spam, offal, and cheese and eggs when you get them. Most people grew some vegetables and fruit in their garden, if they had one, and some public parks were dug up to provide allotments. Meals were simple and frugal, and kids learned to eat what was put in front of them, because there was nothing else. Sometimes the only food in the house was bread and dripping, which was the congealed greasy set gravy, which was saved in a bowl after roasting a small piece of meat as a special treat maybe on Sunday. We rarely saw butter, or even margarine, which in those days was pretty horrid. Sometimes there was jam to spread on toast, which was made by holding a slice of bread on a big homemade wire fork in front of the open fire. Fresh fruit was rarely seen and certainly no bananas, we sometimes had an apple, which we "scrumped" off a neighbor's tree. By and large, Mums were very good at conjuring up meals out of almost nothing, often having to queue just to get our meager rations, and then probably going without themselves just to keep us kids fed.
I'd love to hear your stories. Got any childhood memories of the 40s, 50s, 60s?
Janet E McCourt on January 31, 2020:
Loved reading it. It brought back so many memories for me that I had lost because of getting chemo, but they all came riveting back as I read. Growing up in the '40s and being a teenager in the '50s to me still seems like the best of times. thank you.
neville lewis on November 09, 2019:
I have been looking for some time remembering Bung The Barrel played at school no one had heard of it great fun happy memories
email@example.com on October 13, 2019:
Wonderful, I loved reading your post. Thank you for sharing your childhood experiences.
Norma spink on August 20, 2019:
Found all this information at my last look on iPad, before bed.
I had only that afternoon been talking to my son- in- law, about some of my memories, sticklebacks, playing with tar, jacks, boys in short pants ( till they left school). Picking up horse manure, coal from railway yards, fire works and Parkin!
I am 83 and throughly enjoyed the read.
RICK BURGAR on August 21, 2018:
Hi Bob, i'm about the same age as you and you brought a terr to this old man's eye. Bread and dripping when we could get it, i still eat spam today eating all that great food. We are supposed to be dead. lol luv yuh the Limey
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on July 10, 2018:
Love the poem. Says it all.
Tony on June 15, 2018:
Poverty and Pleasure
It used to be the way we were, for kids living in our street,
Cardboard stuffed the holes in our soles we suffered soaking feet
Cardboard didn’t count for much in the winter snow
We were plagued with chilblains in seven degrees below
But off to school we had to walk no money for the fare
Hands and feet were freezing long before we’re there
Old socks for gloves upon our hands to fight away the chill
Food was still on ration, were skinny kids but still
We were happy as little sandboys we hadn’t go a care
And never had any money but still we loved to share
All the happiness in our hearts with brother, sister, mate
Bomb sites were our playing fields, we thought that they were great
Playing trouble in the rubble, an old stick for a gun
We were cowboys and Indians, didn’t matter who lost or won
We’d play away for hours a day ‘til called in for our tea
Eat what was put in front of us, no picky buggers we
And if you didn’t like it Mum said that’s all right
Go to bed hungry, it’ll be here tomorrow night
So up we grew us slum kids, we didn’t know we were poor
For every family that we knew was just the same for sure
We were supposed to be deprived you see, whatever that word meant
Barley enough for food and stuff we sometimes dodged the rent
But we grew up to be decent folk and raised our kids the same
But today, the criminals say ‘it’s our poverty what’s to blame.’
kete on March 08, 2018:
such a sad but hard to stop reading
Marilyn Briant Rockmore on March 05, 2018:
My childhood began after I was born in 1950 so things were just a little different then. I was brought up in Finchley, North London. Like you, my four siblings and I were always hungry and although we had more than just the clothes on our backs, none were bought new. Most were from church jumble sales or the "nearly new" shop a bus ride away.
We walked to school and just about everywhere within a 2 mile radius. When we had the bus fare, we travelled on trolley buses and in fact I got to and from my first job on those. Small bottles of milk were given free at school, as well as lunch. The milkman delivered bottles of milk carried by horse and cart, to our front door, most days.
I remember playing jacks and marbles and swinging on a thick piece of rope, looped over the branch of a tree and tied in a knot at the bottom. Trees were for climbing and wild raspberries, blackberries, loganberries and our neighbour's apples were for picking and eating.
Those were the days!
Eric Firth. on January 14, 2018:
Walking to school past sand bags, home guard posts and barbed wire, chalking goal posts on playground air raid shelter.
Nathan Kiehn on October 19, 2017:
Such a fascinating look at that period. As someone who visited London last summer, I've come to really enjoy seeing the depth and breadth of history that city has to offer. There's so much of it to explore, and your story is a fantastic example of a really specific lens to look at it through. Thanks for sharing. This was a great read.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 01, 2017:
Well written. You managed to tell your story in a way that made me feel like I was right there with you, playing alongside the kids in the muck. My grandmother grew up in the same circumstances and would tell stories of her own childhood so this reminded me of her.
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on July 18, 2017:
That was an enjoyable read, Bob. You had no shortage of fun things to do as a child. I grew up on a farm in Indiana and had plenty of trouble to get into.
Barney Courtenay on June 14, 2017:
This too was my childhood. Your words described perfectly the way it was. You have taken me back to when happiness came naturally!
richard terence cleverley on December 06, 2015:
Bung The Barrel, it was played by usually about 6 to 8 players.
exactly as you explained, but with one difference at my school.
ie, instead of leaning against a wall, we would have a boy at the front supporting the boys bent over, who was called the POST.
the object was to jump and try to knock the post over so that there team would collapse.so allowing your team to have a second jump.
Peta on February 08, 2015:
Thanks for sharing your experiences!
I'm doing some research on the 1940s for our Easter Production (the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). It's so fascinating learning about how people lived during and after the WW. I was just discussing with a friend how if we were to have a WW3 now that our world would look so different!!! Anyway, thanks for sharing - it's definitely an eye opener for this 1989 baby :)
jeremy-johnsongood on March 11, 2014:
harrisarshad76 on March 26, 2013:
very great full idea...
Thanks for sharing
rattie lm on March 06, 2013:
Oh my goodness Bob this is such a terrific lens. I loved it.
Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on February 03, 2013:
Came back with my wings on now. Blessed.
anonymous on October 28, 2012:
I greatly appreciate this account of your childhood during the Blitz. I am in the midst of working on a story game called "Urchin" where the players play the role of street kids in small family gangs which is about the ideals of family and friendship and helping one another as they try to survive the bombings and get reunited with missing family or find new homes in the case of orphans and this gives me a great perspective for keeping it more lighthearted and less grim, which is my intent with the final product.
anonymous on August 15, 2012:
I really enjoyed these articles. They helped me understand what life was like in London during the WW2. It also explains the book (Goodnight Mister Tom, I advise you to read it) quite well, and what Willie's mom forbid him to do. It is quite interesting to see how the London kids made the best of their circumstances. They used what the war destroyed to make their toys, they played at bomb sites, and continued with their cheerful games. I am sure they helped the grown-ups to look at life a little more positively with their innocent, yet understanding and cheerful attitudes. They were truly a blessing to London during WW2. xxx Annika
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on August 13, 2012:
@favored: It has now. Thanks for that.
Fay Favored from USA on August 13, 2012:
Came back to check if my blessing took. Enjoyed your article.
Thrinsdream on June 26, 2012:
What a superb article, what makes me REALLY smile is all the games, football anywhere, leapfrogging, climbing trees even catching sticklebacks in the pond are all what my 13 year daughter is still doing!! I love it! She even said the other day she was so happy we moved to the countryside as she could stay being a child longer!!!! Thank you for my little jaunt into your life, it was wonderfully interesting. With thanks and appreciation. Cathi x
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on June 26, 2012:
@LaraineRoses: Thank you so much for all your kind comments.
Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on June 26, 2012:
I just realized that although I read this beautiful lens months ago .. and enjoyed it, I had forgotten to favor it with a blessing! I am here now to rectify that. ~*Angel Blessed*~ and congratulations on your purple star!
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on May 24, 2012:
@Rankography: Thanks for the comment and congratulations on your promotion.
Rankography on May 24, 2012:
I recently got my wings and wanted to swing back by your lens to Bless it. You put so much work into it and it was a very enjoyable read.
AJ from Australia on May 10, 2012:
What a truly innocent and innovative childhood. I loved reading your story. Blessings.
SteveKaye on May 07, 2012:
You brought back a lot of memories. Even though I'm five years younger and grew up in Chicago, we have a lot in common. Life was very simple then.
Forrest McKinnis from West Richland on April 06, 2012:
This is one of the coolest topics for a lens I have come across. Its even more awesome, when I sit down and think about how I could use the historical snapshot of the era in my classroom. Thanks for sharing this one!
allenwebstarme on March 28, 2012:
Wow, feeling great to know about your childhood and glad to meet you. Super like!
Namymartyn on March 01, 2012:
nice lens created by you really appreciable..........
sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on February 29, 2012:
wonderful read. thanks for sharing your interesting childhood memories. ~blessed~
Ben Reed from Redcar on February 26, 2012:
I love this lense. A fascinating insight into your childhood and amazing presentation. Thank you.
Brandi from Maryland on February 21, 2012:
I don't know how I missed this lens the last time I visited, but it's wonderful! I really enjoyed learning about your childhood in the '40's...how I wish life was still so simple! I have always tried to encourage my kids to just play...to use their imaginations and create their own games. I limit how many flashy, plastic, noisy toys we have in the house and I make sure they have lots of simple games, puzzles, wooden blocks and toys, books, music and coloring books...and of course, they play outside a lot. We did finally get a Wii system this year, but we only play it a couple times a week as a family...and we only have educational games or games that encourage physical activity.
Awesome lens...I really enjoyed this! And I love that you have so many wonderful memories from your childhood! :)
davenjilli lm on February 20, 2012:
So fascinating to learn about your childhood. It is nice to slow down and remember how life used to be. The joy of being grateful for what you had and not discontented over what you lack. I love your description of Christmas.
JohnWarley on February 13, 2012:
A very interesting reminder of an era that continues to fascinate. We too played football, but you wouldn't have recognized ours and we wouldn't have had a clue about yours. A memory of the early 50s, once TV became common, is waiting on Saturday morning for our favorite western heroes -- Roy, Gene, Hopalong, Cisco Kid. Then we'd strap on our six-shooters and argue about who got to be the hero and who had to be the sidekick, and there was always a sidekick to ask the questions that made the hero look like a true hero.
Great Lens. Good work.
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on February 10, 2012:
@anonymous: Thanks for that excellent explanation, Richard. I'd forgotten some of the finer points of the game. It's me age, you know!
anonymous on February 10, 2012:
Here are the rules for "5 stones" when we were kids playing in the late 40's and early 1950s.Five Stones
It is similar to our Jacks game.
- we called it 5-stones and it was played with stones bought from a shop - these stones were cubes of varying colours - like dice, but made of stone with corrugated ridges, not to be confused with "Jacks". I never actually played jacks but 5-stones was similar; this is how it was played :-
It started like jacks with
Ones - tossing one stone in the air and picking up 1 stone
Twos - picking up 2 stones
Threes - picking up 3 stones
Fours - picking up 4 stones
Creeps - one stone was placed on the back of the hand, the others picked up between the fingers and then the 1 stone tossed in the air, caught in the palm of the hand and then the remaining 4 gathered into the palm - not as easy as it sounds)
Cracks - the stone being caught had to crack against the stone picked up.
No cracks - the reverse of cracks in that the stones couldn't make a noise as one was caught.
Little titch - the stones that had been picked up were retained in the palm as the subsequent stones were picked up - that meant that finally 3 stones were in the palm as 1 was tossed in the air to be caught and the 5th picked up from the ground.
Big titch - the stones that had been picked up were tossed in the air as the subsequent stones were picked up - that meant that finally 4 stones were tossed in the air to be caught as the 5th was picked up.
I hope this may be of interest to you; a further point of interest is that my parents had played the same game in their childhood - that would have been back in the 1920s and much earlier.
DebtHarassmentLawyer on February 07, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your experiences in London during the war.
DebtHarassmentLawyer on February 07, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your experiences in London during the war.
Chuck Nelson from California on February 06, 2012:
Very good lens...an outline for a good book. I can identify with much of it although we were an ocean apart.
Johanna Eisler on January 28, 2012:
I already liked your lens before - now coming back to congratulate you for making the front page! :)
nikyweber on January 27, 2012:
awesome lens! Squidlike!
knitter82 on January 26, 2012:
I'm a child of the 80s but my grandparents have always told us stories about growing up in the 30s and 40s. I've always loved hearing their stories and those of others.
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on January 26, 2012:
What a fabulous page! Brings back tons of memories. I grew up in the fifties in the US and, like you, we neighborhood children played outside year round from sunup to sundown, except when we had to be in school or church. We traipsed all over the place, and played a lot of the games you mention.
I'd heard of Guy Fawkes day, but never looked it up. What a story! He sure found a way to immortalize his name. Angel blessed.
TheHealthCabin on January 25, 2012:
I love this lens, it reminded of all the stories my Nan used to tell us. Thank you for reviving my memorys.
opheliakeith lm on January 25, 2012:
I love this lens. Such a great reminder that no matter the circumstances, children will find a way to be children.
Nimsrules LM on January 25, 2012:
After reading this lens it makes me think that lack of technology was better than it's excess now a days. Fabulous lens.
victoriuh on January 24, 2012:
This reminded me so much of my father and uncles stories of when they were growing up. Thank you for sharing! As for me, I grew up in the late seventies/early eighties. Even then, I had a lot more freedom than kids do today. A lot more playing outside too.
grnidlady on January 23, 2012:
what a wonderful nostalgic lens!
writerkath on January 23, 2012:
Hi Bob! I am so glad I found this lens! Firstly, congratulations on your "top 100" status... Absolutely and incredibly well-deserved!
I thank you so much for this glimpse into life as it truly was after the war... Your stories are mesmerizing, and I can almost "feel" how it may have been. You are a wonderful, wonderful, story teller. Of course, the fact that it comes from real life helps! :) The 1940s were a little before my time - but, I've got 1960s childhood memories. Perhaps I'll also make a lens!
However, my own upbringing is probably a lot more boring than yours! :) Thank you, again, for sharing your life with us. Here's a little angel dust to add to what must undoubtedly be quite a pile by now! :) *Blessed* :) Kath
Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on January 09, 2012:
Happy New Year! Congratulations on your lens being chosen as a top 100 Community Favorite for 2011!
poutine on January 03, 2012:
I love stories from the 40's.
Very well presented.
sherridan on January 02, 2012:
Fantastic, what fun everyone had with no money or technology!
Diana Grant from United Kingdom on January 02, 2012:
I remember when I was as young as six, my brother and I were allowed to roam alone around Southend (an English seaside resort) and we were allowed to do anything we liked provided we didn't accept sweets from strangers, or go into public lavatories. I thought it was because the sweets might be poisoned and the toilets were germy. Nobody mentioned accepting money from strangers, so we used to go begging, and use the money on fair rides and slot machines, My parents (respectable, middle class) would have been horrified!
lesliesinclair on January 01, 2012:
It sounds like your childhood was much like mine, although we lived across the world from each other. Our times must be inconceivable to our grandchildren. congrats!
lesliesinclair on January 01, 2012:
It sounds like your childhood was much like mine, although we lived across the world from each other. Our times must be inconceivable to our grandchildren. congrats!
JoyfulReviewer on December 31, 2011:
Enjoyed your stories recounting your childhood memories ... very nicely done. Congratulations on being one of the final 100 favorite Squidoo lenses of 2011!
Pip Gerard on December 31, 2011:
I can very much see why you're proud of this lense and chose it as your best! It's fabulous. enjoyed it very much. thank you
MCB2011 on December 31, 2011:
I love this, very uplifting. It's so nice to turn memories into nice stories. Thank you. Congratulations!
Winter52 LM on December 31, 2011:
My in laws would have been living in that time and they too had some amazing stories. You shared a lot that I had never heard... fascinating. I was born in the 50s and can't think of anything that can compare, but I do remember that we played outside A LOT compared to kids these days! Definitely a worthy lens! :)
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on December 31, 2011:
Back to this great lens to congratulate you on being in the Top 100 Community Favorites.
Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on December 30, 2011:
My husband was born in 1939 and lived in Belgrade during the war before his family escaped finally. He recalls dodging American bombs, finding grenades, and some of the other things you mention. I came along when the war was almost over and lived a sheltered life in the US. But we played some of the same games and also had the run of the neighborhood, running through each other's back yards and walking on the block fences some people had between yards. We played tag and hide and go seek, marbles, and jacks, but we had store-bought jacks with bouncing balls like the ones being sold today. There was certainly a lot more freedom for kids to run and play in those days and our parents didn't need to hover and our government didn't feel it had to protect children from every single things that could hurt them with regulations that today have even caused the much loved merry-go-round to be banned from most playgrounds. Thanks for sharing. Hope you make the top 11.
anonymous on December 30, 2011:
@BobBlackUK: Ah! But did you go dustbin raiding?
We did, amazing what people chucked away even then, i remember getting a tin with oval cigarette cards in & a load of books all were full with sets; they would be worth a fortune today.
Old newspapers that we sorted & sold to the fish &chip shops, jam jars, well they were worth a halfpenny for 2 x 1lb jars & 1d each for 2 lb jars.
We must have done well out of it because it went on for a long time, none of the kids around our way were evacuated but we knew how to âturn a pennyâ
Thinking back we must have looked like a load of brigands, no school uniform ( i went to Raynham Rd school in Edmonton) none of this health & safety or pc rubbish then.
Very nice chatting Bob, thanks for the site & the memories , âBillâ
Bob Black (author) from East Midlands, England, UK on December 30, 2011:
@anonymous: Thanks Bill, I'd forgotten about "grottos". Some kids made little shrines on the pavement using old broken toys, bits of stone, bottles, wild flowers etc., they had gathered, and cheekily asked passers-by for money for their efforts. Nice to hear from you.
anonymous on December 29, 2011:
What a great site, Brought back many memories, like playing in a bombed out house at the top of our road, we managed to get a piano over to the edge of the damaged floor the pushed it over the edge, i can still remember the sound it made as it hit the deck, or the swopping of comics & shrapnel, use to take ages, real bartering took place.
Getting theâ tarry blocksâ when the high road got flooded, or going to the gas works on a Saturday morning with the pram to get the coke ration &while mum was getting her ration picking up with a frenzy that had to be seen to be believed the bits of coke on the floor.
And what about the peanut butter & the chocolate powder ration, a dollop of peanut butter on a bit of brown paper, us kids could have that but we had to take the chocolate powder home.
We used to be out all day, mainly over the dump at Picketts lock hunting rats with catapults or at Tottenham marshes, that was the best you could get paper items of all sorts, leather which we made belts & âDavy Crockettâ hats, but you had to be careful of the stuff the carbon copy paper factory, otherwise you would end up all blue& it wouldnât come off without a really good washing.
This of course was just after the war, making a grotto on a Friday night waiting for the factory workers to come out; we always got enough for some scratchingâs at the fish shop.
But the best was to find a new empty packet of boars head tobacco, carefully fill it up with horse dung fold it all back up &put it outside the pub , somebody always picked it up thinking they had struck lucky. We used to kill ourselves with laughing.
Ho! So much more is coming back...........thanks for reminding me, maybe if these louts we have roaming about today had a few bombs on them & very little grub they would be a bit different.
anonymous on December 15, 2011:
I learned so much from reading this lens. I think you covered so much...about the culture. Love the photos also. Great job!!!
jimmyworldstar on December 11, 2011:
Wow I was born in the 60s in the States and I lived in classic suburbia. Incredible how even in the 40s there were still horse drawn vehicles in even the most industrialized cities (then again it was right after a major war). Leapfrog was an actual game! It must've been incredible seeing the bomb sites still there after the war ended. I hear that there's still unexploded bombs in Europe dating back to WW2 found all the time.
Bob from Kansas City on December 11, 2011:
Wow! Great lens... very good reading and I look forward to reading more from you. I remember playing marbles as a kid (not as long ago as in your case) but I think kids today are missing out so much in personal interaction that they can't get playing video games. I remember as a kid we were always taking some "junk" and building something creative to play with.
TheGoodHut on December 10, 2011:
My mom was born in 1940 and she also grew up outdoors: climbing trees and brick walls, feeding the chickens, riding around on her metal skates, and playing "phone" by connecting 2 tin cans with string she probably borrowed from the barn.
Your stories are so richly told it reminds me of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory".
A priceless lens!
PTurner56 on December 10, 2011:
The 40s was such a unique time in history and still inspires books and movies today. Mom was in High School in California and told me stories about "Black-outs" which would prevent the Japs from spotting anything at night. Her saddest story was about the day all the Japanese kids were taken out of school and sent to the internment camps. Everybody was crying. It's hard to imagine that something like that ever happened in America. The 40s were hard and tragic, but also glorious for America. A special place in time.
Thank you for sharing what life was like on the other side of the world. It was very interesting and educational. Congratulations on being awarded a "Lens of the Day"!
HERBMASTER on December 10, 2011:
Angela unLocked on December 09, 2011:
I love hearing stories from the past. This is a wonderful lens!
BlueStarling on December 09, 2011:
I was fortunate to live in a rural area as a kid, before the days of computers. I ran wild, was always outside, climbing trees, playing in my grandfather's barn. We played make believe and games, rode bikes or horses everywhere. Now I live in the city and never see kids playing. It seems they're all shut up inside. In spite of being poor, your childhood was rich and memorable. (And "It" was called Tag when I was a kid. I wonder if kids still play it?) This is a beautiful lens. I can picture the scenes as you describe them.
SupremeOptimist on December 09, 2011:
Johanna Eisler on December 09, 2011:
The world is really a small place, isn't it? On each side of the planet kids were doing most of the same things without ever knowing it. There was no internet, very little TV, but kids are kids are kids - no matter where!
Congratulations on making the front page!
Teri Villars from Phoenix, Arizona on December 08, 2011:
I wasn't around in the 40's but my mother was in Belgium during the occupation by Germany in WWII, right across the channel!! Interesting read here. I used to hear her stories, this one is from Britain. My Dad, who was a soldier, came across on D-Day and his unit liberated my Mom's hometown. Yes, it could be a miniseries. Nice to meet you and blessed!
shahz123 on December 08, 2011:
You kept me interested all the way.
Very well written.
Nice of you to have shared your history with us.
jadehorseshoe on December 08, 2011:
I LIKE this lens.
anonymous on December 07, 2011:
toldyaso lm on December 07, 2011:
I couldn't stop reading. I love history, and this was so interesting! I was born in 85, and unless you want stories of my Hanson poster collection, then I doubt I have any interesting memories to share. :)
NidhiRajat on December 07, 2011:
thank you for such a memorable information...
Merstarr on December 05, 2011:
Thank-you... I never knew my Granddad who lived and died in UK... you just made me feel like maybe I could have :)
anonymous on December 04, 2011:
Oh dear what a great laugh down memory lane!! I literally had tears! Lol you see you are describing the 1940s in UK... I was born in 1984, so it was early nineties for me when I was 6-9 playing these same games in the Dominican Republic. I never watched TV, I played every single one of the aforementioned games and loved it all. You are right on the comment of children being deprived of these activities nowadays. Thanks for making this lens and I'm certainly checking out the rest ... Hasta Luego!
hysongdesigns on December 03, 2011:
I thoroughly enjoyed your stories here. I grew up in the sixties in California but there are a few things we had the same: fireworks for the 4th of July, hopscotch, marbles and such. And of course a few new fangled things you didn't know about like skateboards and hoola hoops!
efriedman on December 03, 2011:
Beautifully written and powerful memories. Your description of playing marbles and the excitement of these treasures brought back stories my father told of his own childhood, a generation before yours. Thanks for that happy remembrance.
anonymous on December 02, 2011:
It's really amazing, all such sweet, naughty & lovable memories can be remembered & briefed. While reading I started thinking "Did I ever Done" & the movie started rolling out..............
Thank U Keep it up............
PackMom on December 01, 2011:
What wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing. Though I was born a good 10 years later, my childhood was very similar.
Shana rios Chavez on November 30, 2011:
jvermilion on November 29, 2011:
Wendy Hughes from Charlotte on November 27, 2011:
Being a child of the 60's and 70's I treasured some of the same items you did. We loved my dad's cigar boxes and my mom's cigarette wrappers; I can still savor the aroma of tobacco. Too, we loved matchbooks; it seems every company and business had them. The street was our playground, too. We found white rocks to use as chalk, made hopscotch boxes. We dabbled in the creek and terrorized "crawfish," tadpoles, and minnows. What a great time we had! Thanks for the poignant story. SMILES ~Wendy
p.s. Thanks for the advice on the forums!
anonymous on November 27, 2011:
I was born in 1980. I have read books and watched movies about the time you describe. This first hand impression was a great read.
draco0590 on November 26, 2011:
I love the lens...really gives you the feel of the 1940s and I enjoyed it a lot!
ekkoautos on November 25, 2011:
RobinDM on November 24, 2011:
Very interesting! I'll be back again!
RobLPe on November 24, 2011:
@DebMartin: Deb...playing in the streets after a typical afternoon thunder storm
shandigp on November 23, 2011:
What a neat lens!