I have had a wonderful life so please don’t mourn for me. Try to remember the good things about me.
When I was a child things were really tough, financially. This country like most other countries was in an economic depression and my Dad had no trade or skills and he was in and out of work for some reason or other. I was born in the year of the General Strike [actually 2 years before it] beside other things. The dole money was totally inadequate and then only for a limited period. After which the unemployed had to apply for relief which had conditions such as selling one’s personal things. Mum and Dad were told to sell the piano, which was my Mum’s pride and joy — they never did. Mum could play. I don’t think she was brilliant but she loved it.
My Dad was a great guy, rather quiet until roused and always had a quip to put into the conversation always ready to smile although at that time there was not too much to smile about. Unfortunately he had little education [Page 2] but he was quick with figures (especially with racing odds). He was the middle of his parents nine children, one died in infancy only 9 months old. His parents, my grandparents were very strict and very Victorian in their outlook and it is my opinion that Dad was never forgiven for marrying my Mum. They were married on January 27th 1923 and my sister Vi was born on 26th of May the same year! I didn’t help by arriving 15 months later.
My earliest recollections are living in St. Marks Road, North Kensington. We had 2 rooms and shared a toilet with some not very nice neighbours. The ground floor was a butchers shop, us on the first. The nasty ones above us. My uncle Perce, My Mum’s brother made us a toilet seat which had to be carried back and forth when it was needed. Vi and I shared a bed which had curtains all round (like a 4-Poster). My infant school was on the corner of St. Marks Rd . and Lancaster Road only about 50 yards from Rillington Place where Christie committed all those murders years later. We then went up in the world we rented 3 rooms in Herries St. Nth Paddington. Vi and I shared a bedroom and had a dividing curtain. By this time we were about 9 or 10. The rent was £1 per week. But about 6 months later the person who took our rent did a runner so my Mum just moved us downstairs and waited for somebody to collect [Page 3] the rent. He was not concerned who paid it and wanted £1-5 shillings a week. The family before us had taken a pound from us and were living there for 5 shillings a week. They were an elderly couple with a son in his 30’s. My Mum let 2 rooms (the top 2) to an Irish couple. He was tall about 6’6” and very thin and she was about 5’2” which lasted until he was picked up for bombing telephone boxes at Marble Arch [probably 9 June 1939]. Just after this war was declared. Mum & Dad had by this time joined the A.R.P. [Air Raid Precuations]. Both were wardens which was voluntary until the war started. Dad was paid £3.0.0 a week and Mum got £2.0.0 a week. They considered themselves well off. But that was sometime in the future when we moved to Paddington I now went to Droop Street school where I had a happy time and I did very well. In my final year there myself and two other lads always vied for first, second or third place in exams. I was invited to apply for a place at Marylebone Grammar School in which I succeeded but because at that time was earning £2.11 shillings a week which was 1 shilling a week over the maximum allowed to receive to be given a council grant to pay for uniform, fares and books I couldn’t go. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. But kids didn’t have the help they do now and it would have meant staying at school till I was 18. So I was to go to N. Paddington Central School, which in itself was quite [Page 4] prestigious. This meant staying at school till I was 16. By this time Dad was out of work. He had been cycling a mile each way 6 days a week. That job folded while in my first year and he was doing work here and there wherever he could. His past record with the trade unions always seem to catch up with him. About this time he pared up with a guy called Joe Cashen. He was a nice man as I recall but he was a compulsive gambler. He and Dad started up as bookmakers at the now extinct White City and Wembley. Two nights each week at them both. This was dog racing of course. This didn’t last more than a year and a half. Joe used to gamble the winnings. They also helped out with the local street bookie. This of course was before betting shops and highly illegal and a constant cat and mouse situation between the police and the bookie. Once Dad got picked up and gave his name Charlie Low. His sister went to bail him out which was £7.0.0 (yes, seven) she gave his right name and at first would not at first tie up the name he gave was one and the same person. But common sense prevailed and he came home the penalty [Page 5] was usually £7.0.0. One time he was chased and he had all the betting slips and money and in frantic rush to off-load the evidence he put it all in my saddle bag on my bike. Not knowing this I had been for a sandwich lunch I came out from home jumped on bike and went back to school. When I finished school for the day and got on my bike to go home I was met by Dad, Joe and Mrs Nigh, (I believe that’s how it was spelt) sitting in a taxi. I was relieved of my bike (and saddle bag) and driven home by taxi. On another occasion Mum Dad and I went to see my sister Vi in her school play called “Hiawatha” and she was so pleased to introduce us to her friend and her parent, which she did and the girls father was a CID Sergeant who had chased Dad a few times. It was never considered a heinous crime and the chase more of a laugh to all and sundry, a nuisance at times with the police making a token arrest now and then. But of course they had to find the evidence and with the public and every kid in the locality on their side the bookies were usually one jump ahead. Mrs Nigh used to shower the [Page 6] kids with pennies.
Just about this time the family (Mum, Dad, Vi and I) went down to Southend-on-Sea for a holiday (this story might have happened before the previous one, the old memory does get things in the wrong order these days. It was 80 years ago) and for some reason Dad’s sister Lilly [13 years younger than Frank’s Dad] came with us with strict instruction she was to do as she was told by her big brother — my Dad. Dad used to come back to London to sign-on for his dole money and one evening, we had all gone out for a walk and we came to rest at a place called “The Jolly Spot” which was an island in the road outside a huge funfair (the name escapes) me and three dodgem cars going round and round picking up their power from the ceiling, big notices all round do not hit the other cars. As usual tell someone not to do something seems to put ideas into their head. One of the cars trying to escape the attention of another came straight at me and hit me on the temple. I was given first aid but the following day had to go to hospital and was diagnosed with having concussion. We had to stay another week believe it not I gathered Sunstroke to medical CV. My Grandfather arrived [Page 7] on the scene to take charge, and of course asked Lilly her version of the incident. She poor soul, she was about 17 or 18 lied through her teeth and said she was sitting beside me which she wasn’t she was out dancing against all his (Grandads) wishes. But it didn’t end there she had to repeat all this to the hospital (as a witness) to the police and even in Brighton County Court. The old man really stirred up the fertilizer and of course the family all had to go along with this. It was not a nice situation. The court found against “The Jolly Spot” but added my family should have taken more care from what I remember of it we were [paid] all our costs and The Jolly Spot had to have a small barrier all round, this included all other establishments had to do the same. It was about this time I started getting headaches and nose bleeds. Whether the accident was the cause of that, who knows. My Mum bless her was working for a lady called Mrs.Thom whose husband and brother (they all lived in Nevern Square in the Earls Court area. Both men were directors of ICI no doubt a subsidiary but money money money. She was an alcoholic. She used to bribe Mum to get her a booze supply and husband and brother used to pay her on the QT to help stop her drinking. Just after the accident in Southend she decided to have a holiday in [Page 8] Brixham. Mum was to go to look after her, me to look after her dog and Vi to look after me. It was fabulous. It was a small mainly residential and all we had to do was laze about eat ourselves stupid take the dog for walks. To a family who had basically ‘just got by’ it was heaven. Needless to say it was impossible to keep Mrs Thom on the straight and narrow. But I know my Mum tried hard. When we left Nevern Sq. to go to Paddington Stn. She gave money for the taxi and porters. I gave them what I thought was ample (there were no complaints) I still had about £2 over which in those days quite a lot. And so it was right through the holiday my Form Master never forgave me for taking two weeks off from school and it didn’t do my education any good either considering I had about two weeks off after my head banging in Southend.
As I said I started getting headaches and I was referred to Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases. They couldn’t find the root cause but gave me a letter for the school to allow me to go home if it started at school. I didn’t take a lot of liberty with this because the this time I was playing football for house and school. We had a pro-trainer named Ted Vizard who had played for QPR. [He actually played for Bolton Wanderers and then managed QPR 1939-44 whilst football was suspended]
At school I was and I say with honesty I excelled at maths, and handwriting and art, I was [Page 9] useless at still life and people OK with script writing doing all the songs, hymns, carols and sea shanties to go up on the easel so I used [to] spend my art lesson which was on a Thursday afternoon from lunch time to quitting time. Unfortunately my best mate at the time who was a little older than me had Thursday half day off when the shop closed. His name was George Bettis decided to get outside (he knew I was alone and where I was and gave a whistle which used as a signal. I managed to get down to the gate wanted to know if I could sneak out and go to Brentford FC to see play Arsenal who had signed a player by the name of Bryn Jones for a record sum of £1,000 (one thousand) play for the first time. [Bryn Jones actually signed for £14,000 in August 1938, then a British record transfer fee, the game took place on Thursday 8 September 1938, Brentford won 1-0]. I don’t remember much about the game, (1) I had developed a toothache, (2) as we walked along the platform who should be sitting on a seat was my headmaster whose name was Betts. He never said a word so foolishly I thought quite wrongly I was to find out that he hadn’t seen me. Next morning after assembly and prayers he said quite casually “Would the boy who he seen on the platform the previously [day] report to his office the minute assembly was over. As I had been wearing school uniform I knew I was in trouble. He enjoyed every [Page 10] minute of it. Six on the left hand, six on my rear end and about three on the right hand. There should have been six on the right but I either swayed forward or the b[#@%A$]d missed I’ll never know but it caught me on the wrist and it started swelling. I think he took fright and he stopped and told me to return on Monday to complete my punishment. I was trying extremely hard not to break down in tears and wouldn’t show it. I just mumbled I had to go to the dentist on Monday. He said just get to this office or rather shouted. I tied a piece of rag handkerchief and staggered out. I think it was well for concerned that I didn’t go home at lunchtime because I think my Dad who was on night work at the (time) would have gone to school and possibly had a go. He didn’t often lose his rag but he couldn’t have been blamed. I was wrong in what I did I didn’t expect or deserve such retribution. He was a sadist.
On the Monday following my Dad and I walked to Maida Avenue to the dentist and strangely the ache had gone away. Dad said you don’t want to go to the dentist do you, I said it would be better than having to go to school. All he said lets go to the Labour Exchange, which we did. After a little while they said they had two possibilities (1) in a print factory or (2) an office boy with Sir R McAlpine & Sons in Pall Mall. Bearing in mind this was in November 1938 just after the Munich Crisis I think it was a wise move to leave school. Poor old George got the [Page 11] sack for nicking money out of the till. It was money that enabled us to go (to) Brentford in the first place. [The Munich Agreement was agreed 30 September 1938, between the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Hitler].
My interview for the job was scheduled for a couple of days later by which time I had the great pleasure to Butcher Betts that I had no more need for his education and my father was outside to escort me home after which I was off. His parting shot was I would not get a testimonial.
My interview went well. The interviewer was called H.R. Willis who was company secretary and his secretary was a Miss Palgrave. Both on hearing my story, they couldn’t help seeing the massive bruising on my wrist and I had to tell them whey. Instead of berating me from skipping school had so much sympathy for my “poor wrist’ told me expect a letter offering 15 shillings a week 9:30-5:00, 1 hour for lunch and I was supposed to work every other Saturday 9-12, two weeks holiday and all bank holidays. I got the letter next day started the following Monday worked the following Saturday morning which was the last ever — they stopped it. Wow I was in clover I still did my paper rounds and used my school cap to ride on the tube for half fare. [We have the offer letter, he started on 5 December 1938, aged 14].
The job was interesting for a 14-year school leaver. There [were] about 4 or 5 of us and were used as messenger boys in the office and best of all out of the office between different building contacts in London [Page 12] instead of walking to Piccadilly and a bus to Victoria then another bus almost to the side if you crossed the park (St. James) you came out just before the Army and Navy Stores and belted from one end of Horseferry Road you could do it in about the same time. Sometimes getting a lift back in a lorry or doing the journey in reverse you saved about 8 pence which was a lot when you did about eight different journeys a day which added to, fifteen shillings (less 4d (pence) insurance). Just after I started somewhere about May 1939 we were to be moved to Fountain House in Park Lane which was owned by Sir R. Mac(alpine) & Son. Because it was [not] quite fit for purpose we had to move into the Dorchester [Hotel] which was quite empty at the time. Most of the Monied Heroes had removed themselves to more safer and warmer climes than London. Which according to our popular press was going to (be) bombed to ruins and we were to (be) gassed to finish us off.
During this period my big boss had seen me parking my bike in (the) garage and he came out of holiest of holy’s and spoke to me. I was so surprised I really thought I was going to be sacked but he asked for ‘me’ to do him a favour, to use my bike to go to Government Building (which one is long forgotten) to hand in a tender and get a receipt with the date and time. I said of course as [Page 13]I would[n’t] have dared to say ‘no’. He thanked me profusely and told me I had saved the day. It appears it was for a lucrative job which was accepted. Why it was late in the first place I never did find out. McAlpine always rewarded good work in the only way people working in the building trade appreciated. In their pay packet, I got seven & sixpence rise and what they called ‘A red line — a bonus of £2 (two). I was in heaven I got over £3 (three) in my weeks packet that Friday.
Not long after that I had my bike stolen from the garage in Fountain House. It was a Dawes Speed Sport and cost me £7-50. I was able to claim insurance (I didn’t know til later and my boss Mr Mitchell called me into the office and asked how I was getting to and fro from the office. I explained that an old bike had been left in its place and police told me when I reported it to keep it until further development and was doing just that. He asked to see the receipt which I did and promptly ordered another redline for that amount, explaining it was stolen on company property. However he said in the small print which I hadn’t read it also included a years membership of the NCU (National Cycling Union) and all full insurance for that period. I claimed and got the insurance, which to my credit I owned up [Page 14] to Johny Mitchell laughed like a drain (and) praise(d) my honesty and told me forget it. So you (see) I do have an honest streak somewhere and a lucky one. He sorted me out again later during which time I had been promoted to the grand title of “Goods Received Clerk”. Such giddy heights getting about £3 (three) pounds a week. Not much in today's standards but just as the (war) started or shortly after I was 15 and earning as much as my Dad who was now in the ARP. (Air Raid Precautions) and my Mum was on £2 (two) as an Air Raid Warden. Poor old Vi who was 15 months older than me was on £1-25.