Blow the Candle Out Honey !
A true story of wartime romance between Eric, a Canadian Airforceman stationed at Biggin Hill and Jill, a local girl from Keston.
By Joyce Moore.
Jill came out of the station that evening in early September and decided to walk home across the common. There was a bus which went within 10 minutes walk from her home but the walk across the common was nicer and, when you just earned £1.18d per week, you thought twice about a penny bus ride.
As she went across the road to get to the common, an army truck flew past and the soldiers riding in it whistled and waved. Jill waved back and noticed the Canadian maple leaf on the truck.
The road led uphill to the common from the station. This always felt so good, after being in the offices near to Charing Cross all day and the wonderful thing was that the common was part of the Green Belt which could never be built on, in spite of the huge amount of building going on before the war and would no doubt continue
The common opened out – like a huge stage setting, surrounded by, mostly, oak trees and a lot of silver birch.
Since the large housing estate and some smaller ones had been established the common was used extensively by local people and two paths had been trodden out to right and left and then converged into one path ending at the main road on the other side of the common. Here is was quite high up and Jill always stood for a moment to look over the housing below, to the fields beyond with cows grazing, and took a deep breath of fresh air before hurrying down the steep hill to her home.
Her mother was waiting with tea as usual.
Jill and her parents had moved to Hayes in Kent in 1938 – just two years previously – from Neasden which had become very ‘built up’ and Jill’s mother had wanted to live in Kent – where you could pick bluebells and, at this time of the year, blackberries and they were still quite near to London for office work.
After her tea, Jill sped off to her friend’s house nearby and to take her friend’s dog for a walk this pleasant September evening.
The war had been on for a year – the ‘phoney war’ everyone called it at first until, in May, when Holland and Belgium had been invaded and the British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk.
As Jill rounded the corner to cross a road and run up the open field to her friend’s house, more of those Canadian vehicles were to be seen, the young soldiers wearing Canada tabs on their shoulders.
What a wonderful sight, as all the eligible young men had joined up and the Saturday dances at the Church Hall only had young ‘boys’ or older men – 30 onwards – for dancing partners. As the song said, “They’re either too young or too old”.
Her friend, Betty, was waiting at the back gate as Jill came up to it and seemed quite excited. A regiment of Canadian soldiers had apparently been billeted in the town, occupying all the empty houses and there was one of these next door!
Betty’s mother had already invited them in for a cup of tea and two of them were in the house as Jill and Betty went in, chatting with Betty’s Dad. Then it was suggested that the dog really should be taken for her walk so the four young people set off, separating into two couples.
Jill had gone into the house where the two soldiers were chatting with Betty’s parents, and was introduced to ‘Ernie and Erie’. Ernie was quite pleasant-looking – stockily built and, at a guess, about 25. His companion was much younger, slim and tall with a fresh complexion and twinkling blue eyes.
As they walked from the house, Jill could hardly believe it when this handsome young soldier walked beside her, while the not-so-good-looking (in her opinion) man partnered her friend.
The elderly lady next door to Betty called out to them from her doorway. “Do you think the Nasties will come tonight?” Betty explained that Mrs Parfitt always referred to the Germans (Nazis) in this way.
The two couples walked up the road where the housing estate ended and they continued on to the little lane leading to a farm and the countryside beyond.
The two couples were soon lost to sight of one another. Jill and Erie stayed on the lane which led back to the circling road.
They told one another the basic facts of themselves. Erie had been born in Winnipeg and soon after the family had moved west, to Moose Jaw. At 17 he had left school and gone off into the prairie to work on a farm. He had only been there some 18 months when war broke out and he had rushed back to Moose Jaw to be one of the first to join up in the army. He was disappointed at not being sent overseas in the first contingent as he was not then the stipulated 19 years old.
Jill had wanted to be a dancer. She had had lessons and been in several local charity shows in north London – tap dancing mostly but in the depression of the 30s, money was very short and her father’s (a railway clerk) wages did not stretch to buying costumes needed and especially tap shoes.
In those days mothers did not go out to work unless in the upper or professional class or at the other end of the scale – poor women who took in washing or did housework for sixpence an hour.
Jill asked her companion what he thought of England now that he was here. She was unprepared for his reply. He thought it was a stupid little country – backward and old fashioned, especially the plumbing systems. In his country the pipes were all inside the house so that they did not freeze in the winter and nearly everyone had a refrigerator and central heating. He was obviously homesick.
Jill didn’t realise this – she suddenly knew that she loved her country too and here we were, in Mr Churchill’s words – standing alone facing the Hun, ready to ‘fight on the beaches’.
So they argued until they had walked the circular route back to the road which was around the corner from Jill’s home and it was then nearly dark. Jill said “Goodbye then, 1 must go in now”. To her surprise Erie replied “Can I see you again tomorrow night then, same time? ……..
The following night Jill came home on the train from Charing Cross as usual. It was Friday so she had her wages in a little brown envelope – 2 weeks’ pay as she was off on holiday the following week – so she crossed the road and decided to wait for the bus and see what was going on in Coney Hall. The bus terminated there and she walked through the main part of the estate out to the more rural part where her home was.
As her friend had told her, all the empty houses were taken to house the soldiers who were milling about, whistling and dating the girls, and their vehicles were moving about the streets.
Jill wondered if her handsome companion of the previous evening would really turn up; there were such a great many girls about on the estate and they had seemed to argue practically all the time they were out walking.
Her mother was waiting with tea ready as usual. Jill’s father came home much later as his office had been ‘evacuated’ from central London to North London so that he had a much longer journey home.
After her tea, she washed and changed from her navy blue suit and white blouse into a brown woollen skirt and little yellow embroidered jumper she had knitted herself – mainly on the train -and then some brown suede walking shoes, and was off.
As she rounded the corner, she could see his tall, slim figure waiting where they had parted the previous evening. They fell into step and walked over the road and across the field to the little path that led away from the housing estate.
The conversation continued from the previous night. Canada was so ‘wide open’ and free, with no class distinction as there was here.
England was green and lovely, especially here on the edge of the green belt.
I hope I die before all this ever gets built on”, Jill suddenly said.
“Don’t ever say a thing like that”, he said.
Summer had been a lovely one – weatherwise – people had long ago stopped carrying their gas masks as at the beginning of the war and after the mass exodus, many had drifted back to London.
Mr Churchill had become Prime Minister to, it seemed, everyone’s satisfaction – personifying the English Bulldog. There was an overall feeling of ‘togetherness’ and ‘we can take whatever the Hun throws at us’.
In London the majority of men and many women were in uniform of some kind of another and many, many from overseas. People jokingly said that if the balloon barrages were not there to support the country, it would sink into the sea with the weight of all the people here. Another great morale booster was the Tommy Handley show on Thursday evening which was immensely popular with its catch phrases “Can 1 do you now Sir” and I don’t mind if 1 do”, etc.
So on that fine Friday evening Jill and Erie strolled along holding hands, chatting and getting to know each other and this night Jill took Erie back to her home to meet her parents.
After the ‘cold’ or ‘phoney’ war in the first months of the outbreak of war things had ‘hotted up’. Following the evacuation of Dunkirk there were air raids in various parts of the country but one felt terribly sorry for the people of Dover who were apparently being fired at directly with the massive guns installed at Calais.
Then came the Battle of Britain and the brave young pilots had to keep going up to fight off the German’planes and Mr Churchill had made his most famous speech about “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
The ‘dog fights’ could be observed, though not very clearly. One Saturday afternoon Jill and Betty had been walking the dog on the common when the siren had sounded and the firing started, so the two girls dived into a ditch and watched a pilot bale out of a German ‘plane away to the east of them and presumed that there would be some people to pick him up No doubt the Home Guard would be at the ready.
Jill had left the Commercial school she had attended for two years in North London before she and her parents had moved south, to Kent. There was great difficulty for all young people trying to fit into a job just then as unemployment was rife and she was fortunate to get a typing job at the Ministry of Transport as a ‘temporary’. At the outset of war, the Ministry became the ‘Ministry of WarTransport.
During the summer of 1939 she took the exam’ at Burlington House and passed it, thus becoming ‘permanent’. This, as it happened, was the last examination to be held until the war was over.
With the onset of the ‘Blitz’ it was essential to keep everything moving and transport played a large part in the war effort. Buses were brought from the provinces and it was strange to see these different colour buses (blue, black, etc) as well as the familiar red London buses. They were used in places where the railway was hit to get people to and from their work so that as the Blitz
proceeded, it became more and more of an effort to get to and from work unless a person worked locally.
At the Ministry of War Transport, in Northumberland Avenue, the basement was reinforced and used as an operations room to organise the transport system. It was worked in eight-hour shifts -8am to 4pm, 4pm to midnight and midnight to 8 in the morning. Some very primitive toilets were installed, also men and women’s dormitories with bunk beds.
Some of the girls who had been bombed out took up residence here although this was frowned upon but there was not much the authorities could do about it, especially as the girls were willing to work long hours.
During the ‘All Clear’, if there was one in the night or if it had gone quiet, it was possible to dash to the Lyons Corner House in the Strand, to the Brasserie which was in the basement, with a companion, and perhaps have a dish of ice cream.
Tin hats had been issued and gas masks were to be carried all the time. The original cardboard container had, in most cases, been discarded and a smarter looking container could be purchased in different colours.
However, Jill had a whole week’s holiday to come before she began her new duties on the night shift. She had previously decided to have a holiday at home and now that she had met her handsome Canadian soldier she was glad she was not going away.
The army vehicles were parked under the trees on the common and in woods near to the Parish Church, for camouflage and it was here that Erie was on guard that next week and Jill had promised to cycle the half mile or so there to see him.
Jill’s parents liked Erie immediately and later said that they thought he was a’nice clean looking young man who could be trusted’.
Erie talked to them about home on the prairie. “It’s mighty cold in winter”, he said “and in the summer it is so hot you can fry eggs on the sidewalk”.
Jill’s Dad thought this was very funny and after that, always introduced Erie by saying “This is Erie – he comes from a place called Moose Jaw where they fry their eggs on the sidewalk”.
Erie always grinned good-naturedly at this with forbearance.
As they chatted, the air raid siren began its wail as it had been doing most evenings at dusk. Erie said he must go on duty and Jill and her parents made ready to go to their new Anderson shelter in the back garden. Her mother had everything ready – thermos flasks, blankets and candles. Her Dad had constructed two bunk beds and had a camp bed for himself.
Erie and Jill arranged to meet at the Assembly Rooms on the next night which was Saturday, as there was going to be a grand dance and welcome for the Canadians from the Rector.
Betty and Jill spent the Saturday afternoon preparing themselves for the dance that evening, doing their hair up in pipe cleaners and, as stockings were in short supply, applying leg make-up and then doing a line down the back of their legs with an eyebrow pencil to make a’seam’. They did each other’s legs so that they got a straight line, each girl standing in turn on the table and the two of them in fits of giggles.
The dance hall was completely transformed that Saturday evening. In place of the plump middle-aged lady who always pounded on the piano “A tisket, a tasket, my little yellow basket” or “The Umbrella Man” waltz, this evening, as the girls neared the hall, they could hear the strains of the regimental band which sent them hurrying into the building where they went into the cloakroom to remove their coats and cheek on their hair and make-up before entering the dance hall.
What a scene this was! Instead of the handful o f very young or not-so-young men and rather bored-looking girls, the hall was simply ‘bursting at the seams’. The girls were there as usual, looking as pretty as they could possible make themselves, plus a
They gave each other a picture of themselves which had both been recently taken
large number of the Canadian soldiers in their uniforms and as the dances began, every girl was approached by sometimes three or four prospective partners.
What the music lacked in perfection, it made up for in volume. Even when the air raid siren sounded and the heavy guns were heard, this seemed to add to the excitement and very few young people left to go to the air raid shelters.
Jill danced with several different soldiers. They were so charming and always saw a girl back to her seat at the end of a dance, but in spite of enjoying herself, she kept looking towards the door where more and more soldiers were arriving, until at last, when she was sitting between dances, Eric appeared in the doorway.
The next dance was a quickstep, which meant of course, jitterbugging.
Jill expected Erie to dash across the dance floor and claim her but two other young soldiers came up to her. One, a fair-haired young man who was a very good dancer and had already had a couple of dances with Jill, got in first and jerked her on to the dance floor.
The band gave it ‘all they had got’, the dancers likewise.
Jill managed a little wave as she flew past Erie, standing in the doorway but when the dance finished and she looked for him, he was no longer there. Her heart sank; although she still had partners, it had all gone flat.
Her friend Betty was apparently being escorted home by a very tall young soldier who had partnered her most of the evening.
Jill slipped out of the hall as the last waltz began, got into her coat and walked back down the road to her home feeling bewildered and miserable.
She hardly noticed the barrage of guns and periodic thud of bombs dropping.
As she opened the side gate of her house to go to the shelter, where she knew her parents would be, she found herself
crunching on broken glass from the back room windows and realised she had been selfish and thoughtless in not coming home sooner.
The next day was Sunday when Jill got up early as usual and went off to meet her friend Betty and they walked to the beautiful old church on the hill for the 8 o’clock Communion service.
Jill’s parents were not churchgoers although her mother had been, when young and it had been Jill’s idea to get confirmed earlier that year and help in the Sunday School at the Assembly Rooms on Sunday afternoons with her friend.
The girls chatted as they walked home and told one another all that had happened to them at the dance the previous evening.
Jill still could not understand why Erie had appeared and then vanished so soon, without dancing with her, but decided to go along and see him the next day when she was on holiday.
He had suggested she should cycle up to where all the vehicles were parked in the woods, under the trees for camouflage, and where he was to be on guard duty.
So, on Monday morning – the last day of September – she rode her cycle around the road to the town to do some shopping for her mother and decided to buy a cake to take with her to the woods.
She was so fortunate that there had been a delivery of Fullers cakes which were nicely boxed. It was the last cake of this kind to be had during the war.
The woods where the Canadian vehicles were parked were further up the road from the church and beyond the housing estate, with farmland on one side and what had been a bird sanctuary on the other side and had now been put at the disposal of the Canadian regiment stationed there.
As Jill came up to the woods, she was greeted with whistles by the soldiers on guard there but didn’t like to stop and ask for Erie, so cycled on slowly up the hill and was near the end of the
woods when a tall, slim figure in uniform stood at the fence grinning at her.
At that moment, large drops of rain began to fall from the ominous sky. Eric seized her cycle and heaved it over the fence, then helped Jill to climb over into the woods.
She pushed her bike into the undergrowth, grabbed her precious cake, while Eric jumped up into the driver’s seat of a large army lorry and pulled her up beside him.
As the rain poured down, they ate the little cake and chatted and laughed together.
Why hadn’t he asked her for a dance last Saturday, and gone off so abruptly?
He said he didn’t like ‘jitterbugging’ and the girls, dancing in such a way, showing their knickers. He said that, anyway, he could only do the waltz and promised to dance that dance with her the next Saturday. He took her hand in his, and thus they sat, as the rain poured down and they were both just so happy to be together.
The rest of the week was fine and warm with the precious October sunshine. Eric and Jill met whenever they could and if he was off duty during the day they went walking in the North Kent countryside or cycling – Eric borrowing Jill’s Dad’s cycle.
There was very little traffic on the roads and few private cars. Names and signs of places were, of course, obliterated.
Sometimes they stopped at a village to have a cup of tea but got back to Jill’s home before dark and the ominous wail of the siren.
Although there had been a number of bombs dropped, and quite a lot of casualties over the past two months, because it was in the area of Biggin Hill, the bombing and consequent destruction and misery was nothing compared to that being inflicted on Central London and especially the Docks area.
It was surprising how quickly people became acclimatised to the situation. Jill’s mother, like other women at home, had everything prepared for the shelter – sandwiches, hot drinks and
blankets – and the evening meal finished and cleared away before the siren sounded.
There was great prowess among the men at identifying the planes overhead. “That’s one of ours”, someone would exclaim, to the comfort of everyone in the shelter. The Anderson shelters proved a great help in saving lives. Often, when a house was completely destroyed, the shelter was still intact and although covered in debris the occupants could be dug out with only minor injuries.
This happened to Jill’s elderly Auntie – her mother’s elder sister, who lived at Clapham. The house where she had rooms had a direct hit and the house and everything in it was completely destroyed. She had to be helped out of the shelter and then make her way to her sister, up the hill and across Lavender Hill – a main road – and then to the end of another road – in her nightie and slippers. Fortunately, Jill’s Auntie Jenny’s home was intact and she was able to take her sister in, and they lived together for the rest of their lives.
The Canadian soldiers came as a great comfort and help to the people in the area where they were billeted. They were young and strong and always seemed to be cheerful and were most helpful when it came to putting out the rain of fire bombs. To the young girls, they were glamorous and exciting and different.
The next Saturday evening, Jill went to Betty’s to get ready as usual and they both went off to the Assembly Rooms – not too early. During the week, there were other activities for the soldiers such as table tennis, concerts and a rather quiet, subdued dance to gramophone records. Letter-writing home was also encouraged and YMCA stationery put out for the use of the men.
Saturday night, however, was different and as the girls walked down the road to the hall, they could hear the music played by the regimental band and felt a thrill of excitement. This time, Eric was already in the hall with a group of his friends and just after Jill and Betty arrived the band began to play a waltz. Eric
Coney Hall Rectory and Assembly Rooms
The building is built in a quad shape, the picture showing the
Rectory on one side, then Chapel on to which follows the Games
Hall. The other two sides of the quad comprise the Hall (with stage) and the fourth side has other rooms -Refectory, cloakrooms, etc
came across to her and as they danced, the lights were turned down very low and – sirens, bombs, German planes overhead – nothing mattered but this.
After her week’s holiday Jill had to return to work on night duty which was from midnight until 8 o’clock the following morning. This meant getting up to London before dark. Fortunately the local railway station was working again after being badly blitzed and a public house across the road (a very fine building) had been demolished.
Jill had never been able to do without sleep and after socialising a little with the people on duty, she snuggled into one of the bunk beds and tried to get some precious sleep before going on duty.
Jill’s job was to type the messages which were scribbled from the telephone and brought to her by a messenger boy, then taken to the control room which contained large maps of the London
Transport system, so that, when roads and rail were damaged, buses could be laid on and people working in London could get to and from their places of work. Travelling was, however, a slow and painstaking occupation, especially in the morning after a raid which meant getting home after a night on duty by devious routes.
One day Jill found herself in Brixton and could not resist going into Bon Marche, a large shop there which, like a lot of shops, had bomb-damaged goods and she got herself a pretty little striped dress there which was a better quality than she usually had as it was much reduced. However, she was always anxious to get home and let her mother know she was alright.
As soon as she did get home and had something to eat, she got undressed and into her nightie and went to bed in the Anderson shelter as the daylight raids were frequent and sleep was most precious, before setting off for London later that day.
Whenever possible, Eric would pop round to see her. Even if she had gone to sleep she would be wakened by the sound of his heavy army boots on the concrete path. It was like music to her ears! He always came around the back gate and down into the shelter where he would take her into his arms.
Her mother was a little disapproving! I don’t know that that is quite right – you in your nightie”, she said to Jill, but Jill just laughed and said “But he’s a gentleman, Mum”.
Air raids continued throughout October and a number of homes were damaged or destroyed in the area. However, people 1 soldiered on’ at their places of work and most people took the attitude that “if your name is on the bomb, you will get it anyhow”. For young people there was a certain feeling of adventure and of ‘living for the day, for tomorrow may never come’.
Eric and Jill continued to meet although the nights were dark now and they no longer walked in the country lanes.
Sometimes the Canadian troops went off on manoeuvres and everything seemed to go ‘flat’, especially for the young girls who nearly all had sweethearts by this time.
Another regiment of English soldiers would be stationed in the area when the Canadians were elsewhere.
A dance was always organised at the Assembly Rooms on Saturday nights, usually with gramophone records of Victor Sylvester dance music. This alone felt very flat after the lively Canadian band and the English soldiers lacked the glamour and charm of the Canadians so that when the Canadians returned, as they continued to do, they were welcomed back with warmth and affection.
The threat of a German invasion was still prevalent as England stood alone’, but Mr Churchill was in command – the British Bulldog – and few people really believed that Hitler would dare to send his troops across the Channel.
People went to the cinema a great deal – at least once and often two or three times a week. What could be nicer than sitting in the dark and holding hands with your sweetheart, and when the really romantic parts came, he would put his arm around his girl, much to the annoyance of the people behind, unless they too were sweethearts.
One evening when the Canadians were away and Jill was not at work, she and her friend Betty went to the local cinema to see Anna Neagle in the story of ‘Edith Cavell’. Not only did they cry all through the film, but walked home together across the common, crying all the way. The film showed the Germans as the tyrants they were and was an especially good propaganda film.
November came and went and Jill and Eric were still seeing each other whenever they could, and he always found a welcome at Jill’s home.
Christmas was coming – a dreary one this year, with so many shortages and clothes and food rationed. Jill’s mother said that Eric could come to them on Christmas Day if he could do so.
Christmas Day came. There were no relations coming this year as usual, as it was too hazardous to travel in the prevailing conditions. Jill’s mother had the dinner ready and they waited and waited for Eric to arrive but he did not come, so eventually they had their dinner and afterwards, listened to the King’s speech on the radio around a cosy coal fire.
Jill had been terribly disappointed, but tried not to spoil Christmas for her parents and they all supposed he had been on duty and unable to come to them.
The only really good thing about Christmas 1940 was that there was no air raid and everyone had a good night’s sleep, tucked up in their beds.
Canadians celebrating Christmas in Coney Hall, 1940.
3rd Field Regiment