My mum at an American Army Airforce base dance!

My mum was born in London in 1931, and in 1940 was evacuated with her younger twin sisters to Nailsea, Bristol. The Perry family house/farm was billeted by the army, and the girls’ bomb shelter was 6ft underground – they spent a lot of nights in there!

In 1945, my mum was back living in Queens park, London and worked at the age of 14 in the Post Office at Paddington as a Counter Clerk for the ladies Rind & Tutt, in their velvet collars and long black skirts for £1.25 per week.

When her own mother moved to Rayleigh in Essex, mum went to work for Global Tours (coaches) in Liverpool street, London as a General clerk, commuting to work and smoking “Star” brand cigarettes, 5 for a shilling! When she’d had enough of the commuting, mum went back to London to live with her school friend Doreen (who eventually married an American soldier and went to live in Arkansaw and had 3 boys) off the Harrow road in London in 1947.

At 16 years old, mum went to work for the big General Stores Marshall & Snelgrove in Oxford Street doing Accounts for £2.50 per week, clocking in/out and having a supervisor watching them all constantly. She moved into ‘digs’ at Portnal Road, and along with many other girls, would catch the coach to the Lakenheath American Army airforce base for their dances (nylons, chocolate, cigarettes and gum!). Mum says she danced with all the soldiers she liked and in particular a soldier from Philadephia took a big shine to her. I could’ve had an American dad! All the girls became friends, and wore the fashion look of the time – Victory rolls and snoods, red lipstick, skirts just below the knee, and high heeled shoes. Sometimes mum would sew her own outfits and remembers in particular a green & white skirt and blouse ensemble with a small flower print.

Betty Grabel

Mum loved dancing, and when she went to work for Hunt & Winterbottom textiles at 18 years old, she would go to all the Dance halls in London including the Lyceum Ballroom (converted in 1951 from a Theatre) where a live swing band of the likes of Joe Loss and Ray Ellington would entertain them. At this textile company mum was worked general reception including telephone and through a colleague, found a flat in Turret road, Clapham. Of course by 1949, skirt lengths had increased to 4″ above the ankle – quite a difference! Whilst living in Clapham, Mum would go to the cinema for movies like Tarzan, as well as Hollywood musicals and of course the Pathe News reel. There was always darts every Friday night organised by Hunt & Winterbottom, and Mum also belonged to a swimming club. It was from this that she ended up doing some swim costume modelling for Playtex catalogue! Mum has good memories of watching the Queens Coronation in 1952 at a friends house in Bexley with work mates. Mum was enjoying the dance halls and would sometimes travel hours to get to a good one, and when she came back, breakfast of 2 slices of bread and dripping and coffee was at a cafe in Soho. Of course Mum was smoking American cigarettes all the time now! Mum also met Dad working here.

Lyceum Mecca Ballroom


Mum in Trafalgar Square in 1947 and Mum and Dad 1953 on their Wedding Day

Published on May 29, 2011 at 11:35 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] 1930s and 40s, the Lindy Hop appeared  in films and news reels, and was popular with American troops stationed overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other […]

  2. […] Isaacs, the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. They organised the evacuation of children, established centres for those displaced by bombing, operated canteens, salvage and recycling […]

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