The Ardouin Family: Middle-class London Suburban Family (1930s-40s)


Figure 1.--Apropos your image of the play street in Salford, That was a wonderful image of working-class children. I hought you might like to see a middle-class family. I was reminded of one of my favourite toys as a child. We didn't have a play street, but we did have a small back garden (Americans would say back yard). And this photo was taken in our back garden in London during 1936. I am (Aged 5) in my pedal car, my elder brother (7) is on the tricycle which he has clearly out-grown. my sister aged (2) is sitting in a folding high chair, which in the low position makes a floor level table and chair. You can see from the dents in the car that it was much used.

We were a middle-class family London family. My brother Graham and I had a typical British boyhood--at least the first part. Our father was dentist and we lived in a London suburb during the 1930s. You can see us here with our little sister having a good time in the back garden (figure 1). It is hard to believe looking at us here without a care in the world that our family would very shortly find ourselves like other British families be in the center of malestorm. A few years later London of course was targeted by Herr Hitler and his vaunted Luftwaffe. Incredibly we found ourselves on the front-line of World War II when Britain stood alone against the NAZIs. Our parents never discussed the danger with us, but there was a real fear that the Germans would bomb London, perhaps dropping poson gas. There was even the fear that the Germans would cross the Channel and invade. Mum and dad decided to send Graham and I to America. We had no idea as boys at the time what a wrenching decesion this must have been for them, but we were soon off on the adventure of our young lives. We were part of a small group of British children evacuated to America. We crossed U-boat infested waters and spotted icebergs. We were both avid cinema fans and convinced ourselves that we would soon be in the middle of the Wild West and seeing cowboys and Indians blazing away at each other. We were disappointed not to see the Indians, but we were taken in by a wonderful family. And we were delighted to find two wonderful dogs. We had been pestering our parents for a dog. Our wishes were granted--and then some. Bum proved to be as much dog as Graham and I could handle as my front tooth can testify to. Our parents and little sister remained in London to do battle with the Luftwaffe. We had a wonderful time in America and were lovingly cared for and made many friends. We never felt like foreigners. I lost Graham a few years ago, but both of us will never forget our 5 memorable years as American boys.

Our Grandparents

I recall our grandparents. Both our grandmothers helped mum with us. They would join us for our summer vacations. The only dog I knew in childhood was 'Michael'. an Airedale. He is pictured here with my Maternal and Fraternal Grandmothers in 1930. My brother was a toddler and I was not yet born. I have only brief recollections of him as he died when I was pre-school. Graham and I both wanted a dog, but we were neve able to convince mum and and dad.

Toddlers: Graham and I

We were a very happy family. Graham and I enjoyed a normal middle-class English boyhood. Both our parents were wonderful. As todlers we were mostly with mum. She was a stay at home mum and wonderful with small children, including two often rowdy little boys. Here are two photos of us as toddlers. The first shows me at 18 moths in 1932. I am wearing what my mother called my 'summer frock'. It was made by her and she was a very slilled seamstess which I am sure we did not appreciateat the time. Unfortunately the elaborate smocking is not very clear. Luckily my sister came the next year on whom my mother could apply her dress-making skills. I think the garment I was wearing is a smock. The second shows us a year later on my brother's 4th birthday in 1933.

Wood Green

The London suburb of Wood Green where we lived in a wonderful place for boys. I have attached a map and encircled the house where we lived in Wood Green--65 Bounds Green Road. Our home had quite a large garden. It was there that the three of us were photographed in our toy vehicles. But we were virtually surrounded by green areas. You can see the ornamental park opposite , and another up the road to the left. I remember walking along that park to see the trains with my mother when I was a toddler. The trains fascinated me. You can see the railway, which is the main East Coast line to Scotland, and stations along the route were a prime target for the German bombers. We were certainlyn lucky having such a lot of green space for adventure with our friends and I remember taking advantage of it.

Our Boyhood

Graham and I being so close together in age did a lot of things together. Of course two years makes a big difference in younger children. So Graham always had a leg jp on me. When I was in pre-school. Mother used to take me in a push chair to and from school to take and fetch my brother. My kindergarten was only four houses down from Graham's school so we went together, once I had started school. I joined my brother at Franklin House School in 1937, when I was nearly 6 years old. By this time we walked the half mile or so alone, after we were seen across the main road outside our house. Mother would be wating at the gate when we returned. We played cricket and football with our class year boys. We mucked about together either in the back garden or in the local parks - never in the street. Such children were called 'gutter-snipes'. Roller skating was a great past time. We were not supposed to do it in the parks, and used to bait the park-keeper. We could skate faster than he could run. he had a pointed stick with which he used to spear litter. He would brandish this at us. Alexandra Park was a great place to meet up with other friends and play around in the landscaped grounds. There was the casing of a World War I bomb that had fallen somehow fins first, which were imbedded in the ground. and just the nose protruded. It seemed massive to a 7-year old, but I suspect it was only about four feet high. In 1938-9 we would go on the Underground train to my cousins from Wood Green to Enfiend West (four stations up the line.) The underground emerged from the tunnel system after one stop and was above ground in the outer suburbs. They lived in a partially completed housing development. It weas fun to ride bikes around the deserted roads on the estate. Also there was a lot of rough ground still covered in bushes. This was 'Wild West' country and we played Cowboys and Indians. Being a new development, there were a lot of children around. It is a sad that children now don't have that freedom in London. Adults perceive too many dangers.

Sis

Our sister came along when we were a bonded pair. The baby was a curiosity and seemed an intruder. We were a bit naughty when she got older. We would 'requisition' her dolls house for our toy soldiers. This is a reflection of what was happening to some large houses at the time. Going to America and her staying behind, we lost what ever bonding we might have had. She was only four when we left. Our parents inevitably doted on her in our absence, but she was not a 'spoiled brat' when we returned. On our return we looked at her friends in a new light. I dated one for a time.

Holidays

Here we are again in 1934. We are outside the house we rented for the summer holiday at Holland on Sea. This is a sea side resort near Clacton in Essex. My father used to join us for a week and then go back to London to continue his dental surgery. He would come and collect us in the car at the end. This was the pattern each summer. My father never took more than a week off. We didn't always go to Holland on Sea. Sometimes, especially later we used to go to Thanet in Kent. I am sorting through the family photos of us on the beach. I have some of each year up until the war.

London: Back Garden

Apropos your image of the play street in Salford, That was a wonderful image of working-class children. I hought you might like to see a middle-class family. I was reminded of one of my favourite toys as a child. We didn't have a play street, but we did have a back garden (Americans would say 'back yard'). And this photo was taken in our back garden in London during 1936. I am (Aged 5) in my pedal car, my elder brother (7) is on the tricycle which he has clearly out-grown. my sister aged (2) is sitting in a folding high chair, which in the low position makes a floor level table and chair. You can see from the dents in the car that it was much used." It looks to us like this lot had quite a good time together in their back yard. The older broher looks to be wearing his school clothes--notice the tie. Often mothers made boys change when they came home.

The Blitz (July-September 1940)

After the fall of France, Hitler expected the British to make peace. Whn they did not he ordered an invasion of Britain preceeded by an air campaign to establish air superority to cover he Channel crossing. The Luftwaffe quickly established bases in France and by July 10 launched preliminary strikes in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe wih a series of successful campaigns was confident of victory. The Luftwaffe while better trained and outnumbering the RAF was ill prepared for the campaign. The Battle of Britain began in earnest on July 10 and reached intensive levels on August 13 with Luftwaffe raids on British airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had assumed that the Luftwaffe could force the British to capitualte. The Luftwaffe im its August campaign seriously weakened the RAF and Fighter Command was having increasing difficulty maintaining its forward air bases in Kent. Then off-course German bombers accidentally bomb London on August 23-24. RAF Bomber Command on August 25-26 mounted a small reprisal raid against Berlin. Hitler is furious and orders an immediate change in Luftwaffe tactics. Rather than completing its offensive against the RAF infrastructure, Hitler ordered a "blitz" on British cities which began in earnest on September 7. The Luftwaffe wreaked havoc on civilians in London and major English cities. An estimated 42,000 civilians were killed. Thousands of civilians were killed. White British cities burned, the RAF was given a respite, allowing its forward air bases to recover from the damage done in August. As a result the RAF was able to mount increasingly costly attacks on the German bomber fleets. The Luftwaffe eventually is forced to shift to nightime raids. Night bombing made it impossible to hit actually military and industrial targets, only cities could be targetted. The British were battered, but held.

Family Goodbyes (July 1940)

Graham and I, as a result of our age, did not have a good idea of what was happening. We did not understand that a German invasion was quite possible and what that would mean. Nor did we understand that we were being evacuated because the War situalation had turned so dreadfully against Britain. Our parents of course understod this. And I understand now that there was a very real possibility that we might never see one another again. As a result, they wanted our grand parents to see us before we left. This photo was taken some time in July. We of course did not understand this. For us evacuation was just a great lark with the attractive possibility of possibly sighting dome cowboys and Indians. I am posing with Paddy, my cousin's dog--a wonderful airdale. We didn't have a dog, but both Graham and I wanted one. It was taken when we said goodbye to my Grandparents (father's mother and father) before evacuation. I am wearing my Sunday best suit.

Evacuation (August 1940)

A few years after the 1936 peaceful scene in our back garden later London was targeted by the Luftwaffe. My brother and I were evacuated to America. It must have been a terribly difficulkt decesion for our parents, but they did not let on how wooried they were. Our little sister was deemed to young to accompany us. My brother and I were evacuated to the USA in August 1940. This was only days before the first raids on London. We went by train to London to Liverpool. We were in a group called the 'Transcriptors'. The name was given as we were sponsored by the Boston Transcript Newspaper. Our welfare was under the supervision of the American Committe for the Evacuation of Children. We were taken in by a wonderful family in Masschusetts who laster took us with them to Vermont. Stragely I did not ger homesick. I was toon busy with school and sports. I loved baseball and leaned to ski when we moved to Vermont, I had really good teachers and was put in advanced classes. There were two glorious summers in a Maine boys camp. When I arrived I still did not comprehend what was happening, but as I got older began to follow the War. I turned my room into a mini-war room with maps and pins all over the wall. We listen to the radio for war news and also for the wonderful programs. Charlry McCartht became a real favorite. Mother wrote comforting letters assuring us that they were all safe. After the War I learned it was not as safe as she led us to believe.

Our Family in the Blitz (1940-45)

After Graham and I left for America, we no longer knew what was happening at home. Our parents of course wrote, but they did not want to worry us with details about the Blitz. Thus most of what transpired at hime we found out after we had left. Father before we left installed a Morrison shelter and the Battle of Britain had just begun (July 1940), but London was at first off limits for the Luftwaffe which at first focused on the Channel ports and RAF. London was not targeted until later (September 1940). The RAF proved so effective against the Luftwaffe bombers thst the Germns shifted to night bombing. This continued fir several months, but finally tailed off in 1941 as the Germans shifted the Luftwaffe east tgo prepasre for Basrbarossa (June 1941). After American entered the War (December 1941), the air defenses over Britain became so effective, that German bombing became very rate. This changed after D-Day (June 1944) when the Germans began the V-1 attacks. The primary target was Londoin. This was also the case with the V-2s. I think our home was fortunately just outside the zone of greatest danger. Wood Green is some 5-6 miles from Docklands, and probably regarded then as the 'leafy suburbs'.

Return to England (June 1945)

In my welfare folder is correspondence about arrangement for our return. Dad had made provisional arrangements for us to go to a public School in North London on our return. He was ted us to return as soon as our American school term had finished and hostilites ceased. The situation was the same for the thousand or so other Brit. children. There were two ways of getting home. One was by passenger liner, the other by 'Special Transport'. The former would not be sailing until hostilities ceased, the latter was hit and miss as it meant going on a warship. They would be sailing first, and in fact Dad paid 10 excess for us to come that way. In the event the liner came first and we went hom on the Samaria, a Cunard ship. This had been converted to a troopship so there was a lot of accommodation on board. Going home presented problems. You can imagine that after five years each child had collected a lot of clobber, and wanted to take it home. We were allowed a bit more than the one suitcase rule applied the same as it had when we left England. My brother and I had the one suitcase and a duffle bag. The limit was 186 lbs of luggage. That is why the Book was left behind.

Readjusting

ust before my brother and I returned to Britain, my father realised that the house in Wood Green was not really large enough to run both his Dental Practice and a Family Home. A move was imperative. He bought a large semi-detatched house about 6 miles away in preparation for our return. Frienrn Barnet Lane had a much larger garden. There was plenty of room for mother's chickens and a fruit and vegetable garden. The house had six bedrooms. My father was a keen golfer and one reason for the purchase of that house was it was opposite the local Golf Course and nearer the first tee (marked X) than the Club House. I became a golf addict. Not many people realise that rationing in the UK was MORE severe after the war than during the war. Most of the food imports went to mainland Europe, as they were starving. The British had a meagre, but healthy war time diet. This was maintained, but we had to tighten our belts a bit more. We were repremanded for not using our knives and forks incorrectly at table.

Back to School in England: Highgate (September 1945)

Returning to England was another quantum leap. I had to sit an entrance exam to the Public School my father had arranged for us to go. This was a doddle, except I was so bad at Latin, I was to never study it again. I was ahead in maths and Science, and knew how to use a Library. I had made my mind up I was going to be a doctor and was put in a science set, and then the medical set in the sixth form. At Highgate, even though I was there during clothes rationing, there were multiple uniforms, according to ones status. Boys under the age of 14 years wore shorts. Other wise the main body of students wore mid grey flannel suits. Royal blue blazers were worn in the summer. I had never worn shirts with detachable stiff collars before. They were starched, but ordinary collars not Eton ones. The shirt was changed once a week and the collar every day. It is not easy to attach collar studs to a stiff collar. Mother was persuaded to go easy on the starch. We were soft shirts with our blazers. Once you were awarded House Colours, blazers had maroon piping. Those with cricket colours had white piping. We had to wear caps at all times outdoors to and from school. Prefects and school monitors wore black jackets. Although sartorially incorrect, prefects and monitors could wear brown shoes! Rationing had stopped the practive of wearing black striped trousers, although one of my friends did, as the school uniform regulations didn't forbid it. Someone found out another rule that hadn't been recinded; the Head of School (senior prefect) could sport a moustache. The uniform today is still much the same, although girls are now admitted. They wear grey skirts, but shirts ties and blazers, similar to the boys. A new experience was the school cadet force, which I liked. I became a School Prefect, Head of House, and Captain of Swimming. Another co-incidence was that at the school were two brothers who had been evacuated with us, and who had attended O-At-Ka summer camp. One of them became a Consultant Bacteriologist. I became a Surgeon.

Gap Year Return (1948)

In 1948 I had a gap year and returned to America on a 'student' ticket. Gap year is what we British call taking a year off afer finishinf secondary school anbd beginning university. The return fare was 25. We were practically all students and travelled on a 'Liberty ship', which I think was one of the most mass produced ships. It had been a troopship, and we slept in bunks stacked eight high in vast dormatories. Fortunately we were far from full. The roops would have had very unpleasant time. I remember asking one of the crew how they fed the vast numbers and it was almost on a conveyor belt system 24 hours day. The ships were prone to break down. I didn't make the return journey on that ship as its propellor fell off. We got an upgrade to went on the United States Line flag ship, called the United States.

Marriage

Soon after I was married, if I showed any atavistic American mannerisms, my mother would say to my newly wedded wife. "You will have to excuse his idocincracies, but he was drug up in a heathen country!"

Our Family (1964)

This is the Our Family at my fraternal Grandmother's 100th birthday in 1964. My father is at the back, far left. My grandmother is seated on the right with her 'young' sister (98) to the left. My two daughters are second and third front row on the left. I am standing fifth in the back row. Very little hair then! My wife sadly was not there. Her father had just died and she was in Yorkshire with her family.







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Created: 9:46 PM 8/24/2009
Last updated: 11:06 PM 8/1/2012