I was born at 26 Woodlands, Golders Green , on 27th October 1924. Dad had retired, and his Mother, Mary Jane, nee Wardlow, had died in 1922. She had forbidden all her sons to marry while she lived, so Dad and Mum were married in 1923. Less than a year after I was born Mum and Dad moved to White Garth, 14 West Heath Avenue, Golders Green, where we lived as a family from 1925 to 1940, so all my childhood was spent there. It was a large house with a cellar and three floors. On the ground floor were a front lobby, a hall, the drawing room, dining room, study, lavatory, which had on the wall a plaque of the Tour Solidor at either St Malo or Dinard, where Mum and Dad had spent their honeymoon, a cloak room, kitchen, scullery, pantry, outside toilet and coal hole. There was also a yard, shed and garage.. On the first floor there was a nursery, bathroom, lavatory, landing, and four bedrooms. Upstairs on the second floor was the attic and three small bedrooms for the cook, housemaid and governess or nanny. Elizabeth was born on 25th August 1926 on the hottest night of the year, and she was always called Libus as I couldn’t pronounce Elizabeth. As children in a household which was run pretty well as in Victorian times we lived in the nursery, ate our meals there, had all our Christmas presents there, and spent all the time at home there. We were looked after by a nanny, but Mum would always be there in the background, and she would look after us when we were ill with measles, German measles, whooping cough and chicken pox which happened quite often. Mum ran the house and the servants, and saw to everything domestic, including arranging our education and looking after us when we were ill, as we were quite often. Measles was the worst, and I was in a darkened room for three weeks as light was dangerous to sight. There was a roaring fire in the nursery, as with all of the living rooms, for which Dad would buy a ton of Derby Brights coal. The coalmen would unload the coal and stack it in a coal house so neatly that it formed a vertical wall to the top. In the cellar was kept a large crock which was full of eggs preserved in waterglass so that they were bought when cheap, and used in cooking when they were expensive, as everything was seasonal then. There was an ice-box but food had to be bought fresh and used as there were no refrigerators in those days. All the tradesmen would call daily, and there was less need to go out shopping for food. Also in the cellar were Dad’s wine racks, with a large supply of fine vintage wines, mostly red, Clos de Vosgeau (if that’s how it is spelt) was the only one I remember.
Dad couldn’t stand the telephone, but had to use it from time to time. If the operator was slow in answering or something went wrong with the call he would rattle the receiver arm up and down, shouting “Central”. Our exchange was Speedwell, but the Sheffield one was Central, and as all exchanges were the same to Dad, that was good enough. For a man who was so mild and even tempered, the phone was one thing that really set him off. He spent a lot of time indoors with his stamp collection, which was a very good one, and he used to go to stamp auctions at Harmer’s, in the West End. His other interest in the Summer was bowls, and he was an exceptionally good bowler, getting a gold medal for champion of the South of England, which I still have. We used to go with him sometimes to the club, and spend our time going round the waste bins to search in the empty packets for cigarette cards, which taught us a lot from their subjects. Most of the collection is still here as well.
As we got to about four Libus and I were first sent to a kindergarten at the other end of Golders Green, to which we walked each day escorted by the nanny. This was about half a mile and took us down the Golders Green Road past all the shops. I well recall one day on the journey seeing a black man on the other side of the road, and we all stopped and gazed at this unusual sight, never seen before. At six I was sent to Tenterden Tower in Hendon, a prep school which had about 40 boys. We were given a good grounding in all sorts of subjects, our tables, many dates of not only our Kings, but things like the dates of poets, writers, statesmen and so on. In fact we were crammed with facts, which at the time seemed to be pointless but since have come in quite useful at times. Libus went to a girls school next door to mine, Downside I think it was, and we sometimes looked over the fence to see what they were doing, usually playing netball.. There were two girls there, Audrey Moss and Doris Graham-Parker, who sometimes passed me when going to school, and I had to look the other way as they seemed so pretty I blushed scarlet when I saw either of them coming. There were hops growing up the wall outside the classroom, and the smell of them seemed to me to be like burning rubber, horrible it was! When I was about 10 years old I was allowed into the dining room to do my homework and loved being able to look through all the books in Dad’s library which were there. Also at about that age Libus and I were allowed to have Sunday lunch with Mum and Dad in the Dining room, which was a great treat. We also went after school every Thursday to see Tet and Grandma at 4 Decoy Avenue, Hendon. Tet was Mum’s older sister , Cecilia Cameron Watson, and Grandma was Nellie Louisa Watson, nee Cameron. They had a cat’s whisker wireless which we tried to hear, but it was very difficult. We made drop scones or meringues and loved cooking as at White Garth we were not able to do anything except perhaps go into the larder to get a tonic of Guinness and milk, which was not for enjoyment, but strictly for medicinal use. When I was seven I had to have my tonsils and adenoids out, so the kitchen was cleaned thoroughly and the operation was done on the kitchen table. My throat was very sore and for three days I could only eat ice cream, which was a treat! Anyway, the house two doors away was bought by a family of German Jews, who had two children, Alan and Georgia Coller. Libus and I were very friendly with them, they were refugees from the Nazis, and at that time (about 1935) the Golders Green area was becoming a colony, so much so that we sometimes didn’t hear anything but German being spoken in the streets. Libus used to play with Georgia at White Garth, and I used to see Alan at his house. In those days we, the boys, had almost complete freedom. On a Saturday we would walk through the park to Hampstead tube station, get a penny ticket, and arrange to meet again at Golders Green station at 12 o’clock. We had five stations to get off or on, Golders Green, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, and Camden Town. The idea was that we got on different trains and then tried to find one another, and in many Saturdays we never did . I also used to go train spotting at most of the London termini, and there was never the slightest concern that I was only about nine or ten and on my own. The stations I liked best were Euston and Paddington, there was never a dull moment at either.
We had good holidays away each summer, and always went to Smedley’s Hydro at Matlock for New Year. Dad had lived there in the early 1900s and his brother Charles and sister Beatrice lived there, and he knew many people, both resident and staff, so was treated well. In the late 1930s the double room rate which included full board was 14/6 per day, which included all the sports facilities and the medicinal baths. We all loved Smedley’s as there was so much to do. For the adults there were tea dances, evening balls at which Mum had to have a different evening dress each night, a Drawing Room which was about the size of a theatre and where there were concerts each Sunday evening, and a card room adjoining the billiard room, which was run by the Head Marker, Geoffrey, and his staff of one assistant and three page boys to fetch and carry refreshments. Smedley’s was a Methodist hotel, so no booze, but the parties in the bedrooms were long and often! For us children there were games rooms, and on twelfth night there was the staff ball, where the guests ran the hotel completely, and the staff danced in the Winter Garden. We were Page boys, running messages and errands as wanted, for which we usually got a tip. We loved it! During the summer we went to Cliftonville when we were quite young, staying at the Walpole Bay Hotel, and on one of those holidays I was given a Fairy Cycle and learned to ride a bike. From about 1934 we went to North Wales for three weeks and then to the Lake District for a fortnight. As the school holidays were eight weeks then in the summer it made wonderful summer holidays for Libus and me. John was a bit young, having been born in 1932, seven years younger than I was, and he didn’t really enter into much at that time.
To go back to Libus, she told me that when she went away to Queenwood, a boarding school in Eastbourne, she was happy for the first time in her life, whereas I was miserable to be away from home. We were both sent to boarding school in the Summer Term of 1938, and I was very frightened at the strange routine and harsh conditions after a comfortable home life. However, after the war started Libus’s school was closed and she had to go back home, where she hoped for some more freedom. As soon as she was old enough she went for an interview to join the Wrens. At that time she was living with Mum on the Isle of Man, and at the interview she was asked whether she had any preference for the job to be done in the Wrens. I believe she told them that she would like to have the dirtiest job they had, so they sent her to the Clyde to clean out landing craft which had been in action. She was very proud of being able to wear bell bottom trousers and “square rig”, and on one leave when I met her in the Isle of Man she took me out in the evening to parade up and down Strand Street, Douglas, so that she could score off all the other Wrens, who were clerks or similar in ordinary jackets and skirts.
The spartan life at Eastbourne College was so different from the comforts of home that the first term, during the Summer of 1938, was absolute hell. The following year was not so bad as I had come to terms with the life and coped. During the Summer holidays in 1936, 1937 and 1939 we spent three weeks in Llandudno, followed by a fortnight in the Lake District, at a guest house called Brunt Howe at Skelwith Bridge. In 1938 we went to Ilfracombe, but we only went there once. During this fortnight in 1939 war was declared, and I was fishing in the River Brathay when 11 o’clock came, and with it, war with Germany.
A few days after that Dad had a mild stroke, and as petrol was soon to be either rationed or on special permit Mum drove the car back to White Garth and returned to Brunt How by train. A few days later we all went home by train,. Soon after that Dad had another mild stroke and after another one died on 4th November 1939. Dad was buried in Hendon Cemetery, and his two brothers, Bert and Charles were there as well as many friends. There was a formal lunch at White Garth afterwards, and I had to sit at the head of the table. Etiquette was observed by Mum telling all that I was Mr Binns, you are Mr Bert Binns, and you are Mr Charles Binns. So it was as I was the eldest son of the eldest son!
Not too long after that Mum sold White Garth and moved into a house in Mill Hill, but it was too dangerous to stay in London and she moved to the Isle of Man. This gave me the chance to travel to and from school including going by ferry or aeroplane from Liverpool, which was a great adventure. Unfortunately I was so seasick on one trip that it finished all wishes to join the Navy when I was old enough to join up.
The school was evacuated to Radley, near Abingdon, in about May 1940, which was a school far from anywhere except that it had two good things. One was the river Thames, which was splendid for rowing, so I joined the boat club and enjoyed several years both in eights and scullers, which were great fun. The other was the station, which was on the Great Western main line from Paddington to Oxford and on to Birkenhead. There were two Radley boys and me who were regular spotters, and the highlight was one day when the driver of the shuttle train to Abingdon took us there and back on the footplate.
After failing my School Cert exam in June 1940, a month after the evacuation, I took it again in December and managed four or five passes. This was the sum of my achievements, but the chemistry master was excellent, and it was the subject I liked best.
Later on I was made a house prefect, and then left to go to Cambridge for a six month short course. The only subject I could take to get a place there was Economics, and was very boring, so at the same time we took the initial training for the RAF, which was more interesting. Although I did little work on the University course I passed the exams, and had great enjoyment in rowing with the Lady Margaret Boat Club, in which we managed to get to be Head of the River in the bumping races, and soon after that went into the RAF as Leading Aircraftman or LAC, for which we were paid £4.10.0 a fortnight instead of the £1.10.0 which the basic rank of AC2 got.
After a lot of induction, being sent on various courses and wasting time, which included a month under canvas at Ludlow during which it rained almost every day we were sent to Canada, travelling from the Clyde to Halifax in the Queen Elizabeth. After eight weeks hanging around at Moncton, New Brunswick, we went to Portage La Prairie, about 60 miles West of Winnipeg, for the navigators course. This was from the end of October until the beginning of April, through the prairie winter, the coldest was about -38 degrees F. I got my wings as a sergeant and after another month at Moncton returned home in the Ile de France, 42,000 tons, with 12,000 on board a ship designed for about 2,500 passengers. The ship was so topheavy that it had a 15 degree roll going out of Halifax harbour in flat calm. Fortunately the weather was good throughout the crossing. After a month in Northern Ireland to get accustomed to blackout conditions of night flying I volunteered for and was sent to the Pathfinder training unit at Wyton, near Cambridge. I should add that all Pathfinder crews were volunteers, and those at the end of the course in Northern Ireland who did not volunteer were sent to Montreal to Transport Command to fly between there and Bermuda. This sounds fine, but after six months of that most of them were unfit for anything due to the constant changes of climate and other things I am told. So, I had the better deal.
I was then posted to 35 Squadron at Graveley, near St Neots, and joined a crew who had done about 5 ops. Pathfinder Force Lancasters had a crew of eight, two navigators,whereas main force had seven The strangest thing was that the other navigator was Alf Curtis, with whom I had been acquainted while at school. We hadn’t seen one another since we had left school at the same time, but he had gone for a six month course to Oxford and had done his navigation course in this country. He and I sat next to one another in the Lancaster for about 30 ops. Without realising it one night he slumped over the chart table unconscious, and I found that his oxygen pipe had disconnected from the supply. As I bent over backwards behind him to re-connect it there was a bang and a piece of shrapnel flew through the cabin between us, missing us both, but had we been sitting normally we would have caught it. The next morning we went to see the aircraft, where the ground crew were working, and the sergeant in charge was playing hell with us as “his” aeroplane had something like 80 or 90 holes in it from flak., and some of them were quite large. I forget the number exactly, but we were amazed at the strength of the Lancaster to survive such a pounding. I suppose I was very lucky, really, to have come through the war without a scratch, when on two occasions one of the gunners was quite badly wounded, but it was largely due to my good fortune in having a very good pilot for most of the trips, and at the end of the war having an even better one. One of the worst of the 47 trips was to Ludwigshaven with a crew who were just starting their tour of ops. The pilot climbed right up to 22,000 feet, higher than I had ever been, as our regular crew worked at about 14,000, and for ten miles before the target flew straight and level. These were some of the longest minutes I can remember, and the flak was pretty thick at the time. At that height without any pressurisation it was very uncomfortable, and I was glad to see the back of that trip.
Several of the last were with a Wing Commander pilot who had been an Imperial Airways pilot before the war. The one I remember best was a long flight to the largest synthetic oil plant in Germany, at Leuna near Magdeburg. As he was the Squadron Commander we were detailed as Master Bomber, a detail I had done several times before. This meant getting to the target first, dropping marker flares on the target, and then broadcasting to the main bomber force to bomb either on the markers, beyond them, or short according to how accurate the rest of the Pathfinders had been in dropping theirs. We were over the target for almost 40 minutes until the raid had finished, and as we were last away we were faced with a wall of searchlights. Just as we were about to be coned, as it was called, the pilot opened the throttles and climbed through the wall. All the predicted flak was expecting us to dive, the usual practice to get through as fast as possible, and through his skill we escaped without any trouble.
Some time after that the war ended, but I was lucky enough to have done more operational flights than any other navigator on the squadron. Air Chief Marshall Harris was invited to attend the Victory celebrations in Oslo. He chose one Lancaster from our squadron to escort him, and the most experienced member of each position in the aircraft was selected to go. We went to Northolt and looked over his Dakota, which was fitted out in extreme luxury, and left Northolt about half an hour after him, as the Dakota was slow compared to the Lancaster. After meeting him over Heligoland we escorted him all the way up Denmark at about 1,000 feet and landed after him at Oslo. We were there for four days in which we were very sad that the people there had nothing to wear and little to eat, and some of the stories we heard were horrifying. During that time we were invited by the Swedish Air Force to go to Gothenburg as their guests, and spent four days there in the lap of luxury with the best food we had eaten for years. We were given several crates of sweets, which we agreed to fly back to Oslo for the children in Norway, after which we came home. Flying over Denmark at 1,000 feet, lying in the aircraft’s nose map reading was a treat and the whole trip was never to be forgotten.
After that and several months I was on a draft to go to India, but managed to get off that by admitting to the medics that dust gave me Hay Fever, so I spent the rest of the time in the RAF as a navigation instructor at Holmesley South, which was in the New Forest.
After leaving the RAF I was lucky enough to be taken as a pupil in the Castleford maltings belonging to a friend of Big John. Elizabeth makes reference to him in her research without more information. Big John was so called to differentiate between Mother’s brother John, Jockey, my brother John, Gubs, and John Stead, Big John. He was about the same age as Dad, and they had been great friends since the 1900s at Smedley’s. After Dad died and Big John’s wife Mary died, Mum looked after BJ for many years. He had been a maltster and so was able to introduce me to Fawcett’s, a firm in Castleford, where I spent a year learning the trade the hard way with a shovel, rake, and brute strength. After that I went to Northampton brewery for two years as a trainee brewer, and managed to pass the exams to become a Member of the Institute of Brewing. I then got a job at Groves and Whitnall, in Salford, as a brewer.
Ma and I first met at Smedleys Hydro (pictured) while I was still in the RAF, we had a very lovely evening together and she went back to Nottingham the next day New Years Day 1947.
During that year I was demobbed, as being released from the Services was called, and the following Christmas we met again. It was a very happy Christmas indeed, and I certainly fell in love with her. Ma was at Smedley’s with her Mother, Edna Gertrude, her Father, William Alfred Olds, and her younger sister Betty Doreen. At that time I was at Castleford, malting, and made visits regularly to Nottingham to see her at weekends. After the maltings I went to train as a brewer at Northampton . This courtship went on right through the two years I was there, and after getting the job at Groves and Whitnall’s brewery in Salford we found a flat at a rent we could afford. We got engaged on 17th February 1951 and were married on 31st March. Ma had been working as a Welfare supervisor at a factory near Derby, and gave it up to live in the flat in Sale. After a very short time she applied for the job of staff welfare assistant at Lewis’s, the large store in Manchester, but came from the interview as the welfare superintendent at a higher salary than I was getting. Quite right too, as there were 2,000 staff to look after at the store. She got £700 a year, and I got £500, but we thought we were quite well off.
We were living in Sale in a room with a shared kitchen, but it didn’t work well as the woman who owned the house wanted to cook when we both returned from work, and we found another flat where we were on our own. After about two years a job came up at John Smith’s Tadcaster brewery, and we moved there. This was shift brewing but the pay was relatively good, and of course David was born there in the bedroom of the house. Ma’s pre-natal exam was a bit cursory at about six months gone, and the midwife was summoned for the birth, but she went home in the evening, leaving Libus and Mum to carry on, which they did. I woke in the middle of the night hearing cries, shot downstairs half asleep, but it turned out to be a cat outside. David was born at about 4.30pm the following day. Ma was wonderful.
Things at the brewery were not happy, as there was no possibility of progress up the ladder, and initiative was frowned on. Grandpa had been making many requests that I join his business as he was sure there would be a more rewarding future in it, so we went to Nottingham to join Olds Discount Company, and lived there for about two years, after which we went to Caterham as I was given the Croydon office to run. That became a very stressful job, although in those days the word stress was unheard of, it was a fully demanding job. Ma and I decided that I had to have a hobby which would absorb me fully to stop me from living the job all the time, and we agreed that as Biggin Hill was near we would see what flying was like. For me it filled the bill, and Ma enjoyed it too, with an instructor in a Tiger Moth and a Biggles helmet, but after a while she decided that it was a bit much and especially with David very young, and then Donald as well, so she gave it up. She encouraged me as she could see that it was absorbing and that I was enjoying it.
Later on when I had some experience we were able to fly off for the day now and again and take the two boys for lunch to Berck-sur-Mer, Le Touquet, etc.
Later again, O D C was bought by Lloyds and Scottish, and the problems began as they had the whip hand and treated our staff as inferiors. Although I fought for all of them in the area I managed, in the end I went and we moved to Hastings for the very cold winter of 1962-3, as I joined a firm called SMUFCO, of all names, in Wellington Square.We bought a house there, Sunnyside, Eight Acre Lane, Three Oaks, as a temporary measure while we got something permanent. There was a plot of land, one and a half acres which we bought for £1500, and on it built Harmony Wood. It took nearly a year to build, and in the end we told the builders that we were moving in before the autumn school term started. That was 1963. During the time at Three Oaks Diana was adopted, and as it was the coldest winter for many years she had to be wrapped up very tightly. The house was only heated by a back boiler in the kitchen which boiled the water in the tank as soon as we got a good fire going. There was also a stove in the sitting room, but it often froze inside the windows. We had our first Mini at that time, and were one of the very few cars to be able to get through the iced roads out of the village, which we had to each day to get David to school.
We moved into Harmony Wood, sold Sunnyside at a profit, and within a month Dorinda came to live as well. It was a large house with our own design got from a plumbing magazine, so there were plenty of lavatories and bathrooms. There was also an oil fired central heating boiler, which was vast and required the flues to be cleaned about every month or so. This was a job, stripped to the waist and the perspiration rolled off, good for keeping fit but otherwise hellish. About a year later Ma had Derek, and by that time we had had an extension built over the garage which was a small self-contained flat. We got a live in help, Janet, and later Cristiane, who was Swiss, also Mrs Carey came in to clean and help out generally. Harmony Wood was an ideal house to bring up a young family, and it was a bitter blow when developers bought all the land surrounding ours. The only solution was to sell and move, which we did and went to 242 St Helens Road, which we called Stone Corner after the business which Ma and I had just started. The rest of it you know well enough yourselves.