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Memories of Eileen Iliffe

born 31 December 1923


Here is a photograph of my Father with his brothers and sisters taken around 1920 before my parents married.

Picture of Smith family showing Sid, Frank - Eileen's father and Bill with their sisters Betty and Nancy
Photograph of the Smith Family taken about 1920
Back row from left: Sid, Frank (Eileen's father), Bill
Front row: Betty and Nancy

Newton Road Post Office

My father's sister Betty (nee Smith) had five children, and then parted from her husband, (who came from Yeoville), so she changed her front room at 75 Newton Road and it became Newton Road Post office. This was before the war, in 1920s. Her last name was Langdon. She used to sell stationery and groceries. If she was only a halfpenny short she would sit up until 2am to get it right. It was only a small house and she paid for the three sons to go to Kettering High School to be educated. When she retired she had a house built at Park Avenue and her daughter and son in law took over the business-his name was George Hammond.

And here are my father and mother on their Wedding Day 17 May 1921.

Frank & Amelia Smith on their Wedding Day 17 May 1921
Frank & Amelia Smith
on their Wedding Day
17 May 1921

My parents lived in Newton Road and I was born of 31 December 1923 at 92 Washbrook Road, the home of Mother's Aunt and Uncle, who brought her up from 2 years old. I always looked on them as Grandparents and they were William & Emily Bridgeford. My Dad worked in the shoe trade.

Passport photo of Eileen with her parents Amelia and Frank Smith
1929 Passport Photograph of Eileen with her parents
Amelia (Biddy) Smith, Eileen aged 5 years, and Frank Reginald Smith

America 

When we moved out to America in 1929, Dad was going to join a relative in the shoe repair business which was OK. When we first arrived we landed in New York and stayed in a hotel. We saw the Empire State building and Niagara falls, so they tell me. I went to two schools in America. I remember being in school concerts. I remember a lot of snow and that we had a sledge and it was Christmas. For Christmas they gave me a great big doll, nearly as big as myself. Then dad pulled me three miles to this other relative's house - we were going for a meal on Christmas day and I was carrying this doll on the sledge.

But then the slump came and everything was getting pretty bad. So Mum and Dad (Smith) thought they would go and see if there was anywhere to live. They were living in rooms with a family and it was a very nice house. They thought they would get something of their own and the estate agent took them to see this house. I was only about six and my first words when I saw the house were "oh look, Grandad's garden field hut!!" Mother took one look and thought, "I think you are right" and from then on they decided to come back to England because the houses were just like shacks - like we think of garden field huts. So they thought they would come back to England before they spent all their money and that’s what they did.  We were in America just over twelve months.

Photograph of the ship that brought Eileen and her parents home
Photograph of the ship that brought Eileen and her parents home

I remember being seasick on the journey home on the boat.  The ship was one of the Calgarrick Steam Ships.  We had a cabin with bunk beds.  I remember going along the passages and there was a play room where they used to take me.  We had our meals with all the other passengers in the mess.  I was six years old.

Toys and games

It seemed as if the games we played went round in cycles.  Some weeks it would be a whip and a top.  We would colour the tops with chalks so that when it was spinning round it would be all different colours.  That was lovely.  You would wind a string round a thick stick with a piece of leather.  Wind it all round and then throw the top out keeping hold of the leather string.  The top would start spinning and you would keep hitting it to keep it going.  You could keep it going for hours like that. Another week we brought a ball out; “Onesies, twosies, threesies”, right up to ten.  You would hit the ball on the wall with the palm of your hand, then round throw it round behind your back with your right hand and round behind your back with the left hand, then under your leg one way and then the other leg the other way. There was jacks, you would find nice stones to play with and then later on you bought them from a shop with a ball.  We used to do all sorts of skipping – in and out, pearl and whipping, when you crossed two ropes over.  There would be a girl at each end twisting rope and you would be jumping in and out. 

Christmas games
We had some lovely family parties.  We had all sorts of trick games.  We played Murders – you would go all over the house.  All the aunts and uncles.  We used to take a card each – the one who drew the Ace would be the Murderer and the one who got the King of Hearts had to stop in the room and be the Detective.  The lights were put out all over the house and the rest of you would go all round, run up the stairs, everywhere, under the eiderdowns, everywhere we went in those days we did.  You would all get into somewhere and be ever so quiet then all at once somebody would squeal.  That would be the person who had been murdered …. All of us had to come back into the room, all looking innocent, and then the Detective had to question everybody until they could work out who the murderer was.  The murderer chose the victim.  Everyone only knew who the Detective was.  Everyone else kept their cards secret.  You didn’t let anyone see …, you just put the card quietly down again.  You didn’t know whether you were standing next to the murderer or not!!

Kim’s Game
My dad would get a tray – a kitchen tray – and perhaps put a dozen things on it, anything he could lay his hands on, like an egg cup or a spoon, anything.  He’d let you look at it for so many minutes.  Then take it away and you had got to see how many you could remember.

Newmarket or Pitt
We played lots of card games.  With Newmarket or Pitt – me and my cousins would scream with laughter.  I’ve got that game at home.

School

As a girl I went to every school in Rushden!!  When I was born, we lived up Newton Road, so I went to Newton Road Infant School, and St Mary’s Sunday School.  Then we went to America and I went to two schools there.  When we came back we lived a little while with my father’s brother up Little Street, so I went to Southend School, just for a short time.  Then I went to live with my Grandma and Grampy as I called them, down Washbrook Road, and I went to Moor Road Infant School and then I got old enough and moved down to Alfred Street School.  I stopped there until we had the eleven plus and then I went to Rushden  Intermediate School (where Hayway Infant School is now) on the Hayway. You had to pass the scholarship to get there.

I left school at fourteen and got a job to work in the office in Irthlingborough Laundry at the top of Crow Hill.  I biked from Tennyson Road at 14 years old, six days a week.  The first week’s wage (I worked over time) I got was 13 shillings and fourpence halfpenny.  I loved it there though.  We had a lovely time.  It was a big office and it was great – I loved it. 

Then the second World War came, 1939, and everywhere was blacked out. Mother said "I think I would rather you get a job in Rushden, rather than have to bike to Crow Hill, and you don't know whether there is going to be any bombing" so I got a job in Rushden at J & C Claridge's office in Wellingborough Road, at the bottom of Skinners Hill, where Cliff noticed me standing near the wall waiting to go in. During the war they almagated J & C Claridge with Jacques & Clarks from on the corner of Station Road and Midland Road.

National Fire Service

Rushden girls called up for National Fire Service
Picture of Rushden girls who were called up for the National Fire Service.

Back row, from the left:
A North, M Childs, PM Fursey, Espin, S Carroll, H Waller, K Jeeves, Officer Timpson,
? , C Chapman, J Bennett, Cox, J Abbott, ? , M Whitworth, E Smith

Sitting:
H Langdon, N Norman, Packwood, Whiting, ? , I Childs.

I was about 17 when I was called up for the National Fire Service.  We were all Rushden girls.  They fitted us out and taught us how to help do everything.  We went up to the Newton Road Fire Station where they trained us.  When the Firemen got called out for a fire we had to put disks on a board showing how many vehicles had gone, and what they needed to do this work.  We were there nearly twelve months.  After work we had to go up to the Fire Station, perhaps one or two evenings a week.  In the blackout you had to walk or bike to the Fire Station.  We seemed to accept it, and then, when there were some more girls stationed with us, we met up and walked back together.  It put us into the routine.  Then as soon as we were 18 they called a good chunk of us up for the ATS.

Going out with Cliff

Cliff used to see me as I stood near the wall outside the factory waiting to go into work at Claridge's - the office faced Skinners Hill. I used to wait for all the men to go into the factory - I wouldn't go into the factory between all the men - I used to wait by Mrs Campion's house, opposite, on the corner where the flower bed is now next to Nobles until they had all cleared off, before I went into the office. I stood there waiting on my bike and when the men disappeared I carried on into work. I didn't flaunt myself in front of them.

Auxiliary Territorial Service 18 years old. 

I got called up for the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) so I had to leave Claridge's - I got sent to Northampton to do my training.  They put me in the Pay Corps and sent me to Leicester and there I stopped.  I was in Leicester for about two years.  I got called up at 18 years old.  I was just doing office work.  You did what they told you to do, working out all the men’s pay books, and anything to do with their pay and rises.

We had a khaki uniform, skirt and jacket and little forage cap sometimes, or a round peek cap you could wear other times.  We had to march up and down the streets.  They took us out for exercise – you would have to fall in after a day’s work in the next street, and they would march you round, and up and down the streets, and go on route marches, to make sure you got some exercise!!  You had to go to church services on the Sunday mornings.

Picture of Eileen in ATS uniform
Photograph of Eileen Smith
in her ATS uniform

We were lucky - we were stationed in Stonygate.  They put us in a brand new block of flats and they were tip top, up to date.  You got your own bedrooms.  We had got all our own bathroom and toilets then we would go across the other side of the flats, where they used one of the rooms for a big mess and we had all our meals.  It was all Army routine.

A bit later we moved two or three streets away from the flats, and three of us shared a bedroom with bunk beds.  We just had to go back to the mess for our meals, then go off to work to this place in London Road behind Grants Furniture shop.  The Army had all the offices above it. There were men and women.  Another room farther up would be the MOs office.  They took quite a lot of big houses, commandeered them, in the different streets.  A lot of them. 

I got on alright with the girls I was with.  I palled up with a girl who lives in Derby now.  I still keep in touch with her at Christmas.  We were the only two from the Northampton camp so we kept together and we were friends all the way through then.  I went to her wedding in Nottingham

After a couple of years we could go outside the billeting, so my Aunt Rose put us up.  We boarded with her at 88 Hopefield Road, just off the Knarborough Road.  She would give us our breakfast, and we would go out for the day, and then give us a meal when we got home.  The Army paid her I suppose.  The houses all had blackout curtains.  Some people put boards outside to fit in the windows to block out all the light.  There was no bombing in Leicester at all which was good. Before my wedding I was stationed at Leicester in the ATS, and mother came up one weekend.  We went to lots and lots of shops in the city before we could find a wedding dress.  We got very pale pink for the bridesmaids. 

Cliff & Eileen on their Wedding Day 22 March 1945
Photograph of Cliff & Eileen on their wedding day 22 March 1945

The Reception was very nice, we held it at the Ambulance room down Station Road.  We were married at St Peter's Church and because Cliff’s people were in the cooked meat trade, they were able to get nice hams and things and nice salads.  There were long tables and we sat at the top table. In those days we were married at 2.30 pm and had the Reception about 4pm time until about 7pm .  Then we went home and I got changed into a green Marlbeck Costume and we went to Leamington Spa for our honeymoon.  We were married on a Thursday and we had to go back into the forces at the weekend.  Mr Wadsworth, a well known taxi driver from Newton Road picked us up at about 7.30 and took us to Northampton station and then we had a slow train all the way to Leamington.  We got there about 10 pm stopping at every station.  The train was all blacked out and only had just a tiny dim light.  There were no sign posts.  When we walked to the hotel (they knew we would be late) they had a salad supper for us.

I stayed in the ATS until I was expecting Alan, which was a few months later, as he was a honeymoon baby.  We were married in March and I came out of the ATS at the end of August, and Alan was born in December.  A friend of ours had my wedding dress to be married in a couple of years later.

When the bombs dropped on Rushden my dad’s uncle was killed by the bomb dropped up Roberts Street . He was living with his son and daughter-in-law; Bert Smith his name was.  He had just had a ton of coal delivered the day before and then this bomb came.  After it was all over there wasn’t one bit of coal left.  It had all been blown away.  There was just a big hole.  Bert was killed and his wife was injured. She got glass all in her head and face, and was ill for a long time.  That was where the police houses are now on the left hand side, going up.

The plane came right across the town.  It hit the Victoria Hotel, Cave’s factory, Alfred Street School, dropped one in Church Street , on Goeff Morgan’s house.  Then the plane came across the road and dropped one just behind Clarridge’s factory where I worked, where the Scout hut is, and then it went off.

The bomb at Geoff Morgan’s house went straight through his roof, and smashed  through the stairs but it didn’t explode.  Mrs Morgan was upstairs at the time and straight away climbed out of the window on to the sun blind box.  Geoff got his ladder out and got her down.  She was a bit shocked.  They all had to be evacuated from that part of Church Street

The people all left off work straight away.  Cliff said this bomb next door didn’t go off and he came out the front of his shop.  He was in the shop when the others exploded doing something up the corner to the gas metre.  He said “I thought I had done something to the gas when this explosions had gone off”.  Anyway when he went outside, everybody had run outside.  Silly thing to do.  But you do don’t you?  Then everybody had to be evacuated because they had to get bomb disposal. 

It was a Thursday, and the next day, Friday was the busiest day for Cliff’s mum in their shop, so they had to transfer all their stuff they were going to sell, to another shop at the top of Church Street.  They had to come out of their place until the bomb had been disposed of.  I think the bomb disposal took it up the fields and blew it up or something.  That’s about the worst we had in Rushden. 

At Alfred Street school some of the children were killed and somebody in Cave's factory. My dad was an Ambulance man. He worked at Claridges as well as me, so he went off to see what he could do. He was in St John’s Ambulance Brigade.  The Ambulance men had got all their arrangements made for emergencies, and had to go and meet up to get orders for where they had got to go.  St John’s Ambulance was based at Station Road then.

That night Cliff met me.  I had been with my friend Jean Harris, we were good friends and still are.  We had been up to her sister's in Crabb Street, babysitting for her and while we were there I thought I would wash my hair. So it was all flowing and blowing in the wind.  I came down Church Street and there were these footsteps behind me and a voice said “Hello, can I walk home with you”.  I said “Oh yes, glad of anybody in the blackout”.  It was dark.  Glad of somebody in the blackout!!  It was Cliff.  He was telling me his brother was getting married the next day and he was to be Best Man.  So when I got home I said to my mother “I think one of the Iliffe boys just walked me home!!  If you hear that one of them is getting married tomorrow, well the youngest one just walked home with me!!”  So that was the first introduction to mother.  Cliff had been watching me through the shop window, unbeknown to me!! 

Working in Claridges we had windows facing the street. We used to say everyday "Here's that fellow coming with the lovely white smock and that white Selium dog". It was Cliff taking the dog for a walk every tea time. That was the first I'd ever noticed him. Wonderful really - we've been married over 60 years. Perfectly white smock and the dog was dead white with hair all over his eyes - Cliff was going to walk the dog. This was before Cliff was called up - he used to go up the back way to the Park, near the Scout room through a hole in the Hall Park wall.


Eileen Iliffe died peacefully on Saturday 9th August 2014, and her funeral was at St Peter’s Church, on 20th August.

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