It is difficult to disentangle real events, real facts, real experiences, real sensations from our ‘remembered memory’, that memory which we successively and unknowingly edit and re-invent whenever we ‘remember’ the past.
So what do I think I remember of the earliest years? – those years from 1944 until the age of five in 1949 when I started at Elfrida Infants’ School in Elfrida Crescent, just off of King Alfred Avenue on the Bellingham Council Estate in South London.
I have a remembrance of frequent power-cuts at that time. The power-cuts were due to coal shortages for the power stations in the severe winters of 1948, and 1949. It is an often forgotten fact that conscription of young men, not to national service in the military, but unromantically, to the coal mines, continued for some years after the Second World War had finished. These young conscripts were the ‘Bevin Boys’ named after Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour in 1943 – at which time it was realised that the depletion of the labour force in the coal mines by conscripting young men to serve in the military was having a serious impact on the war effort.
I remember the power-cuts because we would sometimes go round to my grandparents’ house in King Alfred Avenue, where we would sit in the kitchen at the back of the house which still had gaslight. Indeed all of the streets of the Bellingham Estate were lit by gas-lights until about 1950. Only when one got to Southend Lane the ‘modern’ dual carriageway bounding the estate on the southern and eastern side did tall mercury vapour street lights really ‘light’ the streets as opposed to simply providing the dim, but soft and comforting, yellow glimmer emitted by the gas lights – or at least they did until the power cuts extinguished their sharp blue-white glare.
Anthony J Sargeant ( Tony )