got time for a few months to cry for mum.’
… I felt the warmth spread through me. I was lost. I belonged to something greater than myself. Love and loyalty … Alternate bullying and praise; pushing to the limit of endurance with threats and insults, then a kind word. I knew what they were doing. But it still worked. Only a broken spirit can love.
As male fitters and engineers left the factories and depots for training camps and battlefields, their places were filled by women like Doris Scorer.
Doris, a sunny-tempered, fashion-conscious teenager, was seventeen when war broke out; she and her widowed mother, a charlady, were living in Islington. She spent her days in the Canda Manufacturing Company – better known as C. & A.’s – off City Road, machining dresses. Work continued through the Blitz, the wail of sirens and the clatter of guns which interrupted production sending the girls scurrying for the basement. When the all-clear sounded it was back to loading bobbins on to the buttonhole machine, or working the pedals on the press stud machine. Nights, Doris and her mother spent in the public shelter, huddled in blankets, doing their best to sleep on the damp concrete floor. But the shelter saved their lives.
In common with thousands of other Londoners, they crawled out from the protecting earth one morning, as usual aching and longing for a cup of tea, and discovered the damage. The way into their street was barred by ropes. Mrs Scorer’s tiny two-room flat was part of a house which now stood exposed to the elements, with daylight pouring through a huge crack running from top to bottom. Wardens had taken over the site:
‘Sorry Missus, yer can’t go in there.’
‘But me ’ome’s up there,’ said Mother, looking distraught and pointing to the cracked and shattered upstairs windows.
Doris pleaded. She had to collect her work overall – for woe betide any employee who turned up at C. & A.’s without it – and they wereallowed to dash in and get their things. Inside, everything was spattered with oily dirt. There was no time to wash or put on lipstick; they rescued the terrified cat and grabbed their birth certificates and a shoebox with their family photographs. ‘We didn’t take the family silver ’cos there wasn’t any.’ Then, leaving Mother to deal with compensation forms at the Town Hall, Doris hurried off to work.
Homeless now, they were effectively refugees. After one night lying on the floor of a reception centre off the New North Road with a huddle of tearful, bombed-out families, Mother decided to throw herself on the mercy of her sister Elsie at New Bradwell, near Wolverton, in Buckinghamshire. A telegram came by return: ‘Come to us at once’. By the time they got off the train at Wolverton the next day they were exhausted.
We headed slowly for Auntie’s house, our possessions in a battered old suitcase, our underwear and other garments tied up in a tablecloth with the ends knotted, gasmasks slung around our shoulders, while Mother had the cat under one arm.
Two bag ladies: forty years after they were bombed out, Doris White (née Scorer) did her own illustration of herself, her mum and the cat heading for Auntie’s house.
Doris and her mother now became resident with Auntie Elsie, and life settled to ‘a semblance of order’. Doris, who loved to sew, soon got work at a dress factory in Wolverton, and to her delight the same firm took Mother on as tea lady. Bert Alston was a good employer. Those were contented days; over ‘Music While You Work’ the machinists had lots to gossip about, whether it was boyfriends in the forces or the latest couple seen smooching in the cinema. But in 1941 all that came to an end.
A letter came for me, ‘Please report to the works office’. It was for an interview for essential war work. I had the choice … join the Land Army (wot and leave me mum), clean out train boilers (a filthy job), be a porter on Bletchley railway station (mmmm),