When Alan Goddard began to write his vivid memories of growing up in Blackheath, before, during and after the war years, he embarked on a personal journey, but thanks to his generosity in sharing them with us, there are probably many Bugle readers across the region who not only can relate to many of his anecdotes, but have also had their own memories stirred into action.
Alan referred to a farthing as a “robin”, and those lads who didn’t have two robins to rub together after collecting for the guy at Guy Fawkes time, did the rounds carol singing during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Alan writes, “At the grand old age of nine I obtained my first regularly paid job, taking over the dinner delivery run from Tony, my big brother, who had moved from Beeches Road School to one in Halesowen.
“The job was to collect a foreman’s dinner in the next street to ours at twenty minutes past noon, and then running half a mile to Stewart and Lloyds down Coombs Wood and handing it over still hot. On Friday I received one shilling and tuppence which purchased a jar of jam for the family dinner.
“Two years afterwards I moved to a higher paying job, delivering newspapers. The morning round began at the Beech Tree pub after Jimmy Sidaway the newsagent dropped a bundle of papers off at seven o’clock. The after tea round started at the same point, finishing about 7 o’clock. On Saturday evenings I would stand on either Blackheath roundabout or Old Hill Cross selling the Sports Argus and the Express & Star until past 10 o’clock, and my wages, one penny for every dozen sold, was always purloined by my mom for her needs in the house.
“As far as I can recall 14 of my birthdays had passed without celebration, any presents or cards. Those years were the hardest for many households.
But on my 15th birthday I received a surprise present, a pair of long trousers. My refusal to start work wearing short trousers may have had something to do with the surprise package, but either way I was grateful. After all, I didn’t know of anyone else of my age who had to wear short trousers.
“Five days after my birthday I started work at T.W. Lench’s factory and for a year I’d work six days a week putting steel in and out of a furnace where conditions were very hot on the coldest of days. It was very hard work for a lad who didn’t have an ounce of fat on his body when I started the job, but I soon built up the muscles.
“During that long year I thought a lot about my life so far and where it would lead. Would I remain at Lench’s for ever? I just couldn’t imagine me doing that. But locally there was nothing to encourage me to leave and seek my fortune elsewhere.
“From the earliest I can remember I had lived in a house that had never really changed; the bed covered with an army blanket and overcoats; the only carpet made from a washed coal sack and piled with two inch by one inch pieces from a recycled overcoat; discoloured, ancient wallpaper that still hung loose in places; a roof that leaked; sliced doorsteps of bread (cut unevenly with a knife) covered with either sliced fruit, jam, paste, brown sauce, lard, malt (one jar free from the community centre every Tuesday), a few grains of sugar, or a crushed biscuit, and before going to bed pieces of bread in milk. This was our regular diet, and it must have been in many homes at that time, but we always looked forward to Sunday around midday when we tucked into a most beautiful stew.
“Sadly 49 Beeches Road had been a cold, unhappy place for many of my growing up years, where the sound of laughter was never heard and where love and affection were strangers. I remember my mother suffered badly with her nerves due to a combination of poverty, the war and the chance we might get bombed, and my dad’s uncaring nature, and I can’t recall ever seeing Mom eat a decent meal in all that time.” But Alan’s world was about to change after he saw a poster that read “Join the Royal Navy and See the World.” Aged 15 years and six months he decided to accept the challenge to join the senior service, and just after his 16th birthday he departed the Black Country to see the world.
While serving his queen and country, Alan received Royal Navy medals for Suez, Brunei and Borneo, but was surprised when he was awarded the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal of Honour by the Malaysian government in 2006. The citation with the Pingat Jasa reads, “For distinguished chivalry, gallantry, sacrifice and loyalty during the period of Emergency and confrontation.”
The memories Alan has shared with us from the first 16 years of his life, growing up in Blackheath, have no doubt rekindled recollections of childhood right across the Black Country, and if you have any anecdotes of your own formative years that you might like to share with other Bugle readers, please contact jworkman@blackcountry bugle.co.uk, or phone Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, 01384 567678.
In a few weeks time we will rejoin Alan and his memories when he tells us all about his life on the ocean wave in the Royal Navy.