INSIGHTS ON IVOR
Part Twenty Six
My decision to leave the American Embassy proved to be a good move because in January 1953 the ex General and Allied Supreme Commander during World War Two, Dwight David Eisenhower, was inaugurated as the new President of the United States of America. One of the first decisions his new administration made was to have a monetary purge by cutting back on staff levels at many of the US Embassies around the world. This drastic move included the Embassy in London where the last three people to join the communications department were made redundant. As I was one of those last three it was very fortuitous that I jumped ship before I was pushed. Moving from working in Grosvenor Square, a modern upmarket area of London was quite different to working in the City of London, an older and more sedate area but one steeped in Banking history and world famous as the Financial Capital of the world.
This was an area of London new to me and I enjoyed wandering around exploring such places as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument, Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street. Shell had moved into St. Helen’s Court in 1914 and decided to make it their London Headquarters. It was quite an imposing building and I remember entering the marbled grand entrance of the building for the first time to be greeted by a very upright uniformed commissionaire. I also noted one of the walls proudly displayed a long roll of honour commemorating the names of all the Shell Personnel who had lost their lives during the First World War.
My daily journey to St Helen’s Court entailed travelling on the Underground Central Line from Greenford to Bank station and walking up Threadneedle Street into Bishopgate to St Helen’s Court and entering the Shell offices. Thus began the beginning of my long 36 year career with the company.
I was made very welcome by the existing staff members, both male and female, many of them, like me, having undergone TPO training in the services or at the Post Office. Our office was a bit ‘old fashioned’ in style and furniture. Discipline was strict as was the dress code. Men wore suits, ties, with polished shoes and the ladies, who had endured the wartime lack of choice in clothes due to the rationing, which ended in 1949, welcomed the new styles which were coming onto the scene and providing them with more choices but even then they still had to dress in, what was called, ‘a quiet, dignified and tasteful manner suitable for the office environment they were working in’
Another of the Shell benefits available to all the staff was just a walk away from St. Helens Court. This was a large emporium called Houndsditch Warehouse. It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave displaying a vast array of household it items, all at greatly reduced prices.
By this time in my life I was a uncle three times over. Brother Bernard and his wife Joan had a daughter who they named Valerie. This was followed by my sister Lily and husband Jack who had their first child, a boy was given the Welsh name of Gareth (Gary) due to Jack being a proud Welshman. The third arrival came when my eldest brother Bert and his wife Ethel followed Bernard and Joan by also having a daughter, given the name of Elaine.
The terrible tragedies which befell the country at the latter part of 1952 were to strike again on January 31st 1953 when the east coast of England was battered by hurricane force winds and high tides bringing devastation from Lincolnshire down as far as Kent. Hundreds were killed and thousands made homeless. One report said around 100 people in Canvey Island in Essex were drowned, 500 missing and
thousands were evacuated. In Clacton, also in Essex, holiday chalets were swamped under 12 foot of water and people, due to sheer exhaustion, were falling from the rooftops into the floodwater. Another report said twelve American servicemen were among 60 drowned in Hunstanton in Norfolk and in neighbouring Suffolk boats were rowed into a church to rescue 40 trapped children.
Serial killer John Christie was arrested and hanged at the Old Bailey charged with the murders of at least eight women, one of them being his wife. These killings he carried out at his home 10 Rillington Place in the London area of Notting Hill. All of the victims Christie buried in the garden of his home. This horrific and gruesome story made history and was made into a film (1971) where the part of Christie was portrayed by Richard Attenbough.
Fortunately the year wasn’t all gloom and tragedy. On the sporting field one of Britain’s all time greatest footballers Stanley Matthew (later to become the first footballer to become a Knight) won his first winners medal in the Cup Final. In a thrilling match against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium, with Bolton leading 3-1 with only 20 minutes to go, Matthews turned on a display of such brilliance that Blackpool scored three more goals and finished as 4-3 winners. This virtuoso performance by Matthews was so outstanding that the match became for ever known as ‘The Matthews Final’
Just as Matthews had never won a FA Cup winners medal before, the Champion Jockey for many years, Gordon Richards, had never won the Derby race before. So it was only fitting that he should share Matthews’s glory by finally winning his first Derby riding a horse called Pinza. Just when we all thought you can’t beat that along came the English cricket team who not only dramatically beat the Aussies in the final match at the Oval when golden boy Denis Compton hit the winning run, it also meant England had regained the Ashes after 19 years. Captain of Englandwas Yorkshire’s wonderful batsman Len Hutton who also made history by being the first professional cricket player to captain England.
There was great joy amongst the children of Britain in 1953 when, for the second time since the war, all confectionary (chocolate and sweets) was taken of rationing and this time it stayed off.
But the biggest event of the year occurred on June 2nd when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place. The ceremony in Westminster Abbey and the street processions before and afterwards were examples of Britain at its best. Despite the miserable rainy weather the sheer pomp, pageantry and splendour of this ancient tradition was watched with pride and fascination by thousands lining the route and millions more around the world due to the wonders of Television. My parents decided that, just as we had done during the war years with our Anderson Shelter, to invite our neighbours in but this time not to share our shelter in the back garden but our television set to watch this happy event, even though in those days the pictures were in black and white.
One of the best remembered sights of that day was that of Queen Salote of Tonga, who captivated everyone with her big smile, despite her open carriage filling up with the rainwater! The vast crowds outside Buckingham Palacewere cheering and waving Union Jacks as the newly crowned Queen and Prince Philip appeared six times on the balcony in acknowledgement and gratitude to them and the crowds stayed outside waving and cheering even when the happy couple made their final appearance at midnight. The well known, and sometimes derided, British reserve was cast to the wind as bowler hats on umbrella’s were waved, balloons were released and along the Thames Embankment fireworks zoomed off in the night sky creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours which was a fitting climax to an unforgettable day in our rich and proud history. Just when we thought nothing could surpass that historic day news came through that Mount Everest had finally been conquered. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing from Nepal, both members of Colonel John Hunt’s expedition team, had made it to the summit on May 29th. The announcement of this historic news had been deliberately held back to make it a double celebration for the people on Coronation Day.
--End of Part Twenty Six --