Ed Cowley's Story































































































































































































updated 5/21/01

 My first two years of evacuation to Windsor were not too happy.

But, I have to wonder what did the people of Windsor think when

they saw us. I have to go back to our living conditions in

Poplar prior to the beginning of the war.

As far as material possessions were concerned, we had very little.

We lived in the slums. To be honest, as far as my mother was

concerned Godliness was not next to cleanliness. She had a number of

proverbs that she used continually. What the eye doesn't see....,

you will eat a peck of dirt before...., you know what I mean. Before

going to school she would look at us and if we had not had a wash,

and if we had sleep in our eyes she would spit on her apron and give

us a cat's lick, then we ready for school. We knew the inside of

the pawnshops, usually on a Monday morning. We lived next door to a

pub. The Ivy House on the corner of Prestage Street, my father was a

good customer. I think that my parents did the best for us according

to their own standards and their own experience. Nevertheless, we

were dirty, raggedy-arsed guttersnipes, personal hygiene was

nonexistent, honesty meant don't get caught. When we went to Windsor

although we were billetted with working class people there was quite

a culture shock. We were evacuated with the school, and we stayed

together. The only times we mixed with the local boys was when we were

fighting them.


Ed Cowley


Number 1, Prestage St. survived the war but it

did not survive Canary Wharf. The house would be

described as a two up and two down with a walkout

basement. The lavatory and washhouse were in the yard. The

front door opened onto the pavement. In front of the

house was a coal hole (chute) linked to the cellar.

Some houses had coal boxes in the cellar, the coal slid

down to the box and there was a minimum of dust. Our

house had no box; the coal slid to a heap on the

floor. The gas stove was in the cellar, along with all

kinds of junk. One of my mother's sayings was "You'll

eat a peck of dirt before you die." She wasn't kidding.

Ed Cowley



I was in five different places during the war,

three in Windsor two in Ross-on-Wye.

The first place in Windsor, not ill -treatment

but neglect. We were not wanted; there was not

enough room in the house. If you remember the

winter of 1939. It was bitterly cold, we never had

proper winter clothing. We were only going to school

for half days, yet we were sent out every day

immediately after breakfast. We walked all over

Windsor, the riverside, the railway stations, Peascod

Street, if we went into Woolworth's we were kicked

out, even the porters in the stations chased us away.

I can understand why we were not wanted. We were

dirty, cheeky, our sense of honesty was "don't get

caught." We were actually bombed out of that place by

what I think was the only bomb dropped on Windsor

during the war.

My second place was better, in retrospect quite

a funny situation. The lady was married to

a private in the Grenadier Guards, who was a

waiter in the officer's mess. He would bring home

liquor in small lemonade bottles. When the husband

was on duty, the lady would have gentlemen friends

call. We would come in and find her in bed with these

guys, there was uncle Jock, uncle Peter et al. We

developed a taste for liquor, but nobody said anything

about it.

I was staying there with Teddy Fox a pal

from London and another boy whose name now eludes me.

I have been back to Windsor but not to see anyone

there. Then I was put into a home for children with

problems. Ross was a different story, that can wait

for another day.



Were we poor? Yes we were.

My father's occupation on my birth certificate

is listed as stock room cutter. Before the war he

worked as a labourer for George Cohen's, sometimes he

worked away from home. I enjoyed the times when he

wasn't there. He was a drinker, we lived next door to

a pub, The Ivy House. My mother worked as a general

skivvy. The day we were evacuated she couldn't come

to see us off, her boss wouldn't let her have the time

off. At school we had free milk, malt, cod liver oil,

sometimes we ate at a free food kitchen. Poplar

Borough used to give away free disinfectant at one of

the Borough work yards. On Saturday mornings some of

the more enterprising lads would take their homemade

barrows loaded with their neighbour's empty bottles

and go to the work's yard and get the free

disinfectant. Our homes were damp, vermin infested,

we would peel back the wallpaper and see the red bugs

scurry away from the light. We knew the insides of

the pawnshops; we mostly went to one on Poplar High

Street. There would be a queue, mostly housewives,

waiting for the place to open on a Monday morning. We

often equate poverty with a lack of money and material

things, but poverty isn't really a lack of cash is it?

It is as much to do with a lack of spirit, a way of

life. Throwing money at poor people does not enrich

them unless they can change their way of living. Do I

sound like Scrooge? My wife is one of eight children

born in a small mining town in Scotland, just as poor,

in a monetary sense, as we were, however, their life

was much richer than ours, due to a different way of

life. Comparing the two families shows that money

isn't everything in determining poverty.




My sister-in-law's father worked as

an inspector for the Water Board. They lived in

Shoreditch, and the City of London was in his area of

supervision. During the blitz, the police would come

and get him to shut off and open water mains for the

firemen to operate their pumps and hoses. His wife

would physically try to stop him leaving the house

crying that he would get killed. He always went, and

he never received a scratch. He had a lot of courage

to go out and do what he did, yet to look at him you

would never have believed it.



While I was evacuated to Windsor, the school was not

integrated into the local schools but retained its own

identity.  We fought with the local boys at all levels

as individuals and as gangs.  The word would go round the

school, and we would meet the locals at a prearranged

place and do battle, sticks, stones and, fists.  At

other times there would be fights between individuals.

Being a life-long coward I didn't get into any

individual fights but I was dragooned into fighting

with the rest of the boys in the gang fights.

However, I don't think that the fights were simply as a

result of being evacuees.  Before the war we were

always fighting with the boys from a nearby Catholic

school. School playground and street fights were

common.  My mother's advice was "if you can't hit' em,

kick' em."

I do not recall any fights between the boys in the

school and the local boys in Ross-on-Wye. Perhaps it

was because we had very little to do with the locals


Regarding making friends, being a loner has

always been a problem for me but those problems

existed before the war.  Being evacuated may have

worsened the problems, perhaps not.





Mara wrote:

What's a slipper bath? I have never heard of that. Mara


Dear Mara,

A lack of knowledge of slipper baths is evidence a

sheltered and privileged upbringing.  The great

unwashed of the East End knew about public slipper baths.


I am sending a copy of a poem that was published in

the Evening Standard of October 24th, 1934.


I've had a bath at Haggerston

And one at Tooting, too;

I like to sleep in steamy baths,

As alligators do.

I've splashed about for hours and hours

In bathrooms great and small,

But the vapour baths at Poplar

Are the choicest baths of all.


The Wandsworth baths are empty;

At Marylebone they're dead.

United, from the Bath club

The Colonel Blimps have fled,

Towards the east, like pilgrims,

They walk and march and crawl

To the vapour baths at Poplar,

The smartest baths of all.


A soak in liquid incense,

And exquisite you feel!

While the towels down at Poplar

Will be sprayed with eau de nil,

Come dowagers of Kensington!

Come, Ealing! hear the call!

And bathe with us at Poplar,

For it's friction time at Poplar

And the slipper bathes at Poplar

Are the grandest baths of all.


I am not the author nor was I the editor of the

Standard, I am just the messenger.  I never had a

slipper bath in the Poplar baths although I have been

to a number of municipal baths in London for the

purposes of bathing, swimming, and dancing. I did go

once to a municipal bath house in Toronto, but that is

another story.

Cleanly yours.