Sis said John wants to take Irene out. Never saw him today. Bought Cigarettes. Saw Ernie.
This is the first entry in Gladys Sandford’s 1942 diary and it could hardly be any more intriguing. Does John really want to take Irene out? Is that why Gladys did not see him that day? Maybe Sis has the wrong information? And who is Ernie?
Gladys continued to write gems like the one above over the next four years. The little pocket diaries she liked (could afford?) did not provide much space and her notes are usually brief. Almost like a tweet. Well, that’s what we thought and today we are going to start publishing a selection of Gladys’ diary entries on Twitter and Facebook.
There is a reason why we have chosen 14 February. Questions of love preoccupy Gladys but then, she is a teenager. When she begins to take notes of her life, Gladys is only 17. By the time she puts her diaries aside, at the end of 1945, Gladys is 21 and married. But who did she marry: John, Ernie, Patsy, George, Bill, Alf, the milkman or any of her other admirers? Gladys was a popular girl.
A few things you should know: Gladys was born on 9 January 1924, the youngest of the five children of Thomas Mark Sandford and his wife Maude (née Howard). She attended the local Cobourg Road School in Camberwell and sits second from right in the front row (near the elephant) in this photo taken in 1931.
The Sandfords were not not rich as evidenced by Gladys’ brief account of her early life (this is also transcribed below).
I was born at 43 Dartnell Rd Camberwell.
We were a poor family. Five of us shared one bedroom. Three girls and two boys.
We had no toys at Christmas. Doll [Gladys’ sister] and I used to dress clothes pegs up as dolls.
I started school at three years. Often I used to run home. Our dad used to strap me with his belt. So I never repeated that too often. Only our brothers were allowed to have fish and chips. How we envied them. We used to suck the bones after.
Monday used to be Mum’s washday. It was done in an old copper which had to have a fire lit underneath. We were bathed also in it. I dreaded it to think of the fire.
So on Mondays it was cold meat and pickles. We took a jar to the local shop to get the pickle which was sold loose. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. We had plenty of friends. As the weather improved, we used to go round the next turnings as they had lovely gardens and make a display of grass stones & small flowers then say to passers-by: please remember our grotto.
I wasn’t christened until I was seven, only because the lady in the middle flat had a baby so mum had me christened the same day as the baby. In the summer it used to be debugging time. All the mattresses used to be taken into the garden, scrubbed down with boiling water and the bugs never stood a chance.
Sometimes a man would come down the street with a horse pulling a small roundabout. The price was one jam jar. I wonder what he did with them?
Dad was a horse keeper at Blackfriars so as we got older, Doll an I used to have to take his Sunday dinner to him after we had ours. We took it in his office, then looked at the horses. They were in a long row, each in a small partition. When they kicked out we were terrified. When mum used to go she would feed them by putting bread in their trough, but we were too scared.
When I was eleven we moved to Tower Bridge Rd but that is another story.
Sadly the narratives stops here and we do not know when the family moved to 328 Rotherhithe New Road in Bermondsey, SE 16. It is this address, where Gladys lives with her parents and her three-year older sister Dorothy May, or Dolly, that Gladys records in her 1942 diary. Below are Dolly, a friend (Sis?) and Gladys probably during an outing to the seaside a few years earlier.
You will also meet Gladys’ sister Maude Ruth, or Maudie, who must have been around 23 in 1942, has left the family home but often drops in for visits. Gladys’ brother Edward or Ted, born in 1915, also lives elsewhere, but appears frequently. We do not hear much about Gladys’ oldest brother Thomas, known as Jim, born in 1913. But then we have not yet mentioned the War, which of course left its mark on the life of Gladys and her family. (Thomas/Jim survived and the accounts of his war experiences are now kept at the Imperial War Museum.)
Many others are mentioned, not least the mysterious Mrs Palmer. If you know anything about them, please get in touch.
Here is quick rundown of some of the things that happen to Gladys between 1 January and 14 February 1942 when we will pick up the story. She
- buys pyjamas for 10 shillings 10 pence (3 January)
- thinks that she could fall for Patsy despite (or maybe because?) the fact that she has been with John for a year (5 January)
- turns 18 (9 January)
- gets her friend Lil to tell John that she does not want to see him anymore (12 January)
- has a very memorable 16 January:
Irene wrote to John. Saw Patsy he called out and smiled. George is wild because I am going out with Ernie. So is Billy. Went to pictures with Ernie. Spoke to Arther [sic] in cafe. Ernie isnt [sic] sacked now.
- has a very memorable 17 January:
Told George I was going out with him. Ernie was wild so & go drank so I am going out with him. Saw John. He is nearly called up. All kept on smiling at me. Met Ernie in cafe we went to pictures. I made him cocoa when we came home. Then I saw him to bus. He said lovely things.
- is being kissed by George, Arthur and Ernie (not simultaneously!)
- writes to and receives several letters from Mrs Palmer and
- wonders whether she loves Ernie or John (3 February).
Gladys also goes to the pictures a lot, washes her hair and buys, is given and smokes quite a few cigarettes.