David Mills

David Mills,  aged  78.

Interviewer : Liz Bloom

Date : October 13th 2009

I came here during the war as an evacuee from Primrose Hill, London.  We came by coach actually, not by train and we stopped at the station; a teacher and a billeting officer met us there.  We walked down as far as Cavendish Road which was the first road up from the station.  They had no idea where we were going so they knocked on the doors as they went down the road to see if people would take us.  I got in with a family called Ford; they already had one evacuee; he was a Jewish boy.  I stayed there for about seven or eight weeks; the only trouble was they never gave you enough food.  So one afternoon when my father came from London, he took me up to the town to the Creamery which used to be on Chequer Street and gave me a good old feed.  I had already fallen over two or three weeks beforehand and I’d got a nasty knee and he was quite concerned about it.  Anyway, I stayed there for a little while and then something happened – no I don’t know quite what it was now.  They didn’t want me to stay so I moved from there to Dellfields and at that time it was a pretty rough old place really, with a lady and her husband, and she had a daughter.  Again, that wasn’t all that nice because they didn’t feed you very well.  The only time I had a decent meal there was when her aunt came and she used to give me extra food.  While I was there, me and my friend, Hennesey, decided we would walk home (to London!) and we cadged money on the way.  We got on a bus and the conductor realised we hadn’t much money so he stopped the bus and called a policeman who took us to the police station in Barnet.  They gave us some food and told us to lay down on a mattress while they contacted our parents.  The police took us home in a Black Maria van – we lived quite near each other.  My father was furious.  He brought me back and I was sent to a house in Blandford Road.  They already had three girls and two boys.  The three girls were evacuees.  That was quite nice.  When we used to have an air raid we used to all go down into the cupboard under the stairs and sleep there while the air raid was on.  It was all right there but I was very prone to getting a cold and getting bronchitis and they couldn’t deal with me there, so they sent me to the Clinic which was in Bricket Road.  I was there for about three or four weeks until they found me somewhere else to go.  I then went to stay with an elderly couple in Royal Road.  He was a tailor and I knew as soon as I got into that house, that was what I wanted – because they had one of these old range fireplaces; they had tomatoes underneath, ripening.  Anyway, they treated me as their son really; I used to call them auntie and uncle and they were very, very good.  I was eight years old when I moved in in 1939 or 1940. As I say, they were very nice to me and they looked after me very well.  I was very delicate in those days; every time I got a cold, I got bronchitis.  I stayed there for thirteen years until I got married.  And then when I got married we couldn’t find a house at the time so I stayed with my wife’s parents for a year ‘til we looked around and found a house.

During that time, before I moved (when the war was on) I was at Royal Road and they built an underground shelter which was quite big actually.  They also had four or five brick shelters on the road with a big concrete top on and then they eventually built a big water tank, you know, for the fire brigade if they needed it.

We went to school at St Paul’s.  The teachers came from London.  The headmaster came from London.  We had a Mr Jones who was a very good musician.  He had a choir and I joined that.  We had a Mr Preston who was my teacher and he played the piano and that was very nice and I enjoyed that and then when, of course, I got older, I had to go to Beaumont School.

The house I’m living in now on Eaton Road was bombed during the war.  An aeroplane came over to try and find DeHavilland’s, the air field.  He couldn’t find it so on his way back he just dropped bombs.  He dropped one in Beaumont Avenue….I think there were two people killed there. There were several bombs dropped in Fleetville:  one on Hatfield Road opposite Queen’s Court, in the garden – no-one hurt; one in Hill End area which killed a man walking up the garden path of a house, and a little girl too; and the house that I’m in now, there was a land mine in the middle of the road, and it took the whole of the front (of the) house off but everything was left; the lamps, the bed and everything.  It was just like a dolls house.  I can remember saying when they re-built these houses, because they had a glass door, oh I wouldn’t want to live there, but of course I did eventually.

When I left school I went into the grocery trade.  I used to do a little job taking groceries out to different people and then this chap asked me if I’d like to work there so I worked there for a little while and then there was a big shop on the corner of Woodstock Road which was called Benningtons on the corner of Woodstock South and Hatfield Road, opposite the Post Office.  He found out that I was working at Greens and asked me to go and work for them.  So I worked for them for two years.  That didn’t work out and the gentleman, as I say, who I lived with was a tailor, so he took me to be a tailor at Nicholson’s.  I must have been about sixteen then.  They’d never had young boys in there before and they put me on the machines and I was the first boy to go in there as a machinist.  They’d always had girls but they’d never had boys, and, in fact, from that time they started taking boys in.  I stayed there, I suppose, for about eight years.  I then left and went and joined the Co-op, in Victoria Street, as an assistant in the menswear because I’d already learnt tailoring so I was quite handy ; I knew what I was talking about.  And I stayed there, I think, for about eight years and I was doing things like serving people and measuring people for suits.  I left there and went to Charles Mares which was on the corner of Spencer Street and the Market Place.  I stayed there for two years, then W H Greens along….Chequer Street. They had a big store there and they opened a menswear department.  They’d never had one before; they had all ladies’ stuff so I went there as manager but it didn’t work out because it was on the ground floor and had ladies’ handbags and shoes in front of me and the men wouldn’t come in.  So that faded.  I then applied for a job in Radlett with Ronald Montague, which was menswear again.  I was there for a year; that didn’t work out either.  So I went back to tailoring for another three years at Nicholson’s again and then Nicholson’s was taken over by an Italian firm, Chester Barry, but that only lasted for about three years and they found that they weren’t doing very well, so that ended that.

And then, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law at that time were working at the Hatfield Polytechnic.  My brother-in-law was a lecturer and my father-in-law was a technician.  I’d got in my mind to go to the post office to be a postman; anyway, they got me in there (the Polytechnic).  I did about a year, I think it was, doing maintenance, which really was tidying things up and then a job came up in the Media Services.  I did closed circuit television, showing films at Hatfield and Bayfordbury, which is another part of their establishment.  I ended up in the Industrial Engineering Dept. and I stayed there ‘til I retired. I retired about a year earlier because they were a bit like the hospitals; they had a manager come in who really didn’t know what he was doing.  He wasn’t very good to me and he started getting me to do other jobs, painting and things, and I wasn’t very happy about that.  So I was sixty-four then and I decided to go to the accounts people and I said to them, “If I retire a year early, would it make any difference?” and they said, “Oh yes, we can give you a little bit more pension and a bigger lump sum.”  So that’s what I did and I’ve been retired now for fourteen years.

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