Ken Ridley

Post-war Germany seen at first hand

By Gina Da Cunha

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Ken Ridley' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Ken Ridley' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Ken Ridley' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Ken Ridley is a Londoner from Deptford. He was evacuated as a child in the war, first to Rye in Sussex, but it was too near to the coast, so next to Wales where he had a lovely and very musical foster family who taught him some Welsh, such as 'Bore Da', which means 'Good Morning'. This is where his love of stagecraft, dance and music come from. He is a keen dancer and can even tap dance!

A Deptford Childhood

Ken Ridley lived on Evelyn Street in Deptford, named after a philanthropist. 'My earliest memory is of my yellow metal car which was operated with push rods when I was three. We played in the back yard which was just earth. I went to school from three as my mum went out to work. My teacher was Miss Langley and we kept in touch for 60 years, until her death.'

The 'Laughing Cavalier'

'During the war, after we came back from being evacuated, I lived on a street called Abernethy Road, Lewisham. It was a first floor flat and really cramped. We were really cramped. I was a member of the Boy's Brigade and the man that ran it was an estate agent. My mum had a word with him about the conditions. On the quiet he bought the house for the price of £1000 and then we had the whole house for the three of us! The front room was used quite a lot in our house. It had a Westminster striking clock which we still have, a sideboard that my uncle made, and a TV. There was a picture rail running around the room at head height. As a birthday present for my mum I made her a frame for her picture of the "Laughing Cavalier"'.

Railings taken for the war effort

'There were cotton curtains and a pretend axeminster rug. The lampshade was paper or cloth. We had electricity downstairs, but used gas upstairs. During the war, the gas was used during electricity cuts. Under the rug, there was a wooden floor which was stained. This was swept daily. From the living room, a view of the garden and railings which then were taken down to be smelted for the war effort. We were always being visited by aunts and uncles. There was always someone round.'

Doodlebug terror

'We played lots of games like "bulldog" where we used to jump on each others backs and see how many could stay balanced. There was a game with a long and a short piece of wood, one piece went on the edge of the kerb and tried to flick it up and hit it with the other bit of wood. We used to have roller skates as well. I remember one morning when we lived in Lee, Lewisham, I was at home and mother was working. I heard the noise of a doodlebug [VI rocket] going over and then it cut out. I was on the landing and dived to the floor. It landed about 400 yards away by Woolworths, and on top of the air raid shelter full of people.'

Off to school

Ken went to St Luke's School in Deptford. 'It was a junior school. I can't remember the name of my primary school, but I kept in touch with Miss Langley, my teacher. Then I went to Ennersdale School, Lewisham when I was living in Lee. I didn't have a satchel. I used to cycle to school, so I used my saddle bag, which was black. Most people where I lived didn't have a satchel'.

'Gainst All Mechanics Masters!

'I use to have lunch at school so I didn't take a packed lunch, but I did used to take a portable chess board to school, with plastic pieces. That was still quite a new thing then, plastic. The board had holes in to stick the bits in. We were keen chess players.' Ken sings some of the songs from school: 'All things bright and beautiful... cha cha cha!...He who would valiant be... against mechanics masters!'

The Apprentice

'This was from 1946 to 1950 and I joined Edward's, an engineering firm as an apprentice. I was on a day release to college. Edwards was then based in Lower Sydenham, before they moved to Crawley in 1951. With them, I went to the Junior Technical School to be an apprentice in factory engineering. I used to take an exercise book, a fountain pen which was the Conway Stewart brand. I used to bring a slide rule... which was really handy for putting crib notes on the back of it! I also brought pencils, rubbers, a set square, that kind of equipment, a compass etc.'

Champagne Charlie

Ken Ridley remembers that a family member, Charlie, was in the Coldstream Guards, whose motto is Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense. They used to go to reunion dances together and he has a clear memory of an inebriated guardsman playing the drums at an event.

National Service in post-war Germany

Ken was in National Service in Germany from 1951 to 1953. There is a photo of him age 21 driving a three ton radio/radar lorry. He was in service in Hanover, Germany in the Royal Electrical and Mechanics Engineers, or Ruination of Every Maiden Eventually!

And a New Town move in post-war Britain

Ken and Rosina married and moved to Crawley New Town in 1954. He has seen the creation and the development of Crawley, and it's over-expansion as a new town. They have lived in the same house for 52 years, and bought the house twice over: once by renting, and once with a mortgage.

An eerie trip behond the Iron Curtain

'In the 1950's, Crawley had a Labour council, so it was twinned with Eisenhuttenstadt in East Germany, which means Iron Smelting Town. A visit was arranged in 1968 and four of us went in my Ford Anglia, stopping overnight in Cologne. We went to foster religious activity as it was a problem in East Germany at the time. We took German bibles to give them. Subsequently, I had to go on business to Berlin and had a free day, so I went across Checkpoint Charlie and took a train to Eisenhuttenstadt and it was totally different this time now that it wasn't an official visit. There were armed guards in the fields whilst women picked potatoes. When I arrived the people I know were very anxious in case they would be reported. I gave them duty-free presents. Now, Crawley is twinned with Dorsten in Germany near Dusseldorf'.

Mah Jong at heart

Ken has played 'mah jong' with a set of friends for over fifty years now, and the only thing that gets in the way is that the group is starting to fade away.

This page was added by Gina Da Cunha on 01/04/2008.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.