I was born in the thirties during a major recession, a time of hardship for the working class of whom my parents were but two, then one of two children I was oft times hungry like so many children in the East-end of London. The strange thing is that we never felt deprived, we were by and large happy kids enjoying simple pleasures like begging a Jam jar from a neighbour to pay the travelling Roundabout man for a ride and a chance to blow the Bugle carried on the horse drawn contraption. Other pleasures included worrying the life out of mum for a penny to go to the penny pictures, silent movies played in the local Church Hall which were mostly comedies featuring Charlie Chaplin , Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd with the odd one of Rin Tin Tin thrown in, total bliss until the next week came around. My part of London was a magical place, Libraries, a Museum and a host of Church Halls and play centres in Schools to attend in the early summer evenings, the visit of the India toffee man the Pigs trotter man and on Sundays the cries of the Shellfish man selling his wares, and once a year the Church, where we saw the penny pictures, would arrange a days outing to Loughton in Essex at the great cost of one penny to each child, to get a breath of country air whereupon most of us came back insect bitten but happy. Loughton became known to all and sundry as Lousy Loughton, we even used to sing a song “We’re going to Lousy Loughton” on the way there on the Chars a Bancs, for my younger readers that is pronounced “Charrabank”.
Poor as church mice but a happy childhood, not even Hitler dented it despite the fact I was evacuated like thousands of others. I couldn’t stand it though and came back home for Christmas and stayed, growing up though the Blitz, Buzz bombs and V2s. We, the by now young lads and lassies, still remained, by and large, happy as pigs in muck. England was paradise even during that period, we were amongst our own we knew who we were and how to behave, how to help others and how to give way to the ladies, none of the boys would have remained sitting on the bus or underground and leave a Lady standing such was the manner in which we were raised.
This was the England of my formative years, or rather the London of my early life for I knew only London and I knew my part of it well. London in those days was a collection of villages and to a degree some of it is to this day, one had a sense of moving out of your village if you strayed too far, a strange feeling it was too.
As time passed I saw some of the rest of England and was entranced by what I saw, beautiful countryside, attractive villages and towns, and people I felt at home with. I appreciated these factors even more after joining the Army in ’49 and after a spell abroad coming home. I knew that England was the only place I wanted to be, I felt comfortable like the comfort one feels on returning to the family home after a period away.
My England is not the one of green fields and cricket played on the village green, uplifting though they are. It is an England of cities that captivates me, they hold the history of this land in their very being. England holds many memories for me and has become part of me, she is my life, she made me what I am and looking back I can say with all honesty if I could have chosen where I was born it would have been London, England. Fate must have brought my paternal grandparents from the Emerald Isle to London, so fate is something I believe is real and something I have always believed in.
Yes I have Irish blood in my veins, but I am English. I am of England, she is mine and I am hers.
Leonard (Len) Welsh
Born in London, England; 1931 of an Irish father and English Mother
Married Iris in 1951, widowed 2001
Joined Army in 1949, demobbed 1954
4 Children, 5 Grandchildren, 3 Great grandchildren.
Employed since the Army in Local Government, until early retirement circa1986.