I was born into a working class family. There was Owen, my two twin sisters, Gerard, then Jack and me. Jack was named after my father. His real name was John. I’m the only one who still calls him Jack when I talk about him, and of course I was Mary, but there were so many Mary’s in the family that I became Molly.
My first memory is Jack’s curly hair. We slept in the same cot… him at the top and me at the bottom… I was so jealous of him… he was born with a beautiful head of thick, thick auburn curls and I went platinum blonde… I used to hate it… dead straight hair parted in the middle with a fringe and a pink, pink scalp.
My mother was a wonderful woman from what I remember of her… a nice looking woman. She was pretty… olive skinned… people called her the Spanish Lady. I think some of her distant relations may have come from the Pacific but she was a real Yorkshire woman at heart. She lost her first three children when they were born... two still born... and the other died after three or four days. I was always a worry to her… I got ill myself when I was only three... I had the scarlet fever... I remember the ambulances coming... a horse and carriage that used to take you to the hospital... I remember this nurse came into the house and… God I thought she was a giant... I remember her carrying me into the ambulance wrapped in a great big red blanket... and me saying, “Where am I going? Where am I going?” My mamma came with me... I think I remember her saying to my dad, “Now you look after the youngsters. Don’t let any of them into the street”. He was very good like that… he would look after us. If she wanted to go out... if she wanted to go to dances or anything “Oh you go Teresa you go. Go and enjoy yourself. I’ll look after the youngsters”.
My mother loved to dance… any dance… I believe my dad was a good dancer although I can’t imagine it. Mum was in the Women’s Guild of St Anne. They’d dance and sing songs… and she was always the first up to dance. I remember the nuns who ran it… the French Sisters of Charity… they always made a fuss of me and Jack… wearing our navy blue coats and hats… we were always dressed alike. And I remember the old blind lady… Mrs. Bell that used to play the piano. She had two children… a girl called Bessie who was very, very skinny and a bit off balance… though I remember she was a lovely girl and a real beauty… a beautiful face… I’ve never seen a face like Bessie Bell… and lovely skin… pale… I remember she went away… I think she’d been to Danby Convalescent Home… when she came back she had a lovely pink in her face. It just made you realize all the more how white she’d been.
My father was a fine man… proud and immaculate in every way. He was strong and clean… spotless… a very handsome man in his youth… and as Irish as the day he left Ireland. He had the mostly beautiful blue eyes and red hair. Even now I can remember the smell of his pipe tobacco. When I look back I think he was a good man… a good husband… a good father… a good housekeeper and a good teacher… but he was a harsh man with small children… too harsh really… too quick with his belt… but such a polite and proud man… he always insisted on manners… I thought he was harsh but when I look back he could be lenient as well… and it must have been hard for him… I remember the first time he gave me a beating. I’d been blamed for something I didn’t do… he used to beat us with his belt across our backs but I wouldn’t cry for him. My mother could just look at me and I’d be sobbing if I knew I’d done something wrong… if I’d let her down… but him… I never once cried for him.
My father was a master gardener… he grew prize flowers and he was well known for it. He grew fruit and vegetables and had a nursery for the flowers… he used to sell a lot… a small business on the side. During the holidays and Saturdays we used to go down there picking the fruit and vegetables… getting his flowers from the nursery… wheeling them back in little barrows and putting them in buckets in the yard… I got in terrible trouble once when Jack swapped a rose bloom for an ice cream on the way back… I think it was the first time I got a beating from him…
I remember the first time my mother took me away for a days outing... about three years old I would have been… we went to Whitby. I remember climbing the hundred and ninety-nine steps to get up to the Abbey Ruins... I walked up every one of them without a murmur. Mum said, “I bet you can’t do these last ones”, when I was beginning to get tired... She said, “If you can walk to the top I’ll get you a windmill”. I heard about the windmill and thought, “Right, I’m going up”. I’d seen other kids with them. I got up to the top... I got my windmill and I was as happy as a sand boy... mother was so proud of me… I’ll never ever forget it... we’ve still got the stick of the windmill at home.
I remember getting up on the Christmas morning that same year… mum was already up… she’d set a fire going… it was lovely… Jack got a train set and I got two dolls and a dollies cot… I could see the doll sitting in the cot when I came down… I remember the feel of those dolls in my hand… how one doll was very jointed… I remember Jack dropped one of the coaches from the train set and he thought he’d broken it… he used to get hysterical… mama used to pick him up and put his head under the cold water tap… it was the only way that she could get him round… poor old Jack he used to cry…
When he was in good form Dad used to call me Little Pussycat and Tess was Big Pussycat. But I wasn’t a pussycat. I used to fight and punch and scratch. I’d get myself in the corner and hit them with my skinny elbows… and I used to bite.
I can see my mamma now taking us down the street on my first day at school... she had a brown coat on… and a hat... well she was a very hatty lady... there was all wax fruit in the hat... gooseberries and cherries and things like that... all the decorations of the hat... she was so proud of it. I remember my Mother used to wear very high-healed shoes with pointy, pointy toes… I remember those shoes very clearly… and I remember the smell of her hair… beautiful… like my sister Kath’s… she wasn’t a very tall lady... I think she was about five foot two... I’m four foot seven... I’m laughing but I’ve shrunk... anyway my box wouldn’t need to be so big. But that day I remember the nun and the novice with her... I think she was a novice... because she was only a very young person... I think she was torn between whether to go on teaching or to enter the convent... anyway she did enter... I remember they both carried one of us around... I think it was more like an open day... all the parents were taking their little ones for the first time. I remember them carrying the pair of us around dressed in our school uniforms.
Two or three years later we were coming home from school... I think we would have been five or six… no… more… about seven… yes, because Gerard was just in long trousers… I’d heard there was a German ship in port… we went down to see if we could go on… because sometimes you could go onboard the ships and they’d give you cakes… we used to see a lot of what they called coolies up there... actually they were merchant navy men off the ships... most of them were Chinese and oriental... I remember we saw some on a corner near the station… some kids were shouting after them... I started as well... “Nigger, nigger pull the trigger bang, bang, bang”. Well they see’d us... and they ran us... my God... Jack and I ran like hell... they chased us all the way to our street... and they stayed at the end of the street while we went in the house... a few minutes afterwards we heard a knock at the door... oh my God... we could hear them talking very quietly like... anyway my mamma went to the door. “Lady have you got a little boy and girl just come in from school?” This one he was very cultured… he could speak very, very good English... “Yes... Yes... Did you want to see them?” She said, “Have they insulted you?” “The little girl was the worst the little boy done nothing”. Course there was Jack with a big grin on.... we were under the table... we were both under the table... but by heaven my mum came in… she got me out by the ankles… she asked them into the house but they wouldn’t come in. They said “No, don’t be harsh”. But she got us out. “Is this them? Are these the pair?” “Yeah”... I put the waterworks on. My mother said, “Now stop that... I haven’t started on you yet”. Poor old mama... she said, “So what did you say to them... what did you say to these gentlemen?” I told her “Nigger, nigger pull the trigger bangy... bangy... bang”. My mother said, “Come on... down on your knees and apologise”. I mean poor Jack he even had to get down on his knees and apologise and he wasn’t guilty... it was me... anyway I got down and apologised to them... they said, “Thank you madam”. They were so nice. They had a right to respect... they respected themselves… so they had a right to have respect. I cried and cried… I thought I’d let her down.
We were very, very loyal together Jack and I. If one wasn’t doing something neither would the other... if one would do it so would the other... but if the boys wouldn’t get into mischief well I would... I was the darer... those boys got many a beating because of me... poor Gerard went to his grave with marks on his back... he was my older brother... a year and ten months older than Jack and me. I’d try anything… my only fear… my only real fear was trees… I used to think the devil was up there… I don’t know why… I think it was the sound of the branches moving in the wind… even in a park I can never walk under the trees even now… yet there was one tree… an old tree… it must have been there years… long before the park had been put there… it never grew any leaves… and I used to climb up this little hill… and I’d climb it and sit in it.
Dad was put on the dole not long before mother died and then the hard times came. On the dole in those days you got a shilling a week for each child and that’s the same as five pence of today... and three shillings for the rent... I think he got one and six for himself... a schilling and sixpence for himself... by God they were hard days... but he had his allotments and it was that what kept us alive. That would be 1931 or 32… he was never able to get a proper job after that… not of the type he wanted and not of the type to keep us without starving us… when he had been working we really lived like royalty… but he was such a proud man that the dole became humiliating to him… and he wouldn’t accept any kind of charity… he’d give rather than take. I remember the nuns from the Nazareth House Orphanage used to come round the houses begging for a couple of coppers… bread… or anything… we always knew when they were coming because the bread would be baked and out ready for them. Dad taught me to bake six types of bread by the time I was nine.
At times we were very, very poor. Truth told we were all ill because we never got the right vitamins and minerals. Tess was epileptic and Jack was rickety… he suffered from rickets… and he had a bad stammer… and I was always in the convalescent homes… in Danby children's convalescent home on the moors. We had the means test man monitor Gerard’s food… a mean old bastard… Gerard needed a special diet since he’d been ill… he was allowed brandy, which we couldn’t afford… about a teaspoon of brandy… I’d have to take the little bottle up to the Corporation Hotel for them to fill it up… it only cost a couple of coppers… but some days the owner wouldn’t let me pay and Pop always insisted on it… the owner said “Tell your dad I’m not giving you a bill… bugger them”. Those days they could serve children… we wouldn’t have even thought of drinking it… after that though I wasn’t allowed to go… he went himself so he could pay… he wouldn’t have charity… Gerard died a few weeks before war broke out… he had diabetes… had it very bad… it was discovered in him when he was only eleven… diabetes and malnutrition… they put his death down to a combination of diabetes and shock… he’d never got over our mothers death.
Owen was brought up in Ireland by my Aunt… he’d gone over there to convalesce… my aunt looked after him to build up his strength… and every now and again dad would go over to bring him back and Owen would run away and hide in the hills… he didn’t want to come back… eventually Owen didn’t even know us… he was over in Ireland all his childhood… as far as I know he had T.B. … Tuberculosis… and he used to faint a lot… my mother had been very, very anxious about him… she didn’t want to let him go… she eventually said he could go for a month or something like that… a month or two… she told the aunt that she would only let my dad take him over on the condition that they spoke of her… he had to be brought up knowing that the aunt wasn’t his mother… he was only a baby when he went and he was about fourteen or fifteen when he came back… just to meet us and see how we’d get on… but he really couldn’t understand how we lived… the poverty… he said it was a lovely clean little house… but so poor.
We’d had such a happy family but I was always miserable… I’d do it purposely… I was an awful one for attention really… I didn’t smile much as a child… I was a very serious kid… not when I was very little… when I was very young I was always smiling… if mum had to leave me with someone when she went to the doctors I’d always be smiling… a happy little girl… but mum was ill off and on for a long while… about eighteen months… tuberculosis… she lost her life’s blood… times changed… I remember visiting her in the sanatorium when she was dying of T.B… the grounds were surrounded by fences… wooden walls… well there were little tiny gaps in the wood you could look through… we went up on the Sunday to see her… it was a lovely bright and sunny day… and… I remember how I was dressed and everything… I had a dress with knickers to match which Kath made for me… and of course I had to show Mummy… including the knickers… so I’m in the sanatorium with my dress pulled right up over my head… oh but it was so lovely to see her… maybe that was the last time I saw her… no, that’s wrong she came home on Christmas day… once more… she was determined to die in her own home… and she did… she did… Dad never slept when she came back… he’d sit in the armchair with her and doze for a while but he never slept… he must have been exhausted… on the Christmas Day myself and my twin wanted to take up our presents to show her… both my Aunts were there… one that we called Sarah Pepper because she was so fiery…they’d propped her up on the bed and that Christmas would have been last day I saw her alive.
On the day my mother died my father came in and said, “The angels have taken mummy to heaven and Mary you sent her there. You sent her there”. I remember him saying that... poor man... it was awful to see him... he must have been in despair... he wouldn’t have said that but her last words were, “Look after Mary”. I was the trouble-maker... I was always delicate… in and out of hospitals and convalescent homes... I spent most of my early childhood in them... Jack and me were going on for eight… she died in the January and we were eight in the May… she lost her life’s blood… but I remember her as if she were here yesterday… I remember her in the house… her body in the coffin.
My father had some wonderful friends who helped him through my mother’s death… I remember Mr. Turleigh… I thought the world of him… I’d always go and sit on his lap the minute he came in… the boys would be shouting “Greaser on Mr. Turleigh, Greaser on Mr. Turleigh... Mr. Turleigh don’t give her anything she’s a greedy cow”… I wouldn’t have been thinking of getting anything off Mr. Turleigh… as long as he loved me that was all I wanted… I’d sit on his lap and he’s make a fuss of me… I remember once he gave me a schilling… and that was a hell of a lot of money to give to a little child then… he said, “Don’t tell your dad… and don’t tell the boys”. Well as soon as the man went I was showing it off… Gerard took it from me… not to keep… but to keep me out of trouble and to see what Pop said about it… Pop was out the back shaving… I remember we were expecting Mr. Magee… another nice man old George Magee… we always used to call poor old George Magee ‘Barney’… he was a marvel to my father when my mother was ill and when she died, my God he was wonderful… Gerard went out the back. He said, “Dad Molly wants you”. He thought we’d been up to something… fighting… well I told him Mr. Turleigh had given me a schilling and he said he was sure Mr. Turleigh had wanted me to share it with my brothers… I said, “He didn’t, but that’s what I would have done”. We never had much but we always shared. Gerard rushed out and bought a four-ounce block of chocolate and split it into little squares with a bit for everyone… everyone but him since he was diabetic… he said, “Right you fight over that”. Even Pop got some.
I left Middlesborough as soon as I left school... my first job was in Slough... in a girls public school... St Bernard’s Convent School... run by Bernadenes… a French order of nuns. “A High Class School for Young Ladies”… at least that’s what it had on the boards outside... I was a domestic. The nuns were enclosed and the staff could go out only one day each month... but I went out... you were supposed to be back by eight o’clock... I never was… I was in the pictures watching Shirley Temple in “The Little Princess”... I was fifteen... I went with one of the girls who was the descendant and also had the same title as Lady Jane Grey... she was a lovely kid... we’d got friendly... until that is one of the old nuns in charge of the pupils seen her with me... a week later I managed to catch up with her… she whispered that she’d been told not to talk to the staff... “Walk past them as if they’re invisible”… fancy a nun saying that to a child… she was trying to talk without moving her mouth or anything... a bloody nun saw us and dragged the poor girl away... that poor kid... to see her treated like that... dreadful... I said to her “You tell your mamma... tell your mama”. Some of those nuns have a hell of a lot to answer for.
Having said that my cousin became a nun and she was a wonderful person… she went to France when she was only young… straight from school… she was about 14… I don’t remember seeing her as a girl… but she’s been dead now five or six years… I think five years gone last month… October… it was a few days after her ninetieth birthday that she died… she’d been in the convent quite a few years before they make their final vows… they’ re given plenty of time… to see if they’ve got the vocation for a religious life… well she evidently had the vocation… otherwise she’d have been like her sister… lapsed… doesn’t know the sign of the cross from the swastika… but I liked Lucy… she was nice… before she went into the convent her name was Hilda… there was quite a family of them I believe… we never really mixed with them… they lived too far away from us... it was Hilda the one that was the nun that used to come to our house a lot when she was a little girl… she used to love coming to our house Kath said… it was before I was born… before the war she used to write to my dad… my father used to always acknowledge the letters and try to send her a few bob… but it was very seldom he could send her anything… of course when she went into the convent they’re not allowed anything…
She was betrayed by one of the pupils to a Nazi during the war… betrayed by a twelve year old for being English… she was interned… interned in a place somewhere near the Swiss border… herself and another one… and several more from other countries… other religious orders… they were all told that if they tried to escape they’d shoot their Reverend Mothers… and they did… one of them… I think she was Dutch… she got out and they did shoot the Reverend Mother… and she was miles away in Holland… a Dutch woman… my family all kept our faith… without it I don’t know where I’d be… you get over the tough times and just remember the happy times… but I mean for Lucy she was badly abused… starved… beaten and badly knocked about… she was in from the beginning of the war… a long time… she was given two months leave from the convent a few years ago and she’d never been out of it apart from when she’d been interned… and by that time she could only speak French… she couldn’t remember her English when she got here. They made a film about her.
During the war I was working down at Wimbledon… a very important family… I can’t name them though… very, very famous people… they’re still around… at least their children are… I was a domestic but still they were very, very good to us. I lived in.
I remember one night during the blitz… going to the pictures with a friend… we always met up at a certain place… the housekeeper said to me, “If there’s an air raid and you’re in the cinema you must come out and go to the nearest shelter”. There were no air raid warnings… it was quiet… they used to flash it on the screen, “Closing for a short time”… to let people know and give people a chance to leave if they wanted to… then they carry on with the film. I remember the journey home very plainly… we were nearly half way back my friend and I … she lived further on so she said she was going to take a short cut... I said “That’s a good idea… give me a ring when you’re back”. That was the last I saw of her… she was killed by a land mine… it dropped close by and blew her head off her shoulders… blew it clean off.
I met the right man to marry but he was killed… in the war… not killed in battle… he was killed coming out of the barracks coming to see me… he was an American Air-force man… a nice lad… his father died… I’m not sure if it was six weeks before he was born or six weeks after… but he never knew his father… he had photographs and by God he was the image of him… we met when I fell over… I wasn’t looking where I was going again and I fell… tripped over… and he came along and picked me up… it was the best trip I ever had… he was a lovely man… a lovely boy really… he was only 23. I was still working in Wimbledon… but I’d come into town most weekends to see friends in St John’s Wood… well him and Bill Buckley… Texas Tom… a giant of a man… he must have been ten feet tall… and Little Bernhard… Bernard was a canny little lad… a little pet but my God did he swear… the others kept pulling him up about it. I never knew what Jim did… I never knew… it was very hush, hush whatever it was. I know he used to fly a lot. He’d just had his twenty-third birthday… he was just a boy. I was 21. On my 21st birthday he came round and asked me where I’d like to go… I said, “Well I’d love to go to the theatre”. Most of the theatres were closed during the blitz. He said, “Well we’ll go up to The Rainbow”. The Rainbow Club in Piccadilly… it was fantastic there… they danced the night away… it was coming on for about half past ten… I’d had to get special permission to stay out… we went and had a coffee… and he said it was my day and I could have whatever I wanted… it’s funny but his great Grandfather was Scot… and he was told he was the meanest man who ever lived… I’d said to him, “I don’t believe you”… because Jim was so generous… and kind… he’d have given me the moon if it was his to give…
Anyway soon after they were coming out of the barracks to see me… in the July… following my 21st… as their car was coming out the lorry was coming in… it smashed right into the car… Jim was killed… Bill Buckley wasn’t there that night… it was Bill that came to see me… “Hello Molly”… “Hello love”, I said. “Where’s Jim?” He said “Sit down, I’ve got something to tell you”. Oh my God… he told me what happened… I’ve never, never, never forgotten him and never looked at another man since. I could never meet one who could compare. He was an only child… 418 Harrison St. Oakland’s. California. Not far from San Francisco. I phoned his mother but she already knew… I sent the engagement ring to her… it was no good to me anymore… his beautiful ring… I’d known him two and a half years… long enough… after Jim McPhail there couldn’t be another… his mother wrote to me for years… but she must be dead and gone herself now.
Jack had joined the Irish Merchant Navy… I didn’t know they had one but they did… and I became a qualified nanny… I always wanted to be a Nanny… I wanted to go to Nolan’s training college… but my father just couldn’t afford the fees… you even have to deliver a child… or at least learn how to… I did it once with a lot of supervision… I loved children… at the nursery I was responsible for fourteen from birth up until the age of five years old… you had to be on the alert at night… you had a radio to hear them breathing… or talking… one little boy used to talk in his sleep… he was such a little scamp… he was my favourite but he never knew it… poor little sod used to have to work for me… he dressed the tiny ones and he was just four and half himself…. Little Teddy Heath… a lovely little boy… a lovely personality… obedient… that boy was two and a half when I started and about eight when I left… an American family… they kept in touch for a long, long time.
When his parents were going back to America I was going to go with them but the American Embassy failed me in the medical… then I got the chance of a job with the Japanese Consul… he had twin boys… and that would have suited me to the ground… they were six weeks old… but my father was dying at the time… he was very, very ill… he was eighty one when he died… but I couldn’t have done that… I couldn’t have left him… I regret it in many ways… not having gone to Japan… I’d have loved to see those children growing up… but I couldn’t possibly go.
On the day that I got the job I got a phone call from my cousin saying that Kath was at the hospital and the old boy was on the way out… by the time I got there he was gone… I’d have liked to have seen him before he died but it wasn’t to be… Kath was always the closest to him… she was a very brilliant person… if she’d been able to go into nursing when she wanted she would have been a superb matron… she was told that… but I always felt I stood in her way… that’s what I blame me for… I always feel I kept her back… because I was the youngest and I was always ill…
Kath never married… she always said that her duty was to the home and her father… she devoted her whole life to the family… to us kids and to him… and she was only a kid herself when my mama died… Pop would come in on pay day and put the money on the mantelpiece… a little more or a little less each week… he never opened it himself… first he left it for mam… and then for Kath… She cared for him when he became senile and looked after him to the end. When he saw me at the hospital one day and hadn’t seen me for a couple of years… two or three years… he thought I was his young sister Hanna… his young sister… it didn’t upset me… at least he recognized me as somebody… “Hanna, Hanna, I haven’t seen you for a few months”. Actually he hadn’t seen her for more than fifty years… more.
In 1979 Jack came home on a break after doing a double cruise on the Canberra… he’d been in poor health for a while… we always said he worked too hard… he’d begun work at the Reform Club… doing his training to become an expert on wines… we knew the ship was due in and that he’d arranged to stay at the Victory Club in Marble Arch… he had a life membership…. I was at my club where I used to call the Bingo… and I was laughing away that night… got back home about 8.45 and I could hear the phone ringing through the door… but I couldn’t get my key in the lock in time… well it rang again about 9.15… it was Kath… I was still laughing and she was saying, “I’ve had the police round Molly… sit down… its bad news”. Jack was dead. I felt as if half my life had gone… as if I was cut clean in half… he was my twin and the first person I remember. He’d called me just before I went to the club… he’d been quite abrupt and sounded very, very tired… I’d just got in… he said he was setting off to Kings Cross… he got the ticket and got on the train and had the heart attack before the train pulled out… they had a doctor there in three minutes and held up the train for ten… but he was dead on arrival at the hospital.