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Not Brentford

Old Brentford during the Second World War

Stories from Mr. Kenneth Clinch (Mothers maiden name of Brown) and Patrica Clinch (nee Hopson)

My name is Keith Clinch, 49, son of Ken, and I have been totally fascinated by Brentford, Chiswick, Hounslow, Isleworth areas/histories for many many years.

My father has told me of many tales of his 'interesting' family. They used to have connections with Clinch's Brewery (bought by Fullers in 1940 and based in Oxfordshire) and also were Market Gardeners doing a huge variety of jobs in and around the turn of the 20th century up till the second world war. I have been recently studying the latest released census and finding relatives and occupations.


My father and mother both lived there until they relocated with the London Overspill in 1962, down to Tadley in Hampshire.

Both my parents were evacuated from London as children but could not stand the strange ways of Northern folk and ran away, got caught and eventually were taken back home so saw much of the war and bombing.


Shrapnel and School, Brentford WWII

My father recollected how during the war, he was always hunting for shrapnel shards. Shrapnel is apparently very distinctive, sharp and heavy, and he gathered, like many other children, a sizeable collection. (Many memories have been brought back by the brilliant 'Blitz Street' with Tony Robinson which has aired recently). It was lethal stuff and not good to be close to if a bomb went off.

School was a very hit and miss affair. Being children he always recalls waiting to hear the sirens to go off so they did not have to go. But he received a very good education regardless of the time his missed. He could have gone to Grammar School but could not afford to go.

He always claims all his jumpers no matter the weather were short-sleeved. This is because his mother (with nine children), used to cut off the lower part and make socks out of them, this was combined with 'hobnail boots' which were always too big, which had 'blakeys' or nails in so they would last and last. They made a clickety-clack sound and were impossible to run in.

They were teased at school because of their appearance, but with his other brothers and sisters they all learned how to look out for themselves and each other and beware any one who took the 'mickey' because it would end up in a 'punch up'. Having a 'punch-up' them was a not unusual occurance. But a fight would occur and the winner and loser would say 'feinights' and they would shaking hands and all the animosity would be gone and they would end up being good friends.


V2 in Chiswick and other Bombing

My father and mother were very both lucky. There had been some close landing Doodlebugs but when the 1st 'V2' hit Chiswick both were close by. A massive explosion and an awesome shock wave. My father recalls being blown down the road by it and literally caught in mid air by a very sturdy, large breasted neighbour who stopped him being badly injured, he said it was quite a catch as they were both knocked over by the force.

My mother again was nearby in another part of Brentford Chiswick area. She felt the blast and was standing in a doorway which was blown in by the shock wave. Remarkable luck really that I am here at all!

On their local estate, some houses received direct hits. One family, called the Jacksons, were all killed, except for their cat. The cat had wisely spent the night in the family's Andersen shelter.

My father states how remarkable it was after bombing. Huge numbers of bricklayers and carpenters would arrive and repair as best as they could the damage caused. After one huge explosion in nearby, my father recollects how all the emergency services would be digging for survivors and the local children would just stand around and watch. No-one shooed them away... not like nowadays at crime/disaster scenes.

Another recollection was when Lincoln Cars, on the Great West Road, received a direct hit. My father and his brothers, went down and found all over the place, millions of ball bearings and expensive car parts strewn all around the vicinity. My father recalls, for some strange reason, wanting to see a V1 Doodlebug hit the Gillette Clock Tower. Being only 8 or 9 at the time, he just used to watch to see if this happened. Fortunately, it never did.


My father's family - Clinch

My father was one of nine children, the family being pretty 'skint' because my Grandfather had died at the age of 36 from heart failure after contracting rheumatic fever whilst being in the 'workhouse' when very young. My father says that had his father not died at 36 his family could well have been a lot larger.

Grandfather's death saw the family being housed in new council-estate of Rowan Road, Brentford. A theory we have concerning my father's Dad was that the main bedding filling of the time was made from 'flock' which is a material which, although comfortable, would attract and maintain water, this continual dampness could have accounted for the rheumatic fever as a youngster.

When Grandfather was alive, he was a very respectable and hard-working Master Carpenter, and he and his brothers used to 'fit out' cinemas and do other more precision carpentry.

My father tells me that his father and the family nearly went down to Africa and Nigeria, I believe this was to run a plantation growing rubber plants for the burgeoning car industry. I believe this was through Firestone Tyres which was a large local employer for many years, but alas, this did not come to fruition. Although my father did end up in Africa, in 1952-54, during the Mau-Mau uprisings and saw action after being drafted or 'called up' to do his military service. Now there are a lot of stories I could tell there.

My grandmothers life was very austere. But she managed. She used to work all day and come home exhausted. The children despite their 'freedom' were expected to have clean and tidied the house and prepared dinner. As each of them got older they went to work and paid into the pot until each of them got married and moved out. Sometimes they would be married and still lived with the in-laws until they could afford a room, or a home of their own.

My dad recalls one bad winter, how he used to have a barrow and he would jog down to the river where coal or coke was sold, fill the barrow and come back, it was a nearly ten mile round trip. One time his youngest brother Reg was sitting on the barrow wrapped up against the snow and slush. My father went and got the coal, leaving a small space for Reg to sit on the barrow. On the way back, my father was frozen through, when someone saw him and called him in. He warmed himself with a nice hot cup of tea and against a roaring fire it was some considerable time later that he had completely forgotten his brother, who himself was asleep. He suddenly realised and rushed outside to find Reg asleep but shivering under a thick coat with 2 inches of snow on him.

My father shortly after leaving the Army went and worked for Thomson and Norris, who made corrugated packaging, an industry he would work in for the next 40 years. He was transferred down to Thatcham in Berkshire and worked for Reed Industries who had bought out Thomson and Norris.


The 'Clinch' boys

The 'Clinch' boys were part of gangs of youngsters who used to roam free all over and around Brentford.

One time they were over by Osterley House grounds down by the river and came upon a storage unit and went inside to a room which was full of 'treasure'. The room was full of fine chairs, antiques, oil paintings, tapestries, etc. - this we now suspect was from nearby Osterley House, whether it was current or old discarded fine furniture, we are not sure. But never having seen this opulence before the boys just looked in amazement and apparently threw some cushions around but left it all in place untouched (apart from cushions). The next time they wandered down the store had been emptied!! My father insists it was worth millions.

It was even possible to go camping. My father and his gang, including older and younger brothers, told parents they were going to 'Bluebell Woods' and disappeared for weekend, coming home only when starving hungry and filthy dirty. Parents seemed a lot more comfortable with their children going out even with a war on. There was no fear of strangers because they were always in gangs and yet everyone looked out for each other.

Swimming in the Thames was another pastime. The Thames was certainly not as clean as it is now. One occasion a youngster, swimming with his friends got out of his depth and disappeared under the Thames. My father and his brothers, whom all swam like fish, swam over and helped hunting for the child, but sadly he was caught by a strong undercurrent and disappeared and not found until a day or two later down river. Life and death was a very matter of fact business during the war. (When I was very young I remember get-togethers down by the coast where my Dad and his brothers would go out into the sea. They would swim out, to me, hundreds of yards, I found this terrifying and watched them larking around in amazement). They used to say it's salty and you could not sink. I never believed them. My uncle Reg, younger brother, swam for the Army and swam relays and crossed the channel a few years later.

The police were very much respected. If you ever did anything wrong you got a clip around the ear. Then you would tell your mother and she would clip you round the ear or get a 'stair rod' to instill a bit more discipline for getting in trouble in the first place.


My mother's family - Hopson

My mother came from a family of 6 - and her and her sister use to openly defy the ARPs when the bombing started by staying in their beds because they would far rather died in comfort of their own beds and they had seen evidence of shelters being directly hit.

My mother had a huge variety of jobs just after the war. She, like my father used to hang around in gangs of girls. There was a tremendous jobs boom just after the war. But if their current employers would not pay enough. All the girls used to quit en masse and work somewhere else. My mother used to make Elizabeth Shaw Mints, landmines, lipsticks, work on a lathes, make gas masks, work in the chemical industry, and many others.

One of her family (HOPSONS) was taken in because he was given away at birth by his mother.

The 'adopted' baby

One stormy night my grandmother, born in 1889, heard a knock at the door and opened it to a be-draggled, nearly full term pregnant girl.

She begged for food and water and was taken in and looked after for a few weeks. During that period she had the baby, a boy - she told my grandmother that she was going to 'drown' the baby and herself in the Thames as she could not look after him... Mortified my grandmother said she could stay as long as she liked.

A fortnight after the baby had been born, she disappeared leaving the baby in charge of my grandmother, leaving a note for him .... she tried desperately to find the mother but there was no trace. She took him in and cared for him and treated him as one of her own for the next 40 years.

My mother lost her father when she was 2, in 1936, he died as result of injuries from being badly gassed in WWI. He was invalided through chlorine gas. It took another 35 years to get his war pension to which she was entitled.

My mother and father met over a game of cards, when he came home late in the late 40's and found her playing cards at 2 oclock in the morning. My father did his National Service, but they wrote to each other and kept in touch and decided to get married. The rest is history.

A lot of my fathers tales are quite amusing.... but he remembers the War so fondly as a time of great spirit and camaraderie.


Published May 2010; updated June 2010