Sentimental Journey Consummated

David Meakes April 11, 2018

October 3, 1945–April 16, 1946

Manchester, Lancashire, Great Britain


The Batavia II docked at Gravesend, and via London, I took the train to Manchester. Joan and I must have met again as strangers; I don’t recall. The Doe home had a bedroom for me.

Less than four months post-WWII, Manchester was an uninviting city. As an industrial city, a coal-odorous, smoggy atmosphere nicknamed “Manchester Mist” enveloped the city. Coal dust was on every windowsill. Central heating was not yet prevalent, which meant a fireplace for each major room was necessary. Coke, a by-product of coal burning, was burned for heat, but as I remember, coke only glowed and didn’t produce a flame.

I saw daily lineups of 40 or more people at the coke plant. An old lady next to the Doe family was slowly burning her furniture for heat. Food was rationed and very limited in quality and quantity. About my third month there, my gums started bleeding; and when the doctor prescribed vitamin C, they healed quickly.

There were very few cars because there was a lack of gas (petrol), so everyone walked and rode buses or trains. There was no running water in the Doe house, so for 1 shilling and 6 pence (about 35 cents), Joan and I went to a local bathhouse a couple of times a week. Blocks and blocks of the city were just bombed-out ruins. In a totally bombed-out area, one building survived. As a pub, it was appropriately named The Shambles.

Methodically, with no second thoughts, we prepared for our November 24 wedding at St. Peter’s Church in Blackley, a suburb of Manchester. With the necessary parental permission and the bans issued over a couple of weeks, about 25 people came to the wedding. Joan and I took the honeymoon train to London, staying in the Devonshire Hotel for about four days.

Prior to the wedding, I worked for a company called Carter Paterson that, using carts, had earlier delivered goods and freight to homes and businesses. My job was to check boxes, crates, and bales on to and off lorries (trucks). It was a cold warehouse. Employees wore shabby clothing, and many wore clogs—a laced, two-piece wooden shoe, hinged at the arch. A leather jacket I wore could have been sold many times. On that job, I learned the many suburb names around Manchester and also learned to better understand the Lancashire accent.

After the wedding, I went to the National Labor Exchange again and acquired an indoor job at the Local Price Regulation Committee (LPRC). This was a subcommittee of the Board of Trade, which, in the United Kingdom, was a department of the government. Their job was to control wartime prices. I was told of prewar years when, on the Royal Exchange, a bale of cotton could be bargained, as much as eight or ten times while never being moved. So, wholesalers were limited in number.

Price margins were carefully controlled. I was taught how to respond at our complaint counter and how to develop my own mail of complainants’ cases. My wage for a 40-hour workweek was 3 pounds, 12 shillings, and 1 penny. In 1945 exchange rates, that was about $17.47 in Canadian dollars, which was about $3.47 per day and about 43.2 cents per hour. In U.S. currency about $1 less. Weekly deductions were about 26 cents for health insurance and about 20 cents for unemployment insurance. It was a more comfortable job, with memorable, pleasant colleagues, and it paid much better than the Carter Paterson job.

The others I worked with, made this job both pleasant and interesting.  The reputation of the English as being “reserved” made it inevitable that no first names were used, and we addressed each other as Mr. or Miss. A couple of personalities really stood apart.

Mr. Godden, the department head, appeared to me to be an obvious “career type” civil servant. But even for that time, he was different. About 5 foot 8, slim, about 65 years of age, dignified and meticulously precise in dress and speech, he was immediately noticed. He always wore a dark, or black suit, a bowler hat, white shirt with folded collar corners, a formal cravat (tie), and he always carried a large, black umbrella. Each day, as though from some time past, he emerged from the lift (elevator), unsmilingly greeting those nearby, and disappeared into his office.

In stark contrast was Mr.  Haberlin with whom I shared a two-sided desk. He was also about 65 years, about 5 foot 8, but was stocky in build.

He was a retired career British army sergeant-major. He was typically out-going, loquacious, blunt, brusque and opinionated. It was normal for him to complain about “those #X#X# people, who after only a month or so here are given a tea and cake party good-bye.” But when my 4-month stint ended he was the one who promoted the tea and cake send-off, including a couple of books with striking art work, and the signatures of our department.  A stunning, pleasant surprise!

Joan and I went to Liverpool to the first Grand National steeplechase after WWII. That day was an experience for a backwoods guy like me. They said over 400,000 people were there (I’ve never ever seen more at one time); there were colorful bookmakers with big wads of money, shouting from stools; there was the 4-and-a-half-mile track with 30 jumps, most over hedges and brooks; several horses injured, where one had to be shot; 3 jockeys in the hospital; 32 horses started the race and only 6 with riders finished the race; and Lovely Cottage won at 25 to 1. I think the Grand National Steeplechase has been discontinued.

On April 8, 1946, a telegram informed us of our tickets on the French vessel the SS Île de France from Southampton to Halifax, Canada. On April 16, 1946, my sentimental journey would soon end. If I was still in the military, my fare and my war bride’s fare would have been paid. I was a civilian so paid the ship fares and then the train fares to Western Canada.

For more stories of the follies of war, grab a copy of my book, Perspective: The Golden Rule. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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    David Meakes

    David Meakes

    David Meakes is a Canadian-born World War II veteran. He is ninety-five years old and a retired podiatris... read more

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