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Ragged A***d Ruffian




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Cup finals, a business rollercoaster, love, loss and laughter - a memoir by a former professional football player, who plied his trade in the 1950s and 1960s, before embarking on a business career just as rife with promotions, championships and relegations. This is Les Gilson's story.


Bombed Out

A short while after my mother’s visit I received news that our house had been hit by a bomb and my family had been moved to another part of Brentford. Maybe it’s for the best that I never really knew the details of that catastrophe. In future years none of the family ever really talked about that night, and I had to piece together what I know now from fragments of unguarded conversations. When I returned home from Nottinghamshire the family was renting half a council house on Whitestile Road, a place euphemistically termed a modern flat in the council paperwork.
Of course, being bombed out, was a common story across the country in those early war years. At least we had the luck not to have lost anyone, unlike so many others.
It seems that the family had heard the air raid sirens while they were having their tea. Experience meant that they knew that there would be a short amount of time before the bombers arrived so they decided to finish eating around the coal fire in our tiny sitting room, which was the only source of heat in the house. The guns in the park were hammering away and the whistles from falling bombs were very close.
Our end of terrace council house was adjoined by four flats with another house like ours at the other end where the Moore family lived. All of the flats and houses were fully occupied that teatime, and as ever, we had relatives in for food. There were seven people in the sitting room, although Fred and the recently returned Ruth were out dancing somewhere.
One of my uncles later told me that suddenly the whistling sound of a bomb pierced through the usual teatime chatter. My father apparently shouted, “Door!”, and all seven people in the room jumped up and ran towards the door. As they did so the whole of the fireplace wall collapsed into a heap of rubble right where they had been sitting. The flats next door took the full might of the bomb and every person in those flats was killed, including some lovely old folk who had been my childhood friends. The only wall left was the one through which the family had fled. The Moore family at the other end survived as well, thankfully.
When my brother and sister arrived home they were distraught having seen the devastation of their home and the obvious loss of life, but they thought to check the shelter, where, overcome with joy and relief, they found everyone safe and sound. Our home had gone with pretty much everything in it that we owned. I can tell the story, but I cannot really imagine the joy and happiness Freddie and Ruth must have felt finding everyone alive.
One story I do remember in the aftermath of the bombing was the one about our rooster. Before I went to Nottinghamshire I had obtained a chick from the rag and bone man in exchange for some old clothing. It was a common enough trade, and every family hoped that the chick would grow up to be an egg laying hen. We were all usually disappointed and the chick invariably grew up to be a cockerel. Before I went away I used to feed him, and we let him run around the garden. His shelter was an old orange box with the divider in the middle. One half had wire over it, while he slept in the other half. On the night of the bombing nobody had given a thought to this poor creature, but with the all-clear sounding he was found the next morning. He too had survived the blast. Unlike my family, though, he didn’t even have the clothes on his back. He was running around the garden without a feather on his body. Needless to say he made a good meal for some very hungry people. It was, after all, needs must in war time.
A few weeks later my mother decided that as the bombing had more or less finished, she would have me home again, and so I arrived at a new address in Whitestile Road, Brentford. Getting home was quite an experience for this by now weary young traveller. My uncle Charlie drove big lorries for Meredith and Drew Biscuits. I might add that in those days you did not need a driving license. He arrived in Pleasley in this enormous biscuit lorry which had an equally large trailer running behind. Uncle Charlie was knee high to a grasshopper, and I never did find out how he could reach the pedals in his cab, but he did. As this was an unofficial return home I was hidden in the trailer with all the biscuit tins. I had to be hidden as he was not allowed to carry passengers. At least, that’s what he told me, and I suppose it may have been a way to stop spies and fifth columnists from travelling that way. I imagine Uncle Charlie would have had a hard time explaining my obviously threatening presence to our war time Spy Masters.
The journey had been a very long one with road checks and narrow lanes, but not that much traffic other than military and essential transports. We arrived home during the early evening. The family had just finished their evening meal, so my mother cooked egg and chips, a feast indeed for two weary travellers, and I really felt great to back with everyone again. I was home and I really did appreciate the warmth and comfort of home and hearth.

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