Rene’s house, 204 Lancaster Drive, was inside the perimeter fence of RAF Hornchurch during the war. Unlike many of her friends she wasn’t evacuated, ‘We’re a family and we live or die together,’ was her father’s uncompromising attitude. Her memories are vivid, but not what you’d expect. Rene ‘got on with life’. War was for adults not children.
Rene’s father rose to the challenge of war. Despite rationing they always ate well because he turned their garden into a mini-farm. It had a rabbit hutch, chicken coop and a sunken galvanised bath for ducks. These weren’t pets. They were food. There were no secrets about where food came from in the Wyatt household and no room for squeamish hesitation.
Her father’s allotment provided vegetables. Rene says that, ‘We ate better then than nowadays’. Fruit came from the Bramley apple tree and there were gooseberries, blackberries, plums, rhubarb and eating apples. They knew exactly what they were eating, which was always seasonal.
Rene moved from Ayloffs to Benhurst primary school because it was dangerously close to the airfield. After Benhurst, she went to Suttons Senior School, which was divided into boys’ and girls’ sections. This mattered on the 24th March, 1943 when Raimund Sanders Draper saved hundreds of lives by deliberately sacrificing his life. His crash landing plane slid to a halt on the boys’ side with just one child slightly injured. If he hadn’t sacrificed himself, that side of the school would have been devastated. Rene was on the other side of the building and wasn’t directly affected though it was a great shock for her and everyone else.
Rene wasn’t oblivious to the war. During the Battle of Britain, ‘The Few’ flew out of Hornchurch day after day. Ack-ack guns fired continuously and she spent long periods in the Anderson shelter. Her father buried it in the garden covering it with soil to make it as bomb proof as possible. It was very damp, very dangerous and uncomfortable. Rene remembers one week-end going into the shelter on a Friday and being there until Sunday night. Overnights were normal.
Going to school, meeting friends or going to the shops meant showing her pass to the sentry at the gate. That pass, her gas mask and the ration card were crucial to her day-to-day life. Rene’s family came through the war unscathed. She doesn’t dwell on the war or her experiences but they offer a unique insight away from all the well known aspects. She saw ‘The Few’ daily but got on with being a child in exceptional circumstances.
Rene, my neighbour and friend, talked to me many times over our fence. I’ve also had assistance from her daughter Jackie and grandchildren.
If you are interested I’ve put together a few sources that add to Rene’s story
People don’t think about street names: Farringdon Avenue, Gascoyne Close and Neave Crescent are much of a muchness. That is unless you know Neave Crescent is named after slave-owners and slave traders. They owned much of Harold Hill. Their historic status meant a school, now closed, was named after them as well as Neave Crescent. So what?
The Neave family became rich from slavery. In 1833 they owned 1200+ slaves which were bought from them, after abolition, by the government for about £22,000.* 187 years later why does it matter? On one level it doesn’t matter at all. No-one living in Neave Crescent endorses slavery.
Yet it does matter. In the 1930s, in Germany, many streets were named after Hitler: they’ve all gone. But surely it’s over-egging the pudding equating a slave-owner with Hitler? It is but they’re in the same territory. Odious, brutal, inhuman behaviour shouldn’t be celebrated in any shape or form.
Neave Crescent celebrates a slave-owner. Slavery is a blot on British history. It isn’t rewriting history to delete this street name. It’s an important statement of British values. Perhaps it should be renamed Wilberforce Crescent?
* A servant in their house, Dagnam Park, would have been paid about £10 a year in 1833
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833. Abolition depended on the British government compensating slave-owners for their ‘property’. The government budgeted £20 million. This breath-taking sum recognised the large numbers of British people directly implicated in slavery through finance, families like the Neaves of Romford.
Compensation claims submitted by the Neave family to the Slavery Compensation Commission included contested claims because slaves were also a ‘financial instrument’ underpinning annuities and mortgages. For example, slave-ownership was normal for wealthy families like the Neaves.
The government felt it wasn’t worth protecting slavery in the Caribbean for families like the Neaves. The expense of keeping the Royal Navy and army in readiness was a drain on the naval budget, a situation that they were sure would worsen over time. Therefore the British slave-owning class was bought off.
The abolition of slavery in 1833 wasn’t an act of generosity. It was the pragmatic recognition of the odiousness of slavery whilst ‘squaring the circle’ about the importance of slavery to the finances of many British people. That was the genius of the 1833 Act. The government bailed-out the slave-owners, avoided costly military campaigns in the Caribbean and took the high moral ground.
Addendum: from the parliamentary debate 1833
“They were beings of the same flesh, bone, and muscle as ourselves—they were imbued with the same immortal spirit—they were rendered heirs, by the same blood, to the same glorious eternity as we—and was it to become in these days a question and a doubt whether they were entitled to the first birthright of mankind—freedom? He would put a case: suppose that the hon. member for Lancaster who had so ably and eloquently defended the cause of the West Indians, was taken prisoner on his way out to the West Indies, by a corsair, and sold for a slave, should he remonstrate and say he had primitive as well as rational rights which interdicted his being considered as a slave, he would doubtless be told there was a law in that country making him a slave, and thirty-nine lashes would be his least reward for talking reason to his master.” Mr O’Connell Col. 316 HC Deb 3rd June 1833 Ministerial Plan for the Abolition of Slavery 1833
This £20 million is subject to lurid inflation calculations which range from £1 billion (http://discoveringbristol.org.uk) to David Olusoga’s £16 billion (Guardian 12th July 2015). These calculations serve little purpose and are ‘tabloid’ headline grabbers.
UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership A superb on-line database
Admiral Fleming HC Debate 3rd June 1833 c. 326 see also http://www.abdn.ac.uk North East Story: Scotland, Africa and Slavery in the Caribbean
Havering council is awash with committees. There are nineteen altogether, some of which have no other function than providing allowances. What’s needed is a spring clean. This would create savings and make Havering a better governed borough.
The Highways Advisory Committee has been scheduled for 22 meetings since 3rd July 2018. Nine have been cancelled. Brian Eagling, the chair, is a workaholic compared to Michael Deon Burton and Ciaran White. They have chaired the Joint Venture Working Party. Since 22 October, 2018 it’s proceeded at a leisurely pace with three further meetings up to 14th January, 2020. The pay £7,650. Interestingly in Appendix A they state the Working Party’s ‘Meetings will be held at approximately two month intervals’.
Michael and Ciaran are Damian’s cronies.
Ciaran receives more than £2500 an hour. Yet another White, Michael, is chair of the Governance Committee. His committee has had 22 meetings since May 2018: six have been cancelled. He receives £7,650 but as he’s a fellow member for Damian’s ward that’s to be expected.
A clear out of these committees, and others, is long overdue. The fact is allowances look like quasi-bribery (though not with Bob Perry) isn’t the only story. Councillors are wasting their time. Vital issues are buried and the topic opportunity is moribund, notwithstanding the fact that it’s a necessary part of the councillors’ job to enhance their communities.
Looking over the estate from my fifth floor balcony I’ve seen many changes. In the last five or six years, a new drugs dealing phenomenon has begun. It began quite unobtrusively. Cars came briefly onto the estate. A quick chat, handshake and that was that. Now it’s far more sophisticated. Those with money and know-how, simply ring their drug dealer and within minutes cars they’re on the estate. Their windows are down and like a “Pizza Delivery” within seconds the deal is done, and they’re gone.
Dialling 101 to report these incidents is slow. There’s a considerable delay before speaking to a police assistant. Fifteen or twenty minutes of hanging on isn’t unusual. By which time the drugs deal has been done. It’s very dispiriting and you lose all motivation. Phoning 999 leaves you trying to explain that it’s a ‘sort’ of emergency. This is because there’s a focus on drug related violence not social degradation. They’re not interested and you’ve wasted everybody’s time.
More concerning is who are the customers of the drug dealers. Young and old and adults with children: no boundaries. Tellingly those same people often want to ‘borrow’ money using spurious excuses. Needless to say, “The school of hard knocks,” soon teaches you not to subsidise addicts even if they do have children.
The rights or wrongs of addiction, are debatable. But it seems, with the reduction in police numbers and Community Police since 2010, drug dealers know they’ll have to be very unlucky to get caught. Austerity has emboldened criminals and brutalised our society. And it’s not just on my estate: it’s Gidea Park, Harold Wood and every other place in Havering. It might not be as blatant as it is on my estate but it’s everywhere.
Although being educated is compulsory up to 16 years old, going to school isn’t. The Government permits home schooling. Home-schooling is incomprehensible as a viable educational option. It’s not only a scandal it’s a form of child abuse. Let’s reduce that statement to this: would you have been happy to have spent your entire childhood with one or both of your parents?
Children are protected from maverick teachers by the National Curriculum. British state education is well-funded, well-organised and coherent. Britain allocates £75 billion for secondary and primary schools. This investment is subverted by this:-
Section 7 Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age –
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable— (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. (my emphasis)
Any parent, regardless of skill, aptitude or personality, can ‘educate’ their child. Home-schooling parents can ignore the National Curriculum, the gold standard for education in Britain. Havering Council has no right to monitor parental performance (section 7 above). Home education puts children at risk of obsessive parents, slacker parents and incompetent parents. Teaching the National Curriculum demands expertise and a huge amount of resources which aren’t available to parents home-schooling their children. Parents are neither professionally mentored or given in-service training. GCSE is optional. There’s no way anyone can know whether a home schooled child is benefiting from an efficient education.
Sixty thousand home schooled children in Britain are at risk from their parents. Does Havering know how many live in the borough? How extraordinary! Home education is a child protection issue where the child’s rights have been destroyed by dogma. Once home-schooling is redefined as a possible ‘at risk’ scenario then Havering can access their closed world.
Obsessive parents who devote themselves to developing their children are not necessarily abusive unless you regard absolute control as abuse, which I do. Ruth Lawrence (b. 1971), a mathematics prodigy, was home schooled with her first experience of formal education being Oxford University, which she entered at twelve years old. A stellar Oxford career was rounded off by her Ph.D when she was eighteen. Her obsessive father is now estranged from Ruth, who has repudiated home-schooling for her own four children. Another famous and tragic example of home education is that of Dylan Seabridge (b. 2003). He died, aged eight, from scurvy. His parents, quite legitimately, barred access to Dylan from both medical and educational authorities and deny that he died from scurvy. Notwithstanding the controversy about Dylan’s death, there is no evidence that section 7 (see above) was adhered to in any shape or form. Meanwhile there are a further 59,998 children about whom nothing is known.
Dylan Seabridge wasn’t murdered by his parents but there seems little doubt that he could have thrived in a different family situation. There are about 210 deaths, which “were actually attributable to abuse or neglect”, which demonstrates that being ‘a parent’ isn’t a guarantee of love and kindliness. This is the situation which is current in the UK and the government have legalised total, unmonitored control by parents.
For the cost of state education see https://www.statista.com/statistics/298910/united-kingdom-uk-public-sector-expenditure-education/
For the 1996 Education Act see http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/acts/1996-education-act.pdf
For monitoring home schooled children see http://www.home-education.org.uk/faq-carers.htm that home education was not in itself a risk factor for abuse or neglect – but recommended creating a register of home-schooled children to keep tabs on them. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3682048/Boy-eight-died-SCURVY-denied-basic-human-rights-parents-refused-let-doctor.html
*****See https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/information-service/factsheet-child-killings-england-wales-homicide-statistics.pdf pp2-3 2014