The Stroud family

Johnnie Smillie

Johnnie Smillie

My Dad, Percy, was next in line and has figured largely in my blog, not surprisingly. He was a friendly man so I expect he was a typical Cockney lad. He often spoke of the family who lived downstairs, the Claytons. Mr Clayton was Manager of the BB Cinema nearby and always wore formal clothes to work. I never did find out what the BB stood for but assumed it was Best British! Mr Clayton would often give Percy his card with Admit Percy written on it. Sometimes Percy would help him to carry stuff and be given 6d (sixpence). Dad told me he could go to the cheap seats at the cinema, buy five Woodbine and still have something left for sweeties. His best friend was called Johnny Smillie. Together they tried to join the Army in 1914 when they were 13, but as they were both rather lacking in inches, and beardless, it wasn’t hard for the Recruiter to say “awa’ hame tae yer Maw”. Shortly afterwards, Dad began his apprenticeship in the RN Torpedo Factory, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers. Johnny emigrated to the USA after the war and they didn’t meet again till 1955. He turned up one day at the door in George Square and they had a wonderful time reminiscing and catching up. I can’t remember how long he stayed, but it was sad when he left as we had all grown very fond of him. Annabel’s and my double wedding was in the following year and we hoped he might come back for it. He wasn’t able to come but sent some US dollars to us both – I can’t remember how much, but they were generous gifts.

After Dad came Winnie. She married a Woolwicher called Fred Larking, and in 1931 they had a baby girl, Eleanor. After she left school, Eleanor entered the Civil Service and went to work in London so was out of our ken. I can’t remember how it came about, but some years ago we started communicating with an occasional email. Sadly, Eleanor died last year after being unwell for some time. Her son, Neil James Palmer, kindly wrote to me at the time. Daughter Elspeth Ann predeceased Eleanor. We thought it strange that we each had a daughter named Elspeth Anne, although with an extra “e” in ours. Eleanor had a happy life with her second husband, Andrew McFadyean, until she was widowed. There are not many of William and Eliza’s grandchildren left but, while there are few with the Stroud name, there are many descendants carrying the genes.

Just as we celebrated New Year at the Toll, so we celebrated Christmas at George Square. Everybody gathered there on Christmas Day and all the Aunties helped. It was indeed happy and glorious! I can’t remember a great deal about the meal, but there was Christmas cake at tea time later. The Christmas puddings had been made weeks before. As at the Toll, there were lots of games and lots of laughter. Games like ‘Squeak, Piggy, Squeak’, when someone was taken out and blindfolded while everyone else changed seats. The person would come in again and had to go round sitting on people’s knees and saying “Squeak, Piggy”. We had to squeak in a funny voice and they went on until they could guess who someone was! Then that person was taken out and on it went. Sounds daft but things were simpler then! There were lots more, plus quieter ones like ‘The Minister’s Cat’, a Toll favourite. Going round the circle in turn we had to say the minister’s cat was a “something”cat, a word beginning with A, such as angry. This got hard eventually and ridiculous words were suggested. Then it was words with B and so on till people had enough. There was singing of Christmas hymns and songs and everybody had to do something. Grandpa liked to sing his songs from the past. The party went on all night really, but I would fall asleep.

Annabel was there from 1933 and shares the memory of Grandma when she became frail and forgetful. Christmas 1935 was her last. During that evening she was heard to say to Grandpa, “Take me home, Bill”. So he did. He gave her his arm and escorted her to the kitchen where she spent so much of her time. She became more frail and died a few months later. Just as life at the Toll changed when Granny Sinclair died, so it did at George Square when Grandma Stroud died. She was quiet and unassuming but she was the one who gently led and directed. I don’t remember Grandpa ever singing afterwards. He and Uncle Bill lived on their own, helped by the Aunties, until Grandpa died early in 1944. He had no long illness but just gradually became weaker and died. Mum and Dad thought it was inappropriate for Annabel to be at the funeral. I was 17 and Annabel was 10 but things were different then! There was a Shirley Temple film in the BB Cinema. Mum had asked school for a day off for us. So we were sent off to the Cinema to stand in the queue for the back stalls, with the strict injunction that if we saw any Aunties on their way to George Square we were not to shout hello! After the film we made our way to the house for tea.

Bill stayed alone for a bit, but eventually there was a conclave and it was suggested our Dad should take over the tenancy and Uncle Bill stayed with us. Of course we didn’t get a say really. I thought it would be good to be near shops, cinemas, and so on, but we’d have to leave our friends in the village. Annabel had been Junior Dux at school and was going to Greenock High so she wouldn’t have to travel. Dad had travelled for years so it would save him his journey, but I would have to travel as by then I worked in the Commercial Bank in Kilmacolm. I wasn’t complaining because I’d be able to walk out to the Toll some days for lunch, or after work if we finished early, and see the grandparents which I did once or twice a week. I think Mum must have been a bit regretful to leave and would have the extra work of another man to wash and cook for. But we moved in the summer of 1944. I walked out to work one morning from Low Shells, feeling sad, and arrived home at George Square later in the day.

It didn’t really feel like home until Dad, helped – or maybe hindered – by the rest of us, got the place all painted. It was still a time of austerity but he found a lovely green carpet in a second-hand shop which completely covered the sitting-room floor. The underlay was very ragged round the edges so I was detailed to trim it with some very sharp scissors. I crawled round on my knees and was nearly finished when suddenly the scissors slipped and banged into my left wrist. It wasn’t hurting at all, but the blood was like a fountain. Dad took one look when I called him and shouted for Mum who ran for a clean towel which she folded over and tied round my wrist, showing me where to press. Meantime she had sent Dad post-haste to the Surgery at the corner to see if the Doctor was still there. He was, so we went down and he had a look. Oddly enough, I can’t remember him doing anything but he put a proper bandage on and that was it. It was all very sedate with nobody panicking. I learned that an artery bled differently from a skinned knee!

We soon were ‘in with the bricks’ and used to the new regime. Dad just had a short bus ride, while I enjoyed my bus trips and got to know better some of the staff from the other bank. I wish now I’d thought more of the effect on Mum. From knowing so many in the village, and being near her sister and parents, she would walk out to the shops and know nobody. She just got on with it, I suppose, as people did and made the best of things.

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