Date added: 6 Jan 2015
My life and some memories 1918-1931
I was born on March 16, 1918, during the First Great War. I understood this was a time when the country was nearly starved out owing to submarine activity. Three months later the great influenza pandemic started which lasted for a year and must have been a cause of concern to my family. My parents, Victor Payne Hine and Miriam Rose Hine, then lived at No. 4 Highgrove Street, Reading, in the Whitley district, but l was actually born in my grandmother's house at 17 Mount Pleasant, Reading, which is round the corner from Highgrove Street.
My first memory is of my grandfather taking me out in a pushchair and going down Silver Street and round into London Road. He died soon after this in 1920, of stomach cancer. My grandmother died a few years later but I do not know any details, and my father's younger brother, Frank, then came to live with us. He had been too young to have been in the war and had been working in printing with my father, but he was not officially apprenticed and had to leave when the skilled workers returned from the war. He then became an insurance agent for the Cooperative lnsurance Society, which in those days meant collecting premiums weekly from customer's houses. The world was a different place then with horses and carts and the women wore black high bonnets and clothes covering their ankles, and one could go out and leave the door open.
I was brought up in the aftermath of the Great War, but I knew little about it as there was no television or radio then and I did not find out why half of the children in our street had no fathers. When I was five years old I started school at George Palmer infants, and soon after my sister, Vera, was born, on April 10, 1923. My sister nearly died when she was two weeks old as I caught whooping cough at school and must have passed it to her. I remember my mother nursing her at the end of the garden to give her fresh air. Those days we played in the street with the other children as there was only the occasional horse and cart. We used to have big iron hoops and spinning tops, and home made carts which we rode on down the hill. The only motor car in our area was the local doctor's, and we used to run to see this. The milkman used to come with a horse and cart and ladle milk into a jug from a churn.
About this time I remember my mother and her cronies criticizing the so-called flappers who were wearing shorter skirts and showing their ankles. I can remember the General Strike in 1926 as my father, being a printer, was involved at the start – it was started in the offices of the Daily Mail when the workers refused to print a front page criticizing the miners. They were locked out which caused all printers to strike. I believe it was the following day when all other Unions ceased work. The miners had been on strike for some time as the employers wanted to cut their wages. There was no radio or television in those days and the only way to get information was in newspapers, and as these were not being printed one didn't know what was going on. I walked with my father to the centre of Reading to look in the window of the local newspaper where they displayed news on tape received from Reuters. I believe the strike collapsed after a week or so.
We used to go to church three times a day on Sundays, in our best clothes. The church was a small one called St. Agnes, which was in Silver Street, and was a satellite of the larger St. Giles parish church. My father used to play the violin and was a member of the Reading Symphony Orchestra, and he used to play his violin in church accompanying the organ. He played in the town hall and also in the bandstand in the Forbury Gardens. I eventually went into the choir and when my voice broke I used to carry the incense, and sometimes served at the altar, but when we moved to Caversham I ceased going to church. I remember I was very put out by a parson of the Free Church Chapel in Reading setting up a campaign to prevent the tennis courts by the side of the Thames being opened on Sundays. As these were near where I then lived I wanted to use them and he was successful in preventing their use.
I continued to go to school at George Palmer School and progressed from the infants to the juniors. When l was ten, which was in 1928, the country was at the start of the great depression, which eventually led to one in four being out of work. They started short time at my father's firm which meant he was not working every day and he decided to buy a shop. He bought one at 3 Bridge Street, Reading, which was in the centre of the town. The building was three storeys high and also had big cellars. It sold sweets and tobacco products. My mother looked after the shop while my father continued in printing. It sold loose tobacco, thick and thin twist (solid tobacco that was chewed) and snuff, etc. The large Simmonds Brewery was in the same street and the shop had to be opened early in the morning for the workers. At weekends in the summer we made ice cream in a hand operated maker, which had to be turned with a handle, in the cellar. I had to fetch a block of ice from the local ice company in a truck - there were no fridges in those days. As it was made with fresh milk it had to be used the same day and if sales were low owing to rain, etc., my sister and I had a couple of pints of ice cream at night. This shop was in a narrow main road with tram cars a few feet from our shop window. There were also frequent teams of four shire horses pulling carts full of beer barrels from the brewery. One night the steering of an early lorry went wrong and it went through our shop window. My sister and I were sleeping in the room above. There was also a gas explosion in the street which blew off all the manhole covers and unfortunately our dog ran out and fell into one of these. I then had to go to school on the tram as it was too far to walk.
I used to spend a week or so of my summer holidays with my Auntie Gerty, who lived opposite Kew Gardens in Richmond in Surrey. I used to play in Kew Gardens with my cousin Ivy as it was only a penny to get in in those days, and I knew all the greenhouses. Later on I used to spend some time with my father's cousin in Fairford, in Gloucestershire. They were Charles and Kate Sandal, and they had a son called Arthur, who was a few years older than me. Arthur sometimes fetched me on his motorbike, and in later years I cycled there. As my parents had a shop they could not go away together, and I sometimes went to Fairford with my father and visited some of his other cousins, etc. My grandmother originally came from Lus Hill which is just south of Fairford.
I passed the eleven-plus exam and moved to George Palmer Central School, which was on the same site as my previous school. This school was the equivalent of a grammar school, which it probably became in later years. It was not mixed as the boys had the top floor of the building and the girls the bottom. There were four Central schools in Reading, one at each corner of the town. The leaving age was then fourteen, but my father had to sign to keep me there until I was sixteen. I did quite well there, usually being about fourth in the class, and I was particularly good at maths subjects, but I was always weak on English and English Literature (l still do not know any grammar today - I think it was badly taught). I remember earning some pocket money by doing my Uncle Frank's accounts each week, before he paid in all the money he had collected.
Date added: 6 Jan 2015
My Life and some memories 1931-1939
In 1932 I was fourteen and the country was at the bottom of the great depression and it was nearly impossible to get a job. My father had a chance to get me apprenticed as a compositor at his firm and he managed to get me away from school after proving I would be apprenticed. He had to pay a premium for me to be apprenticed which was £100, that was a lot of money in those days. The apprenticeship had to last until I was twenty-one. I used to spend a lot of my time in the summer playing tennis at the playing fields of my old school as former pupils could use the courts there. In the winter it was usually cinema, dances, shows, roller skating etc., which I usually went to with my cousin Bob, sometimes getting home after 2 a.m., as he then lived near our new shop.
When I was seventeen, in 1935, the shop in Bridge Street was going to be pulled down for road widening, and my father purchased a newspaper shop at 49 Hemdean Road, Caversham, a suburb of Reading on the other side of the River Thames – it was only a short distance from the river. This shop had numerous newspaper rounds to see to each morning and also sold some groceries as well as sweets and tobacco. As this was a bigger operation my father left his printing job, where he had been in charge of the Monotype Keyboards department, and looked after the shop, with my mother, full time. Meanwhile I had been learning my trade as a compositor, but as there was a vacancy on the Monotype Keyboards with my father leaving, the firm decided to let me go onto a Monotype Keyboard, so I virtually took the place of my father. I did not pick up the typing very well without tuition and the firm sent me on a six week's course at the Monotype School in Fetter Lane, London, just off Fleet Street. I passed this course and continued to work as an apprentice in the Monotype department, doing as much work as a full journeyman. I usually did a newspaper round before going to work. One of my friends had a canoe on the River Thames and during the summer we spent most weekends going for trips up and down the river.
There were then many archaic practices in the printing trade and when l was twenty-one, in 1939, an apprentice became a full journeyman at 12 midday on the day he is twenty-one, and he had to endure the traditional banging out ceremony when everyone bangs anything available, dustbin lids, etc. I then had to walk the full length of the factory to get to the manager's office through this noise, and to receive my indentures to enable me to be a full member of the Typographical Association. The pay then changes from an apprentice's pittance to a full mans wage. The wages then were £3 8s. 6d. for a compositor and £3 15s. for a Monotype Keyboard operator. Working on the night shift on the keyboards was £4 16s., which was a fortune in those days as a professional such as a doctor only got about £5 a week, so I was quite rich on the night shift. The value of money was very different then as we used to say we could have a night out on one shilling (5p.) - a seat in the cinema was 6d., a pint of beer was 4d. and five Woodbine cigarettes were 2d., making one shilling total. As the firm wanted to start a new apprentice in the keyboards they made a job for me on the night shift, which was really partly an evening shift as I worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., doing keyboard work and also reading, which was checking that everything was OK. I had to typeset any last minute articles and corrections and hand it to the two compositors who were on that shift for them to put it in the pages, etc. then I had to check this and pass it for press. It was then printed during the night for an early morning train. This meant that I was actually running the composing room at night at the age of twenty-one. I remember having to pass for press the Catholic periodical 'The Tablet’ each week, which is still printed today. The new apprentice who started in the keyboards was Ernest Wood, who I had been to school with and was the next apprentice to me in the composing room, being one year younger than me. After the war he went to New Zealand and I have kept in touch with him ever since, staying with him in year 2000. A month after I finished my apprenticeship I decided to try for the Monotype Corporation's gold medal, which meant doing 15,000 ens an hour for four hours non stop, only seven had previously been issued. I arranged to have the test in London, on April 24, 1939, during my holidays. I kept up 15,000 for the first three hours but dropped back in the last hour. The total was 51,200 ens in the four hours which was 12,800 an hour. An en is half the square of the size being set, and would be equivalent to nearly 50 words a minute for a typist as we had to justify by hand at the end of each line, reading and typing two figures off the revolving drum and reversing. There is no screen to check work on a Monotype Keyboard, one is just typing blind, and to pass, errors had to be less than two per thousand. I received a diploma for this, which I still have. I remember my shirt was wet nearly all over with perspiration. This diploma was a passport to working in Watford after the war, which was then the premier printing town.
During 1939 I ran a tennis club using the court of a school which was near our shop. This had to be abandoned at the start of the war, which was on September 3 that year. In late July that year my cousin Bob and myself went for a holiday at the new holiday camp of Butlins, which had opened at Clacton. Butlins was more up market then with waiters in morning dress, etc. At meals there were tables of four closed together to make eight campers. Two were a young couple from Doncaster, an elderly couple from Glasgow and two girls from Plymouth together with Bob and myself. Bob met the elderly couple in Glasgow during the war, and I met the couple from Doncaster when l was at Finningley at the start of the war, and spent a weekend at their place. Later when I was stationed at Torquay I met the two girls at a dance there- they were in the Navy WRNS at Plymouth. A small world!
Early in 1939 it was becoming obvious that a war was likely and the Government decided to conscript for National Service all who were twenty on April 1. I was lucky to miss this having been twenty-one two weeks before, or I would probably have been in the Army and at Dunkirk.