Introduction by interviewer, Michael Thompson
Joan Hughes, née Alefounder, was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, now Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, in September 1926.
This interview records her memories as a child and young adult during the war and to some extent how things were for her afterwards.
Recorded in Liverpool on 24th January, 2017.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Wartime Memories of Mrs Joan Hughes
Michael: If I may, I’ll go on just to ask, did you have a happy childhood?
Joan: Very happy childhood …. to say I used to play with my friends and in those days, it was safe, we could go …. play in the road and of course, there were very few motor cars, so you didn’t have to worry about that …. we had …. a horse and cart would come along because the coal was delivered that way, the milkman came with his dray …. and we went out with our jugs to have our, to collect the milk, and I think it was about a penny, the old penny a pint …. in the good old days, I am going back a long time, but I had a very happy childhood …. both with my parents and my friends.
Michael: And what was it like growing up where you did?
Joan: I was lucky, it was a very nice district …. West Derby of Liverpool, it has changed now but …. but it was very good in those days, very quiet.
We lived in a little avenue of about 22 houses, so we knew everybody else …. all your neighbours were there.
Michael: What were your interests as a child?
Joan: My interests? Stamp collecting …. I started with that quite early, I don’t know why because Daddy wasn’t interested …. but I loved it and I carried on doing that, oh, until about 10 years ago and I had quite a good collection, a few would be quite valuable, but most of them were just pretty …. but, you learned a lot, because you learned about countries …. you learned their names …. the animals in those countries, the vegetation, that was all helping your education ….
Now then schooling? You want to know about ….?
Well …. I went to high school, obviously, I started there, and that was 1938 just before the war started. The war started in 1939, and there is a big main road in Liverpool called Queens Drive …. If you lived on one side of it, you couldn’t be evacuated …. my school was being evacuated …. so, I couldn’t because I lived on the safe side and the first bomb to drop, dropped on our side of Queens Drive. Only a small bomb and I saw it coming from the airplane actually because it was a Saturday evening in September …. [probably 1940]
I had been to the pictures with my friend, and we …. the air raid sirens had gone …. we were between two air raid shelters, so we knew we couldn’t get to them …. and we watched this plane, and I said “Ooo, did you see that thing drop out?” and Audrey said “No” …. “Oh”, I said, “I am sure it is bomb” …. so, we just lay down, put our hands over our heads and that was it. We did feel the vibration because, it …. and fortunately, it didn’t fall too near us ….
Anyway, we then got up and got home as quickly as we could. And that was my first …. Well …. fan…. well I won’t say fancy but nasty experience.
Obviously, we had all these terrible bombs in Liverpool, you will have seen the pictures of them and we used …. we had an Anderson shelter which you put in your back garden …. and luckily, ours went very deep, so Daddy put …. bunks in it …. we had a light and a lamp, so we warm. I used to come home …. I can talk about that later …. from school, do my homework, and then go into the shelter and go to sleep because you could hardly feel the bombs dropping, but one night, Daddy said “Oh we don’t need to go into the shelter” …. and I used to say “Daddy, I can feel the bed jumping” …. “Oh”, he said, “it is all right”.
Anyway, when his brother came home, because Uncle Fred lived with us in those days …. he was as black as the Ace of Spades, and Daddy said “What went on Fred?” He said “All of Liverpool is flat” and we hadn’t heard of it because we were so far out of the town. And then, of course, they went down to see it, and it was dreadful …. and of course, I keep seeing it on pictures, and it does bring it back to me because we did have a lovely city and it had all gone.
My school was brought back, I’d lost 12 months of schooling but during that time, I learnt my shorthand and typing …. I went to a private man, learnt all that, got my certificate because Mummy had always said I would go to Machin & Harper, which was a commercial school after I finished school. Well, I had done it now and that was it.
I went back to school and then, I started to work, and I had to start right at the bottom as a messenger.
I went to a firm called Paton, Calvert in Binns Road, Old Swan. They did many things including a little bomb for the war effort. They didn’t fill it obviously, but they made the bombs, and I started as a messenger.
I had to go to town every day and that meant going up, going round the different people in the office, seeing if they wanted anything in town, and I only did it for 2 months, and then I was promoted to a junior shorthand typist.
Michael: Just for clarity, what year was that? Would that have been during the war?
Joan: Oh yes, 1941 ….
Joan: That was my first job.
Michael: So right in the middle of the blitz ….
Joan: Right in the middle of everything, and in those days, when the air raid siren went, we had to stay at our work, but if it got dangerous, because somebody would be on the roof, we had to go into the shelter. And if we stayed at our jobs, we got half a crown in our wages at the end of the week.
Now, that was a lot of money in those days. You could do a lot with it. I know people don’t understand 12½p today but that went a long way, and we used to hope we could stay, and we often did. And I was there for many years …. I got …. Obviously, I got promotion. I went up to the Government department which meant I couldn’t be called up and I had to sign the Secrets Act, and then, I worked for the directors …. And then I became a per…. sorry, Assistant Purchasing Manager, and that was very interesting because we used to buy everything for the factory ….
I had to go out to buy things and …. tin plate …. different commodities ….
Anyway, I have to admit I missed my shorthand typing and so I wanted to go back to it. So, I then moved on, and I went to a firm called Tootal.
Their factory was …. that I went to was in St Helens. I went to the director there …. and you will know of Tootal things, Michael, but a lot of people don’t today. They were all very high class ….
And then, I hadn’t been long with my boss and he said he was being transferred to Manchester, he was promoted to the Deputy Chairman, so he said “Will you come with me?” I said “Of course, I will.” So, I went to work in Manchester then.
And I had 10 very happy years there.
Michael: Was that after the war?
Joan: That was after the war, yes.
Michael: If we come back to the war, and your experiences then, were you with Tootal when you …. during the war?
Joan: No, I stayed at Paton, Calvert. I was there for 10 years, 1941 to 1950 …. and, no ,that was when I had those experiences. We did have difficulty, getting supplies for the factory.
You were rationed, we used a lot of tin plate, because we made trays and things for Woolworths …. You know, cake tins and things like that, and of course being rationed, that was what we had to go out and find.
You’d ring up and say “Yes, we have got a certain type of tin plate you want”, and they would only give you perhaps …. oh, I don’t know, 10 packets or something …. well boxes …. and things were hard to get …. paper, not pencils. You got your pencils and pens all right, but we kept the factory going. We didn’t have to once stop it and so that was a good thing.
Michael: It was hard work.
Joan: Well it was, but I had a wonderful boss, the Purchasing Manager. I learnt a lot from him, a very honest and straight forward man.
Michael: If we to talk about things like rationing during the war, how did that affect you?
Joan: Rationing …. well people today, they say “Ooo, you starved ….” and they can’t …. I say “We didn’t starve, we managed very well”.
Lord Woolton was the Food Minister and on the radio, he would give us his recipes, and you took them down, and he had one, he called it ‘Woolton Pie’ and really today, you would call it a vegetarian pie, because it was all vegetables …. You managed to make a bit of pastry for the top, and you had an Oxo cube for the beef content, and it was quite delicious. And, well …. I have told this, I made a sponge cake with liquid paraffin, because that took the place of butter and because we had raspberry jam which was quite strong, you couldn’t taste anything, and people said “Ooo, your sponge cake is beautiful, Joan”. I didn’t tell them what I had made it with! And it didn’t harm anybody, I think it was only a dessert spoon full you would put in ….
But no, and everything was rationed, your meat, your butter, lard, sugar, tea, bread even, and you handed over your ration book to your grocer, and he looked after you, and …. Well, it stands to sense, some families had a lot of children, they also perhaps hadn’t got a lot of money, they couldn’t afford to get all their rations.
Now, the grocer relied on your coupons for him to get his supplies. So, when you got your supplies at the end of the week, you might be lucky and have one of the 4oz of butter …. Ooo, you thought it was absolutely wonderful. So, we didn’t starve. Tinned things went on points eventually, because you did have your tinned meat and your tinned fruit, but then they went on ration because so many of our ships that were coming over the Atlantic were being bombed, were being sunk by the submarines which was absolutely tragic, so, they couldn’t afford to bring food over. They wanted all armaments and things that mattered, and then eventually of course, when they found that Enigma machine which meant we knew what the Germans were doing. We got a lot more ships over the Atlantic then and of course the Battle of the Atlantic was fought again in Liverpool because everything was under Exchange Flags on Dale Street, and you can still go there today and see the museum, just as it was. Quite fascinating.
Michael: So, were there things you missed when you were in the war, things you yearned for …. ?
Joan: Well, I think probably you’d say chocolate, and fruit. You occasionally got an orange. You’d queue at the green grocers. You might be lucky, but if he only had one box, it was first come, first served.
You only got one egg a week, well of course, I loved eggs. I did miss those, though we were lucky, friends who had chickens used to send eggs over. I missed chocolate and sweets because they were rationed and you just got a few. I can’t remember chocolate really, only …. we used to get parcels from America and Canada, not individually, but they came to the offices and you would get your turn of say, a tin of butter or a tin of meat, or a bar of chocolate ….
The Americans were here of course and I used to do ice skating, and I went quite a few nights a week, and the Americans were there.
Now the girls used to go with them because they gave them a bar of chocolate or a pair of nylons …. but I wouldn’t go with them. I didn’t like them. And I certainly wouldn’t do that for a bar of chocolate or a pair of nylons.
But that was the war. You were always blacked out, of course and the buses were, and the taxis …. well there were a few taxis, and they only had very, very poor lights on their front. So, when it was very dark and there wasn’t a moon, it was very frightening even going anywhere, but you got used to it. And otherwise, you wouldn’t go out. And you were safe in those days, you don’t have the stories you hear today.
Michael: You said your father was in the Home Guard, I think, and I don’t know whether you were aware of any …. sort of activities that he might have been involved in at all, that might have been kept quite secret?
Joan: Well, could …. but I don’t think so, he used to go out with …. eventually he got a rifle …. because when they first …. when it was first started, they only had an arm band.
And then, they got a cap, I think, and then the next thing they got, their uniform, and then a few of them got rifles. But we used to have a little ack-ack gun. We had a railway near us, and on the bridge, there was this ack-ack gun, and of course, when the Jerries went over, it would have a go but it was too small to have really done any damage, but I think it gave people confidence that we were being looked after. But, we used to watch the dog fights in the sky when we could. It wasn’t nice but we knew it was our boys protecting us.
Michael: What was your mother? Did she manage to do anything during the war, or ….
Joan: She had to be called up. Once she …. once you had a child over 11, you had to get a job. So, Mummy was …. she was in her day, she was only called a shorthand typist …. but she worked for the chairman of a company, and she was a brilliant shorthand typist.
Anyway, she went to the Labour Exchange, and they were going to put her in a factory.
“Oh”, she said, “I have never done anything like that”. “Well, they said, “If you can find a job that we approve of, we will let you go.” So, Mummy didn’t know what to do, so she rang the family solicitor and said “Do you by any chance want a shorthand typist?” “Yes”, he said, “as a matter of fact we do.” And she went down for her interview and she got it.
And she hadn’t typed or done shorthand since 1924, and this was 1943, I think. And we bought her an old typewriter, and her speed came back, and her shorthand was perfect.
She used to take it down from the radio, when the news was on. Now they went very quickly, and she was wonderful, and so she went back, and she stayed even a couple of years after the war, she loved it. And I think it gave her a bit of independence again, and a bit of pocket money.
So, that was good, she did her bit, and Daddy was doing his ….
Michael: Did anyone look after you whilst …. or you were too old for that?
Joan: I was too old really, I was …. I was very confident in all I did. Don’t forget I was, what, about 15, I had nearly left school, and then I left. But you see, in those days, you didn’t have to lock your doors, if you came home from school, and your mother had gone out shopping. You could go round the back and get in that way, safely, not like today.
I still say we had our happiest times up to 1939. I think those were the best years for everybody. You didn’t have a lot, but you had enough, you were comfortable, you had plenty of friends, and your neighbours were neighbourly. It was lovely.
Michael: But, it wasn’t long, I guess …. actually, it might have been well overdue in a way, but war came to an end. What do you remember about the events around that time? Were you involved in any sort of celebrations?
Joan: No, I am not that sort of person, I don’t like parties, and we didn’t have a street party. I can remember that …. I say we only lived in this little avenue. I don’t know why, perhaps everybody felt as I did. We were delighted the war was over but rationing was still on and we knew we were going to have well a worse time, really, because the company …. well, the country was broke with having to pay for the war and all those things.
So, we knew things were going to be much harder. The boys were coming back ….
Now, a lot of them …. I know their jobs were supposed to be for them when they came back, but people had gone into their jobs, so things were going to be very difficult, and they were …. Not for me, not for my parents, we were very fortunate.
Daddy always had a job. In those days, he was a director of a small company …. But, no, it wasn’t …. we didn’t celebrate, we were delighted and that was it. But I forgot to mention, we did have a sadness. One of my cousins, a man who lived in Manchester …. she married at the beginning of the war …. We went to her wedding. Her husband, he was only home for his embarkation leave, that’s when they got married. He went over and was killed the first day.
So, she was married and widowed in a very short time.
That was the only tragedy in the family, we were very lucky really, because another uncle was in the Navy, and he came back safely, but ….
Michael: So, war came to an end ….
Michael: Was there any change after that?
Joan: Change ….
Michael: Or did life just go on as it was?
Joan: Well, no it couldn’t, life couldn’t go on as it was. I say things were far more difficult. People were getting, well going back to their jobs and working again but, as I say, rationing was still on, and that went on for, oh, quite a few years after the war. I can’t remember how many, but things did gradually come back into the shops.
And then, of course, clothing had been …. oh, very miserable, and because you had to give so many coupons. A coat was 18 coupons, and you only got 20, and if you got a coat that was half lined, that was 15 coupons and a pair of stockings was a coupon. So, you had to work out those.
Anyway, eventually clothing came off coupons, and then Dior came onto the market.
You’ve heard of Dior, and he brought out this wonderful range, and I can remember buying my first Dior design coat. Oh, it was very long, almost to your ankles, fitted to the waist, oh it was so lovely to have a lovely fancy pattern for a change. So, things started to get back and everybody was obviously happy, and well, all the lights came on, that was a wonderful thing. That was more important than anything, I think, when all the lights came on. And you could go out and see, you didn’t have to really worry …. that was a wonderful thing.
“And the lights came on again, all over the world“, that was the song. Yes.
Michael: Did …. do you recollect any sort of really funny moments that you might have experienced? Were there any sort of times that would have made you laugh?
Joan: Laugh during the war? I don’t know, I don’t think so because it was such a sad time. You know you heard of people who were losing people, and no, I don’t think I had any funny experiences, let me think. At work, did I have any?
Well yes, one I suppose it is funny when I was promoted to Assistant Purchasing Manager. Daddy said to me “Now be careful” …. this entails having to look after the engineering shop, all those sort of things, and Daddy said “Be careful, when you go into the engineering shop, they are bound to tell you the glass hammer. “Oh”, I said, “thank you Daddy”. Well of course, they did. So, I just said “Oh certainly, what size do you want?”
I paid them back.
Anyway, they realised, and …. but I did ask when they asked me to get some nipple something, and I looked at them, and they had to explain that, you see.
I could have fallen there if I hadn’t been warned by Daddy, but then the engineering shop were very good to me, and they actually made me …. I have still got it, a letter opener. It is stainless steel with leather, it is beautiful, and I have had it all these years, that was 1942, they gave me that. And I have had it too.
So, that was funny. No, I don’t think anything else.
I can go back. We made this PIAT bomb as it was called, [Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank], it was for piercing tanks actually and part of the procedure was dipping it in trichloroethylene to degrease it. So, there was a huge tank of trichloroethylene and sadly, one man tripped, fell into it. They got him out very quickly but it was too late, because trichloroethylene, as you appreciate, is very dangerous, got into his lungs. So, that was the sad happening.
I can’t think of anything else that happened there. But nothing, no nothing of any, sorry ….
Michael: Do you recollect anything about your neighbourhood, if you like, I mean, were you always in Queens Drive, or off it, in that area?
Joan: I was there until I decided I wanted to buy a house, because I had got into my 30s, and I just said to Mummy and Daddy, well, I am going to buy a house for when, you know, because we were in rented property. Daddy would never buy a house, and Mummy used to say why, what if I lost my job? That was a silly answer but that was it.
And even my Grand Mama who was very comfortably off, said she would lend him the money, and just pay him, pay her back as though it was rent, but he was too proud to do that. That was my father. I loved him. He was a very proud man. Anyway, I wanted to get my own property and Daddy said “Ooo, Joan”. I said “Daddy, I’m in a very good job, I have got money behind me, I am going to do it.” And I said “If you and Mummy want to come and live me, you are very welcome.”
So, I bought a very nice house in Broad Green, and Mummy and Daddy did come and live with me obviously …. and they soon settled in and found friends of their own. And I was very happy there.
And I am still there until I married John.
Michael: So, that would have been in the 1950s, I guess.
Joan: No, 1964, I bought it. It was £294 …. sorry £2,940, yes …. the good old days! And every time the mortgage went up, I paid it, because you know how it increases, and actually, when I went to apply for my mortgage, they asked that I had to have a guarantor. I said “Why?”, they said “Because you are a woman” and I was very indignant about that. And anyway, when I finished paying, which was long before it should have been. I said “Was I a good client?” and they said “A very good one” and in fact they said better than a lot of the men.
So, that was, that was a joke.
Michael: Just go back to the war a little bit more, perhaps …. I mean, we have talked a great deal about your experiences there and the bombs dropping and so on, the rationing and that sort of thing, is there anything else that comes to mind about the war that would be stuck in your memory?
Or have we covered most points?
Joan: Well, we have covered rationing, ration books, points ….
Michael: How did you get around?
Joan: Oh, yes, well, it was tram cars …. Well, yes, tram cars at the beginning and …. but …. well they ran you see as far as they could, obviously, when it happened, the bombing in town, they’d only go as far as they could, but you walked a lot ….
You see, in my day, you were brought up that way, you walked, except if it was raining, you would go on a tram car, but you see, we ate well. We ate well and so then you walked well, so, people weren’t fat, not like they are today, and I am sure that had a lot to do with it.
I was on buses to go to my job at Paton, Calvert because they …. I don’t ever remember trams going up Queens Drive. So, we were lucky, except we had a few bad winters with snow which meant the buses couldn’t run. So, you had to walk. And you did. You didn’t mind, you got onto the main road as best you could, and you got to work that way, and then a crowd of you would all walk together, dropping off as you came to your home, and that’s how I met my first boyfriend because he worked with me in Paton, Calvert, and so that was lovely.
Oh, I can tell you a funny thing, well it was funny but the lady next door was having a baby, and anyway, it was 1941 when the snow was very deep. It was up to the top of our hedges, and she knocked on the wall, and so Daddy went around, he went, you know, as best he could and she was having a baby, and the doctor couldn’t get to her, nor the midwife. So, Daddy had to be a midwife, and Carol was born. They called her Carol because it was Christmas.
But that was because of the deep snow. You see that’s the sad thing that happened in those days because, I don’t ever remember …. there weren’t any machines to clear the snow and it was, going back to the buses along Queens Drive, it was 2 days before they would start to run again, and the tram cars couldn’t because they blocked the lines, you see …. but that was, that was how you got to …. that was your transport, but you walked a lot, I mean ….
Oh no, it was just after the war, I was going to talk about fog. I did have to walk from town because I worked. I had to come from the station and walk all the way home, which was a long way, really walking, but ….
Michael: Did you ever travel outside Liverpool during the war? You didn’t go to London or ….
Joan: Oh, gracious no! No, no I didn’t, I never went on trains. No, we didn’t.
Michael: Was there any reason why you didn’t go on trains?
Joan: Well, I suppose …. no, because …. well, you didn’t have holidays …. Yes, we did, we did have holidays, but went to Wales and we would go on a coach …. we did, we went to …. now, you remind me …. we did have a few holidays in Wales and you’d rent a cottage or you’d go and stay with a bed and breakfast …. and we went to North Wales …. that’s as far as we ever went.
Before the war, we always went to the Isle of Man because Daddy loved it, but during the war, you couldn’t because there weren’t any boats anyway. No, we did go to Wales for a few years, and that was very nice but again, you had to take food with you, because they wouldn’t have anything …. so, that, that’s another thing that stopped you. All right, I know hotels would have certain rations, but we didn’t stay in hotels, probably because Daddy couldn’t have afforded it, and again, many hotels were let out for the forces, the forces lived there, they were turned into hospitals, and so, that was another reason.
You see, you are bringing it all back for me, and I can’t remember all the things that happened. No, no, they were the only holidays I had in North Wales, and I can’t remember …. well if you had …. I suppose if you had relations in nice places, you could go, but I didn’t haven’t relations in nice pl…., well I did …. We had some in Nottingham but we didn’t go down there, and ….
Michael: How did you actually travel to North Wales?
Joan: A coach.
Michael: A coach ….
Joan: A coach, that’s right, the coaches were running …. and, Ribble, I think they were, Ribble coaches, and we went on those, and I don’t suppose they were very expensive, and you didn’t book like you would today. You just went down, and just go on it ….
Michael: And did that go from a particular bus station?
Joan: Down in town, yes, Lime Street, it was, I think …. yes, I think it was still Lime Street, until it was bombed and then I don’t know where they went from.
Michael: So, what would Lime Street have been like in those days?
Joan: Before or after the bombing?
Michael: Ah right, well, there’s a difference there obviously ….
Joan: Yes. Well, very busy when …. until it was bombed, and then, well, it took so long to clear everything …. but we were lucky, St George’s Hall was hardly damaged, and the big hotel was hardly damaged.
But, when you went just a bit further along, that’s when everything …. Blacklers, a huge store, Lewis’s …. they were just flat to the floor, all the buildings round it.
And then you went to Ch…., you’ve heard of Church Street? That was flat up to Lord Street, everything down, all the beautiful shops I used to go to as a child, all gone, Marks & Spencers, they were there, they’d gone …. and it was so, so terrible, I don’t know why, they were probably aiming for the docks again, because each time it was for the docks …. I mean, a lot of the docks were bombed. The overhead railway, have you heard of that?
Well, that was, that was a lovely thing to go on. It was mainly for the dockers, obviously, but we used to go on it because then you could see all your docks, you could see all the ships. I am talking about just before the war, you saw all the ships were being loaded, and what they had, so it was part of your education. Of course, it was bombed, absolutely completely. They just flattened it, and I suppose it was just as well the bombs hit that rather than a dock but some of the docks did go, did get it badly, lost a lot of people, obviously, down there and they decided not to re-build the overhead railway, their biggest mistake, I reckon. They should have done it, but there we are.
Michael: Did you see aircraft going overhead during the war?
Joan: Yes, yes, I go back to our Anderson shelter.
Joan: The way Daddy had placed it, it was just bey…. …. we had a yard …. we had the house …. a big wide yard and the garden. So, he’d put it in the garden just beyond the yard, and when he and Uncle Fred were busy digging, they found we were on sandstone, so that made it wonderful. …. hard work for them but it meant it would be dry …. that was the way they could do it.
Well, he put a door. We had a little step ladder down into it, and then a door, a big solid door but it was in front of our sitting room window, so when, if it was moonlight and we took the door down, and there was …. though the aircraft were there, or they were fighting …. we could see it reflected in the window, and we could watch, we could watch the bombers going over …. because they used to come in moonlight, obviously, because they used the river as their guide, and that’s why they could bomb the docks because they had a wonderful guide, and we used to say …. well, we called it a bomber’s moon.
Michael: Various people I have spoken to, they found their shelters fairly sort of unpleasant to …. to stay in, but yours sounds to have been quite nice and dry ….
Joan: It wasn’t a bit, it was comfortable. As I say, we’d added pretty bunks, we had a carpet on the floor, well, a rug on the floor …. as I say, he put a heater in, and, well …. what …. it would have been a paraffin heater because we didn’t risk putting in electric, but we had a lamp as well you see, so, it was comfortable.
Well Mummy and Daddy only came into me as late as they could, but I would be fast asleep, I slept through it all and the boy next door, one of the boys, was going to be a doctor, so he was studying hard …. so, he would come, and because he could be comfortable, and he could study and I did a lot with him at the beginning. It was wonderful because I always wanted to be a surgeon and so, I would test him on a lot of his things, you know. It was good.
That was during the war. But no, I know a lot of people again, when they bunked down, it was soil, so water came in. So, they only went in when they really had to and, no, we were very fortunate.
Michael: So why didn’t you become a surgeon?
Joan: Because in our day, you had to have money to go to university, and Daddy couldn’t afford it. But I had a grandfather who could have done, but my father was too proud, again …. and I admired him for that. My grandfather wasn’t a nice man. He would have always reminded us “Oh, I put Joan through university”. No thank you!
I don’t regret anything in my career, I was very happy.
Michael: Is there anything else that you would like to raise that we haven’t talked about?
Joan: No, not really, I think we have covered ….
Michael: Mainly it was about wartime, I appreciate, yes …. I mean, I don’t know whether you want to talk a bit more about after the war and now, you were with Tootal. You worked for … in a very senior position …. in Manchester, I think.
Joan: That’s right. Well then, I left, I decided to …. I was there for 10 years and then, I suppose, being an only child, parents getting older, I thought I had better come back to Liverpool, because I knew I would have to look after them. So, very reluctantly, I left and obviously, my boss didn’t want me to come, but he understood, and so, I came back, and I got …. who did I come to? Oh yes ….
I used to travel every day to Manchester, by train, with 5 men and me ….
We always were in the first carriage after the engine, it wasn’t a corridor train in those days and so, I had a lot of good friends, some of them were directors of companies. And, so, as I say, they were very good friends to me. Anyway, one of them who worked for the gas company and, he said to me “The Sales Director in Liverpool wants a secretary, Joan, are you interested?”
“Ooo” I said, “I’d love it!”.
So, I went for an interview, and as far as I know, I was having the job. And then, this gentleman rang me and said “I am so sorry, we’ve had to advertise it within the gas company and we’ve had to give it ….” I said “I understand” as that was what they did in those days, then.
So, I came back to a little company, just to get back into Liverpool, again through somebody I used to work with, because he was a director of that company. But I didn’t like it because two of the directors were carrying on, as they called it, and I don’t approve of that sort of thing, and again, luckily this …. the chairman of Owen Owens wanted a secretary ….
So, I applied and I was lucky enough to get it, and so, I was there, not for long because sadly Mr Norman was an elderly gentleman and he went off on a cruise. I had been there a couple of years, a very difficult man to work for. Everybody thought him a very benign, lovely gentleman, but when you worked for them, they were entirely different. I could have written a very interesting book about him. Actually, one secretary stayed half a day, so, that will give you an idea, anyway, I mean, I don’t mind that sort of thing ….
Anyway, he went on this cruise and suddenly he had a stroke or something. So, he was off a long time, and I was just sitting in my ivory tower, and it was … I had a suite of …. a suite of offices at the top of the building. So, I went into his son, who was also the Vice Chairman. I said “I am sorry, Mr John, you understand, I’ll have to, you know, get another job ….” He said “I understand, I am sorry, there is nothing here we can give you.” You see, all the other directors had secretaries. So, I said “I wasn’t mentioning it for that.”
Anyway, I got this job, then, with Lucas, again with the director. And I was very happy there, and again, we come at time when he was getting near retirement. So, they were putting him over in Europe, and of course, I couldn’t go with him.
So, they transferred me then to Victor Works which is part of Lucas, which at that time was just round the corner from where I worked in Broad Green. So, again, I stayed there until I got married. I had a long happy career.
My advice to young people always was, because they used to come and say “Oh, I am not happy”. I’d say “If you are not happy, you must get out, you have got to be happy in your job, to do it properly.” And that was my dictum, and in those days, you could change jobs, not like today, and we were only talking about that the other day. And, I said “Well in my day, if you decided you want to change, you could.” There would be a whole list of jobs, you could go, get interviews for, not like today, so sad ….
I am glad I am at the end of my life, because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Michael: I think that is a good point to stop, actually, Joan.
Joan: I am sure it is.
Recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester.
Note: Joan Hughes, aged 94, sadly passed away on the 3rd February 2021 after a long illness.