Irene Clarkson interview: During the war

What did you do when you left school?

I was at home about a year, I think. Then I took some Civil Service exams and I was a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture, very junior. They evacuated us to St Anne’s in Lancashire just after the war broke out. 

What was your job at Lytham St Anne’s during the war?

In a registry I think. Junior jobs in the Civil Service were incredibly boring. You were either tracking files around, entering something in a book or doing something dreary. But I went riding. There was a riding stable there. We used to ride along the sands to Blackpool. You couldn’t make these horses canter when they were going out but then they would turn them round and when you were coming back to the stables, then they would canter. 

Did you learn to ride there or had you already learned to ride in Wimbledon?

No, it was too expensive then. It’s very expensive to ride on the Common and it was then. They had more stables than there are now. There was one on the road by the Common and another one by the entrance to Richmond Park. There were several stables around and they used to ride across the Common and there is still a stable behind the Dog and Fox. During the war I had a horse out from there, I remember. It was the last time I ever rode. 

Do you remember when you came back to Wimbledon, during the war?

I wasn’t there [at Lytham St Anne’s] all that long although it seemed forever. The war started in 1939 so we probably went in 1940. I spent one Christmas there in 1940 and then came back.

So most of the war you spent here?

Yes, it was probably in a different department. They had an office in Soho Square. Quite amusing. There was a famous actor called Jack Hulbert - [married to Cicely Courtneidge] – and Jack and his brother joined the special police but he was still acting. I remember walking up Greek Street in my lunch hour and seeing an elderly naval officer and Jack Hulbert – by then a sergeant – was directing the old boy. I’m sure he hadn’t the slightest idea that this was a famous actor. There was a show on at a big theatre whose name escapes me now and there was a matinee due. I was thinking to myself, well Jack you had better hurry up because you are due on stage in half an hour. 
Every theatre in town was packed. I used to say jokingly that I knew the upper circle of every theatre in London. Not entirely true but I preferred the theatre and in any case the raids would have started. We all did permanent overtime so it was better to stay in town and go in “the gods” which didn’t cost that much more than to try to get back home and then go to the cinema. So I tended to go to the theatre rather than the cinema. 

At the end of each day you would commute back here and that continued for the whole of the war?