Irene Clarkson interview: Wimbledon during the war

What do you remember of Wimbledon during the war?

The stations were still staffed. I remember standing on that station waiting for a train and a train going through towards Wimbledon and hearing one of the station men saying: “Oh, that’s Churchill’s train.” It was like a royal train and it was being sent down to the coast to meet [General] De Gaulle.  You could see into it. It had an office on board, a sitting room and various officers walking up and down. It was going fairly slowly, of course. It had come from Waterloo, of course, by Putney. And the troop trains were always coming. I would be out most of the time but my aunt would be out gardening and the soldiers would all wave to her. They [the Americans] poured their black troops through. They kept their blacks apart from their whites and they used to wave madly with cheers as they went past. 
We had Polish officers around and a few Gurkhas too. I have a feeling that these people were all headquarters staff of various kinds. There were just a handful of Gurkhas. They were [staying] in Wimbledon Park in Arthur Road. There were very big houses in Arthur Road in my day. Now there are various smaller houses. 

How different did Wimbledon look?

They have altered the station so that’s different, of course. Beyond the station if you are going towards the theatre on the left hand side there was a line of shops. There was the original Marks & Spencer there at some time. When they opened the new Marks & Spencers a young girl went for a job and said “My grandmother used to work in the original Marks & Spencers” and she got the job. I don’t know whether for that reason. Ely’s had another branch on the opposite side of Worple Road and had furniture in there. 

Wimbledon Theatre was operating during the war, wasn’t it?

Oh yes, I went there on my 21st birthday. Mainly variety shows. Jessie Matthews was [performing]. She was good, really top of her form. She was good on stage. I can remember her now. She said “I will do an imitator imitating Jessie Matthews” and she [did] herself. She was very, very funny. She really was terrific. Yes, I remember that.

You were not a local cinema-goer?

No, because as soon as you went in the sirens would go - pointless. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know whether they chucked you out. I was in town. As I was walking to the office I would see the billboard go up for the next play and I would go in the office and say “I’ve got six seats for such-and-such a play on such-and-such a night. Who’s coming with me?” About half a dozen [would do]. We would go to the Corner House first and you could get a meal for 1s 6d. So we would have a meal and go to the theatre. You couldn’t spend your money on clothes, you see. You had to use coupons. You had to be careful. People who weren’t using their coupons…there were girls getting married and you would give them your coupons to help them. It was quite a game getting stuff together.