Irene Parry was born in Poplar, East London in 1931. She lived in an upstairs room with her mother, father and elder brother and sister near Pennyfields. She was commonly known as ‘Winnie’ rather than Irene, and can remember telling the teacher on her first day of school in Alton Street that Irene wasn’t her real name. Her father worked on the docks and she remembers playing in the street and buying toffee from an Indian family who lived down the road.
At the outbreak of war Irene was first evacuated with the rest of her school to Windsor, but didn’t stay long. Her brother and mother had been evacuated with the baby to Cambridge. Upon their return it was decided that they would join a number of others in a lorry to go down to Kent to pick hops and when the season was over they were asked where they wanted to go. Click on the link below to hear Irene speaking about the choices the family had to make:
Upon arriving in Stoke-on-Trent, the family were put up in London Road Hospital for the night because it was getting dark, and then the next day they were put on buses to look for accommodation. Irene and her elder sister went to live with the Pearson family in Cross Heath. There were three children including a girl Irene’s age called Rhoda, and they all shared a bed upstairs. Irene can remember having to crawl over everybody at night to use the potty. Here they had meat paste sandwiches for lunch every day and came home to a cup of OXO. Their mother was unhappy about this and they didn’t stay long as the family were reunited and moved in to a shared house together in Wolstanton. They had the front room downstairs and the back room upstairs.
At school Irene was wrongly accused of stealing money out of her desk mate’s school savings book, but nobody ever apologised for searching her. She can also remember being told by a shop owner that he didn’t have enough sweets for the local children, let alone evacuees. However, she could stick up for herself, and she doesn’t remember anybody ever bullying her. In her own words: “I wouldn’t have let them, ‘cause I was from the East end you know, bit rough I suppose”.
Her mother and father settled in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Irene has made a lot of friends in the area. She still feels a strong connection to London.