By Len A.Hynds

During the war, every item of clothing, including boots and shoes were on ration, and you were given a book of coupons, and as items were bought, so the relevant number of coupons were cut out with scissors by the shopkeeper. Every price label also showed how many coupons you needed to buy that item. Two years supply of coupons would be enough to obtain a suit, but underwear, socks, shirts, top coats and shoes always eliminated that prospect.

So the whole civilian population slowly became threadbare and tatty. Nothing was wasted, with old woollen garments being slowly unpicked to make new balls of wool, for something else to be made. Curtains were made into dresses, and even blankets, suitably dyed made the strangest trousers. Any l ady lucky enough to obtain parachute silk was the envy of her friends, as it apparently made marvellous underwear. Ladies stockings were not available, so they would paint their legs to look like stockings, even with a seam at the back, but that was disastrous when it rained. Bicycle tyres once worn smooth, could not be replaced, so were cut into strips, to nail onto shoes and boots, glue not being available.

My own trousers were pretty threadbare and now shiny and paper thin, when a marvellous opportunity came my way.

Mum had heard that sugar which we had not seen for a few weeks had arrived in a shop in East Street Market. The sugar refinery at Silvertown in the East End had been wiped out, so I went to the shop to collect our ration of 2lb of sugar (4 weeks) for the family, and joined the end of a very long queue. It was several hours before I was served, and set out walking home, but the sirens started wailing as another raid was about to commence. I hurried along but could hear the guns firing and the bombs dropping closer each time, and knew I would have to get under cover before reaching home. I ran into Arnside Street, where the outside walls of the old 'Purple' cinema stood, and I knew of a cavity under that where I could squeeze my body. I made it just in time as a string of bombs fell in the main road I had just vacated.

When that first wave had passed, I continued homeward passing several bombed premises, and on turning a corner, I saw a shop alight and bodies in the road, with their clothes smouldering. I rushed to the nearest one to beat out the flames, but discovered they were all tailors models. It was the ‘Fifty Shilling Tailors’ that was burning and all those mannequins had been blasted into the roadway. One had on a very smart bank manager’s pin stripe suit, and although the jacket was burning, the trousers looked fine. I had them off in a flash, and continued on my way homeward clutching those stolen trousers and 2lb of sugar.

I knew I was looting, but to have trousers that one can see through with sunlight behind you is no joke.