Recording of interview with June Eileen Smith (formerly Copson), Burton Latimer on the 17 August 2009 presented by Margaret Craddock
I was born on 29 June 1920 at
I started off at the little infants school in Church Street. I was coming up to 4 years old we all went to school very, very young. The headmistress was Miss Orpin and the under head was Miss Hobbs; she came from Harrowden every day on a big sit-up-and-beg bike. Then, of course, we went across the road to, as we called it, the big school and I stayed there until I was 14. The headmaster was George Talbutt and the teachers were Miss Lewis, Miss Jenkins, Miss Roberts, Miss Bentley and Miss Watson and then we had two student teachers, Miss Clipson and Miss Stokes. I can remember children with me at the school. One of them was Evelyn Lovell and she was my school friend right from very early days in school. We kept together and when we went to the big school we sat in the same desks together all the time. Now she has been in America for 62 years and we still communicate every month after 60 years. She was Evelyn Lovell now Mrs Payne. There was Gwen Dickerson, and the boys were Sid Blundell, Lenny Capps, who was the baker’s son opposite the school. Then there was Sylvia Bailey (I’m giving their single names), Roma Cox, Jackie Palmer. We had a lovely time at school. We were all friends together and it was a very, very happy school.
Dancing was always my first love, your mum and dad knew that and that’s how we came to be good friends. I loved dancing because when I was eight years old my friend Evelyn’s mother put her to Arthur Miller to learn the piano and I didn’t want to learn the piano. So our mum put me to a dancing school at Finedon, tap and ballet dancing, all the lot. We used to go and dance for the pantomime. It was the Grace Osier dance school and I stayed there until I was seventeen. I used to do the solo ballet dances and look at me now. We used to dance at church things and garden fetes, Finedon and Chelveston. The Finedon pantomime we danced in every year and then we did our own troupe pantomime. I was Baron Hardup, Cinderella’s father. There was Miss Osier and Jean Twelvetree and Dorothy Trevor and I. We were all as big as Miss Osier so us four used to dance together. I danced at the Band Club, dad was secretary of the Band Club and I danced on the stage. When I was at the Co-op I danced at the Co-op party. So, you see, I’ve always had confidence. Evelyn and me and a couple of others we used to go and sing in the Mission Room choir when old Mr Mason used to be there. Ballroom dancing came easy so my friend, Evelyn, and me we taught Jack, my husband, between us. I’ve danced in some ballrooms. Jack and me used to go to the Leicester Grand with Colin Reed and his girlfriend. Wherever we’ve been on holiday, we always used to go to dances.
When I was a schoolgirl the only outing I used to get was the annual holiday with mum and dad. We went to Yarmouth for several years and then we went to Ramsgate. We always took Evelyn, my friend, because her dad was an invalid and mum used to tell her to save a bit of money to spend. Our mum and dad took her all through the years. Even now, last week, she was on the phone and she said, “What about Dreamland at Margate.” My parents said that it was company for me if they took Evelyn. We used to go on the school outing, either to Skegness or the Zoo. Then there were the church outings. They were the best, the first Saturday in July was the Parish Outing and we went to a different cathedral every year. We have been as far as Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, and to Canterbury, York, Bath and Wells. We’ve been to them all. Ralph Aveling used to collect the money, and he and Phyllis used to be the organisers and those near the church got on the bus there then they would pick us up en route. We would go to the cathedral, and one of the cathedral officers would meet us and we had a conducted tour. If you wanted to go to the shops instead you could do so. We all did our own thing. We’d have a little tea out. There aren’t many cathedrals that we haven’t visited. We went for years. All we had to pay was the bus fare and the bus used to come from Thrapston and coming back we used to have a sing-song. The outing was the highlight of the year. Then there were garden fetes. I always used to go and help when there was anything happening in the church. There was a party for the kids near to Christmas and there was the Harvest Supper. There was always something going on in the church. I was always there if I was needed.
At 14 I was to leave and go into the big world. I went to Kaycee Clothing, which was the Kettering Co-op Clothing in Pioneer Avenue. I went in there to train to be a tailoress but, of course, the first year you had to do all the running about, do all the errands and waiting on the other people but then you finally got to be taught by Miss Violet Haddon, she was the tutor/trainer. She would have us on the machines, she would sit at the top and she would have us around her. She taught us how to use the machines. We just did the making up. They used to come in bundles of 12 or 20 or whatever and we used to have to part them up between us. We’d have so many knickers or trousers or whatever each. It was all men’s. We went right through from little boys’ knickers to first trousers, trousers, men’s blazers all to fit out a man. We saw them through from the coming in the bundles to going out all ready to go into Kettering to be finalised for the shops. Other pupils left school to go there. There was Edna Dix she came there and Sylvia Bailey they were from my class. Then while I was there others from the classes below would come in. It was one of the main places in Burton to get employment but you had to get your name down. You just couldn’t go and say, “I’m here, I want a job”. I had my name down seven months and then I had to ask just before I left school. Mr Mason, the manager, said “Come and see me before you leave school”. I didn’t know I’d got a job until then. You had to have your name down. You just couldn’t walk in to it. Then I knew and I started after the August holidays, which was the main holiday then. My first pay packet was eight shillings and five pence that I took home to my mum and I literally handed it over to mum. She looked in it, she laughed and she said, “Well, this is your first pay day so you can have that.” So I did and she gave me the eight and five pence back. What you could buy! My goodness, you could buy chocolate toffees for 2d a quarter in those days. You could go to the pictures for 2d on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but you had to pay 5d on Saturday. That eight and five pence - I thought I was so well off. My mother always encouraged me to save and I joined the Co-op Bank and I used to go and put 6d a week in. I used to go up to the office on a Monday with my bankbook and put my 6d in. It was a start.
Mum had a sewing machine because mum used to make my clothes, as a little girl like, she always used to make my clothes so I had got a machine if I wanted to use it at home. I didn’t do much dressmaking myself but then I had got it when I got a daughter and I made all her clothes. I did quite a lot of knitting, I liked to knit, and my mum was really accomplished at crochet. I could just do the ordinary in and out and the next one but mum could make intricate things. She made all the beautiful, lovely things. She crocheted shawls and things like that but I didn’t get into that.
Wartime and Marriage
I stayed in my first job until the war came and then we had these papers come to say that we were, more or less, to go on work of national importance, which meant the forces or land army, or whatever. As I was just courting my young man then he said, “Oh, I don’t know as I am very happy about you going into the forces” so I thought, “Well, here goes”. So they sent me to the Ministry of Supply which was at the back of the Headlands Garage in Kettering and there we had to dismantle and label, clean and get ready for return all parts of vehicles not the huge ones but they were the officers’ cars and the small observation cars. They would perhaps come in smashed and they were brought to us and we would have to take the engine down, strip the engine, take the engine out with the block and tackle. You’d got that job, you hadn’t got to be a fool. Lots of the parts were all good, especially the engine. If an engine was working and it had nothing really radically wrong with it, that was tested and that went back as the engine. Then you had the gear box, the axle, the wheels, the doors, the windows, you had to strip that car right down and clean it and then you had to label it and you had to put the car number, the make, all about the make because when they got this part somewhere where the army needed it then the parts went back into the army. We had to strip them right down and then even if there was a little bent nut, that had to go as spare because everything was very precious. I was there throughout the war until my husband came back from his duties in the Middle East - that was 1946.
He had his calling up papers 1939 for the 2 January where he had to report to Luton. Then he went into France towards the Maginot line all that way. But he was injured. He was a despatch rider and he had an injury with a French lorry that came out of a side street and ran into him as he was leading the convoy down. He went over the top, broke his leg and so he had to come back. He was taken to Hill End hospital in St Albans. When he was fit he had to join his unit. As soon as he got back to his unit he was down for overseas duties again so they gave him five days leave and he came home and we decided to get married. We were both 20 I was 20, Jack was 21 all but three days. We had to get our mothers’ and fathers’ permission to get married. I took my two friends into Kettering. I don’t know where we got the money from, but we bought a wedding outfit. I had a white wedding. Jack went on the bus to Peterborough to get the Special Licence from the Bishop’s office and we were married two days later on a Wednesday at Burton Church, 4 September 1940. Two days afterwards he had to go back to his unit on his 21st birthday and we were never to meet again for five years. When he got back to his unit they were all ready and off they went. He ended up in the Middle East, in Iraq, Iran, Cairo and we were never to meet for five years. I wrote a little letter to him every day because I thought, “They all won’t get there with the bombing and whatever,” but that’s what kept us going. And then he came home. Then afterwards, Carole was born. He was the local newsagent’s son at the shop in the High Street. I worked at Kettering all through the war, until Jack came back to England, When he came back I said, “That’s it”. Then he only had about 14 days leave and he had to rejoin the unit. He wasn’t finished you see. He didn’t get out of the army until late in 1946 so you see what I did, I kept at work until he came back to live with me in Burton Latimer. I always lived at home with my mother but then when he came home his parents expected him to go into the business. I went to live at 42 High Street where I remained for many, many, happy years. Carole was born before Jack could get out the forces. When Carole was born at 54 Whitney Road (my mother’s house) Jack was still in the army and he used to come through from Stony Stratford to Barnard Castle with his tank transporter, which he drove. He used to park up and on that day he came home for the night when Carole was born. He was here with me so he said, "Well now send a telegram and tell them that a baby has been born", and he wasn’t supposed to know. Then he got leave. Carole was a small child when I went to live at 42 High Street but she was a really good baby because I had to be up at 5.30 am every day to do the papers. I went to live with my in-laws and then when Jack got into the business and settled in and they could see that we were into it, they moved and left us in 42 High Street; a lovely big house, beautiful house at the back of the shop. That is where we lived until Jack died.
I remember about the war, I was still at the Co-op Clothing when the first lot of evacuees came and somebody must have been looking out and they said, “Oh, come and look at these poor children”. Up Station Road they came from the railway station with their gas masks on and label saying who they were. They were distributing them down Station Road to the houses but not everybody took them. They went to doors and they were turned away. Perhaps they were working, perhaps they had children of their own but you could see them all going into different houses. I can always remember being at the Co-op when the siren went. We were always told that you must get out of the factory, didn’t matter where you went, you had to get out of the factory. There was a girl from Irthlingborough, Connie Wilson, she sat next to me and, of course, she didn’t live in Burton Latimer so I said, “Come on Connie”. We used to run down Smith’s Shop until the all-clear went. Everybody went some went in the fields, some went wherever but you had to get out of that building. Those that had got shelters went in shelters and when we were home our mum and me used to have a pantry and next to it a little coal store under the stairs, and we used to go in there and shut the door. We could hear the planes coming over because Coventry was on this route. We could go to the pictures in the war. If you went into Kettering the last bus came at 9 pm so you had to be on that bus or you had to walk. There were dances at Preston Hall and at the Conservative Club but people didn’t seem to go out. Blackouts all had to be up before you put the light on. The air raid warden used to come round and if he saw a chink of light he’d come and bang on your front door. We’d say, “Well you can’t see that”. “They can see that in Berlin”, he used to say.
The Newsagent's Shop
Then we settled down to Civvy Street in Burton Latimer. I served all the while in the shop. Mind you, my father-in-law, he helped because although he moved out of the house he always helped out. We worked seven days a week, up at 5.30 am every morning, including Sunday, but it never stopped me going to church. Sunday morning after five, we used to get up. We’d get the papers all ready for the boys and Jack would say, “Go on then, off you go”, and I’d be running up Church Street when the calling bell was tolling. We used to have a calling bell at two minutes to eight. The calling bell was just the one, solid bell. I used to be running up Church Street when the calling bell was going and Roma Cox she would be running up as well. I always went to church but I couldn’t go to the 10 o’clock service because I was too busy in the shop. By the time I got back the boys were well away on their rounds. We had good boys; we had very, very good boys who you could rely on, - and girls.
The mothers needed the money. The boys didn’t get the money; the mothers needed the money to clothe them. The boys used to say, “If he don’t come, I’ll do his as well”. We sold sweets and everything, cards of all sorts, fountain pens, tobacco, notepaper and envelopes. I soon picked up the shop work. I loved it. I liked meeting the people because right from the beginning of my life, until now, the community has always been first, from the newsagents to the Council, to the Hospital and even now I’m wanted because John (Meads) will come and say, “ Can you put names to these photographs” so the community has always really been my life. Of course the church too. I carried on at the shop but Jack died September 18, 1973 but I just couldn’t leave like that because there was Jean and Ray (Smith). We’d bought two other shops, the one down the High Street and a little one in Isham. Ray and Jean were still in the bottom shop, as we called it, the old Post Office opposite the Chemists. I was left on my own with Carole and she was of the age to work. The business had got to be wound up. Our shop was the main shop. I did all the book work, all the paying of the bills, although I didn’t sign the cheques. The partners signed the cheques. I became a partner in Jack’s place when he died but you didn’t have any power until a new organisation was put in place in the business. I carried on, and carried on and, of course, I knew I should be the Aunt Sally and so one day, just after we’d had a busy Christmas, I said, “Come here Carole and sit down. I’m going to leave. “ Carole was married and she had her two little boys then. I said, “ When you take Jason to school go around and see if you can see any property suitable. She saw this bungalow and it was empty, a man had moved away. He was the manager of one of the grocery stores in Kettering and he’d been moved down south. So I came and looked at it and we moved in here 1 April 1974 (All Fools Day) the next year. So that’s how I came here. I was married for 33 years, we had 33 years together and I’ve been a widow longer than I’ve been a bride. But that’s life isn’t it. Things you can’t change. The years we were together we were very, very happy. We worked together. If I was in the shop doing something Jack could see that I was busy. I always bought the sweets and that sort of business and Jack always saw the traveller for the tobacco and that sort. So if a traveller came and I was busy with a traveller he’d go in the house and the house would be tidied. We worked together. Always worked together and we were never ever apart. It was a very big blow when he died but the surgeon told me, and I didn’t tell anybody, I never even told Carol. I knew when he went into hospital. He’d never been ill but he died and that was it.
I used to help with Meals on Wheels. I was the first one to go out on Meals on Wheels and I went with Mrs Kingsley. I did that when I was at the shop. Jack used to let me off and I took our car and Jack paid for the petrol.
I didn’t help at Darby and Joan because that was in the daytime and I didn’t go to the Mother’s Union at church. I was on the Social Committee at church and I was on the Parochial Church Council. Richard Loake and I were the first members of the diocesan synod. I was a school governor of the Church School.
Serving on the Town Council
While I was still at the shop, Jack died, and Douglas Ashby and Reg Matravers came one day around the back into the house. They had come to speak to me. I knew them from church. They said, “June, we want you to put up for the Council.” I said, “Oh, I don’t know”. So they said, “Who better, you’re Burton Latimer, you know everybody, you know your customers, you go into every house in Burton Latimer with a paper of some sort. Who knows Burton Latimer more than you. Think about it.” So, of course, I did; a by-election was coming up, it wasn’t the full Council. This was 28 March 1974. I said, “Can I think about it?” Then I said that I would stand. Dr Padget he was marvellous to me with Jack and he used to pop in the shop and I said that I’d like a word with him. I said that I’d been asked to put up for Burton Latimer Town Council. “Absolutely wonderful, why not, you’ve got a really good brain, use it!” So, I decided I would and I topped the poll and your mum and dad were delighted. Christopher Groome was second. I think that there were five of us. I put up as Independent because I said when I started that I would put up as Independent and the very first day that the Council went political, I was backing off. You have to look after everybody. In the shop, people used to come in and say about different things and the next person would come in and be opposite and Jack used to say, “To serve in here June, we’ve got to be Church, Chapel and Salvation Army.” I did just under 20 years on the Council and I was Chairperson twice first in 1977, and I’d only been on the Council for 4 years and I was put forward to be in the Chair. Then again in 1985.
So I was a councillor and then I came here into a modern bungalow, the two grandsons at school, Carole was at work and I was up early, finished my work and by the middle of the morning I was frustrated. I hadn’t got enough to do after all the getting up early. People used to come here to be counselled on Council business and I used to have young mothers come here looking for a house and I had to sort problems out. I thought that I would have to do something so Rosemary, the hairdresser, was at St Mary’s Hospital, and she was our neighbour. Carole always used to take her young boy and girl to school with our two. She came round to see me and I told her that I wasn’t getting on very well. I said that I couldn’t find enough to do after the washing and the ironing and the gardening. I said that I was too organised. So she said, “Why don’t you come to St Mary’s?” So I said, “What is it?” and she said, “You’ll do it; you’ve just nursed your husband for six months, you’d do it. Ring up for an application. I’ll bring you one.” She brought the application and within the week I had to go on the Monday morning to an interview with Miss Haig, the top matron. I went in and, of course, I was 53 by then and so she said, “Well, Mrs Smith, my first impression of you is that you are a go-ahead person. You’re not a misery. That’s my first impression of you. Why is it that you want to come and work for us?” So, I told her that I’d been busy all my life and I couldn’t accept retirement. She said “Well, will you leave it with me.” She asked me about my family, would they get on at home without me and I said, “Yes, the children are at school within running distance of home. My daughter is here. But it would be nights because of my family.” There were other things that I had got to do and I was still on the Council. I said that I would prefer nights and I told her that my daughter was in Scotland Yard and I said that I had a good aunt, Aunt Mary, my mum’s sister; she was wonderful, she was always stepping in. Anything for the Council, Aunt Mary would always take over. The tea was ready and the boys never ever came to an empty house. We left it at that. This was for nursing the elderly but we had plenty of acute cases as well, they were not all old people who never went home. There were only two long-stay wards as they called them but the others were recuperating and then went home. The interview was on the Monday and on the following Monday I was called in to see Miss Haig, the big white chief so I went in wondering what she wanted. She said, “We meet again Mrs Smith, the thing is, when can you start, Wednesday or Saturday.’ I looked at her and she said, “This Wednesday and Saturday”, so I said, “It’s entirely up to you.’” So she said, “There’s three of you and one comes from Corby, one from Kettering and you from Burton Latimer. You will work 12 hours so you work 24 hours a week.” So that was two nights and I thought that I could manage two nights especially if I could have them at the weekend because Carole was here. They wouldn’t even miss me then. I’d come home Saturday night, get to bed. Carole would cook the dinner and she’d call me up 2 o’clock, “Come on mum, dinner.” Everything was done so I’d got it made. I thought well, it can’t be true. So that’s how I started. I did two nights and I used to do Friday and Saturday if I could but she liked to be fair and I could either do Friday and Saturday or Thursday and Saturday. Doing Saturday, after 12 o’clock until 7 o’clock in the morning, it was double pay. Who were looking after me my guardian angels weren’t they? St Peter and Paul. Eleven years I stayed there. I went at 53 and I retired on my 65th birthday, which was a Saturday night. That was the very day I retired. Some of the girls who were on duty that night gave me a buffet meal at 11 o’clock and they came in two shifts, some of the nurses who I’d worked with. That was 1985. And while I was there they got me to sing in the General Hospital Choir. We used to go out singing outside Woolworths at Christmas. I used to have to go up to the General Hospital to go around the wards with the lamp singing Christmas carols. At St Luke’s tide, the patron saint of doctors, we had to go and sing in the Parish Church at Kettering. So, our June’s led a busy life!
When I retired from St Mary’s I went and helped Ann Abbot across the road. She was my top sister on one of my wards and she retired before me and she took over a lovely, big, private residential home in Neale Avenue in Kettering. She came to see me one day and she said, “I’ve come to ask you a favour”. I said, “What’s that?” She said, “Norman and me, we want to go out to the Carribbean to see England play cricket.” She said that it was for three weeks so she wanted me to go for the three weeks over to the home and help. So I said, “Well, I don’t know. Do you think I can do it Ann?” She said, “I trained you, didn’t I, of course you can do it.” I said, “Well tell me what I have to do.” She said, “I’ll work it that you come to work Saturday. You won’t come home. You’ll have my bedroom and the day staff will come and you’ll have your meals there and you’ll go home Sunday.” So I did the two days. She said that it would be entirely what I did at St Mary’s but these would be people who get up out of bed. All you have to do is change the beds and see that they are washed. There were two men who had to be bathed. She said that I knew two of the nurses who were working there and I wouldn’t have to do anything to the meals. There was a cook to do the meals. It was just a general nursing. Whilst I was there I would have time off for my meals. So I did it and, do you know I went there for three weeks and two days with the same pay as the others. I didn’t know what I would get, she didn’t tell me. I told her not to worry about the pay, I’ll have it when you come back. When she came back, I really didn’t want to leave but I knew I couldn’t stay because she was back but I did really love it. I met two people from Burton who came in there, and three people who I’d nursed at St Mary’s were in there. So it was like home from home. Anyway she gave me my wages and I didn’t undo them. I got home and I nearly died. Carole said,” Mum, don’t get that in your purse, that’s not housekeeping money. Do something with it.” So I went and booked myself a fifteen-day holiday and toured Italy on my own and funnily enough on this holiday I met another nurse from Plymouth hospital and we made friends and we are still friends. We flew out to Venice, went to Rome, Florence, over to the Isle of Capri, Amalfi Drive. So you see someone is looking after me, aren’t they? You can’t get away from the fact of St Peter and St Paul.
I opened my gardens twice when we first came here and we had this new piece of garden. The first time that I opened it was for Peterborough Cathedral and I made £250. A lot of friends came to help, making cakes. Jim Aveling took the money in the garage. The second time that I opened it, I had it for McMillan Nurses and I made £250 for that.
Opening the Flower Festival 2009
I was asked to open the Flower Festival at church this year. Brian Mutlow came to see me and said, “We’ve been thinking and you are the oldest person in the church who was born in Burton Latimer, christened, confirmed, married and you still go to church. We’ve sorted it all out and you are the eldest.” So he said that if we ask you to open the Flower Festival you’d have something to say about the church after all these years. So I agreed. Carole said that she would come with me. I went down the front and Brian introduced me and Carole said, “Do you know what you’re going to say mum?” So, I said, “No.” Then she said, “Well, mum, you’ve never been short of words have you?” I said, “No, I’ve been too busy in the community, to be a little shrinking violet.” I thought that once I started off I would be alright. The Rector was sitting right in my view so I started by thanking them for asking me and then I said that in the first instance my first association with the church was in 1920 when my mother and father brought me into this church as a baby at eight weeks old. They brought me in to be christened and the Rev Lethbridge christened me and from then I had lived with nine rectors all different I might add - and I could tell you all the names; each one had their own identity. I had seen changes the nave altar, the chapter house, the Janet Harpur Room. Now, after 89 years, I’m still here - and they screamed. They clapped me. They were laughing their heads off. I said about the church about one or two changes and the different people who have come and gone. I put my little quip in, so that when it came to the end I said, “Going back to my birth on the 29 June, all you good church people should know that it was St Peter and St Paul’s day.“ The Rector said, “I do!” So I said, “All my long life I have always had two saints looking after me and I think that they have done a good job.’ I said, “On that happy note it gives me great pleasure to open the Flower Festival.” They didn’t want anybody in a posh frock and a big hat, did they - they’d got me.
Finally . . .
I’ve never sat still. But now, I’m afraid that age is on top of me. I can’t do a lot now. I've had my hip done and I’ve had a complete new shoulder but I go to church every Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock.
People don’t want a miserable person. People say that I’m always the same.
Now I think to myself, in a few weeks I’ll be 90.