Mr Graham Richardson was born c 1966 in Canada. He was interviewed on 7 December 2004, when he lived at 424 Mount Cascade Pl., S.E., Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2Z 2KS.
His grandmother, Rose Richardson, appears on interview tape 79.
For more information about them, see “Richardson, Rose, Fred and Graham” in the People category. This is mostly about Rose’s son Fred, who was evacuated to Canada in 1940, and stayed there. Graham is her grandson, Fred’s son.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Graham is talking about his father, Frederick Richardson, who was sent to Canada from Witham as an evacuee during World War 2 under a scheme by the Children’s Overseas Reception Board, and lived there for the rest of his life, having died about a year before this interview.
Also see the interview with Frederick’s mother Rose, Graham’s grandmother, tape 79.
Also see pages 134 and 135 of A History of Witham by Janet Gyford (downloadable from www.gyford.com/janet/books/history-witham/text/)
Mr R: I can remember even when I was a kid, thinking, ‘How did he manage to do all the stuff that he did?’, you know? Because I knew bits and pieces about, him sort of being on his own from when he was thirteen, kind of thing, and having to sort of pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, I always admired that about him. Very determined. When he wanted to, when something needed to get done, he would make sure that it got done.
Q: He was probably like that all along, then.
Mr R: I think so. I think my grandmother was very much like that as well, (Q: Yes, I guess.) Very determined. My grandfather apparently was very mild-mannered, much more laid back, I guess. But my grandmother … (Q: She set the pace?) Oh yes. Yes. My dad would tease her, ogh, ogh, but she enjoyed it really, there wasn’t … (Q: What about?) Oh, anything. He used to say, the thing that used to really get her going was, he’d say ‘When I was a boy, whenever he was, he’d get in trouble, she’d be after him with a, what she called her stingy stick. And she would, she would deny it, you know, ‘There’s no way’, and he’d say ‘Oh yes, I can remember.’ Or he’d say, ‘You’d cut me with your ring, right behind the ear, right in there.’ And she’d ‘I never did.’ Ah, she used to, he could make her, he could make her jump like that.
Q: Oh, that’s nice that they could [???], cause it could have been quite strange, couldn’t it, after … (Mr: R: After all those years.) [???] In the book I read, some of the ones who did go back found it very difficult to fit in again, (Mr R: Yes.) especially the older ones, (Mr R: Yes.) who had as you say, settled. They obviously managed to keep …. [???] And to actually, not only have an academic life as it were, but become the head, head of a [???] [???], cause it’s not just the teaching then, it’s all the, actually having authority, isn’t it.
Mr R: Well, yes, the interesting thing that I, for me anyway, the interesting thing is, where did he learn to kind of lead, right, because, you learn of that from your parents, and I know he didn’t get it from the family that he was with in Canada. He certainly didn’t get it from his parents after the age of thirteen. But somewhere or other, he kind of picked up this, leadership, whatever acumen or skill, cause, the school that he was, the school that he was principal of were, somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 kids, so big schools with hundred and fifty teachers, or a hundred teachers, something like that, so it’s quite a thing. (Q: For anybody.) Yes. Yes. I don’t know where he got that from.
Q: He wouldn’t have got the job in the first place, he must have been making his mark, mustn’t he.
Mr R: I think so. Very unassuming kind of guy, though, I mean, he never, he would never talk about himself or, very very low key, but not that kind of stuff. If you, I mean if you met him in the street, you’d think he was, could be just anybody, really. He certainly wasn’t, wasn’t impressed with himself, that’s for sure. Oh, he was a great guy.
Q: Well, he must have been very proud of you as well, I should think.
Mr R: Yes, I guess so. It’s not something that we really talked about a lot, but I hope he was. I think everybody wants their parents to be proud of them, but, I hope he was.
Q: So, have you got a, sort of subject area?
Mr R: Sort of. I’m an engineer. [chat re cup of tea, not noted] Yes, I’m an engineer, sciences, maths and all that kind of stuff. It’s a little bit different I think, in Canada, than here. The terms are a little different. I took something called Engineering Physics. Which is kind of, a lot of relativity theory, and those types of things, advanced calculus, and all those things are horrible, horrible things that I’ve never used ever since, but, such is life. Anyway, when I graduated I started working at, well, at the time it was called [???] Telecom, now it’s called [???], it’s a big communications company, and just recently, well, the job that I’m just finishing up in France now, was responsible for a research and development group of 2,000, people, so pretty big, big group. It’s good not to have to do that any more.
Q: Still quite an experience, to live in France for a bit, I suppose.
Mr R: It is. It’s good for the kids. It’s good for us as well, but France, the culture is very different than Canada. Canada’s much more like Britain. So when we come here, we feel much more at home that we do in France. But yes, no, it’s a good thing. The kids have picked up the language again. When we left France the first time in ’98, we had two of the three, and they only spoke French, didn’t speak English at all, which was to the chagrin of my mum [laugh]. (Q: Yes, cause she couldn’t talk to them!) But as soon as we got back to Canada, they picked English up very very quickly. But anyway, now that they’ve come back to France, they’ve picked their French up again, and we’re going to put them into a French school in Calgary, so they’ll be forced to keep it. Which is good.
Q: [???] You’ve got to start.
Mr R: It’s good to start young. My wife is French Canadian, so her first language is French. And she’s learned English and the opposite. (Q: [???]) When we first, when we first went back to Canada in ’98, we had always spoken French. [pause for cough and drink] So when we just went to Canada, they had learned English, and we have always spoken French at home with them. And they thought they were so clever, because they didn’t realise that we spoke English, so the kids would speak English to each other, and thought we wouldn’t understand. They figure that out quickly enough.
Q: Did your dad know French?
Mr R: Dad spoke, he got by in French, and German. So, he was, when he decided to become a teacher, he that way had found his spot. He loved to learn, but he also loved to teach. And if any time he felt like he was able to teach somebody something, then he was just, in element. So he took it upon himself to teach, well, at that time she wasn’t my wife, but my wife, when I first met her, her English was shaky, so he took it upon himself to teach her some of the finer points of English. And so then he wanted to learn French from her, so that worked out well. And then, I think he picked up his German from, a lot of the scientific papers that he was reading, back then, fifties I guess, forties and fifties. So he, he did get by in German, but he wasn’t fluent or anything, but he could get by. (Q: [???]) Yes, another important thing. So, yes.
[chat about other commitments now, not noted]
Mr R: Are there other things that you’d like to know, that I may not know but my mum would?
Q: Well, it’s hard to know where to start really. Yes, I suppose, well the thing I, do you think he would have talked to her any more about his experience as an evacuee?
Mr R: On the boat, and those such things? She would know more about when he got to the family that he was with. I think the, what happened on the boat, I think the best place for that is going to be in this notebook, if, hopefully my mum will find that.
Q: Well, just, any memories … (Mr R: Of Canada?) Canada I think, or, I suppose it could be here too? You’ve done pretty well, you seem to know, manage to, [???] yourself, didn’t you.
Mr R: OK. Well I think on some of the things, I think I probably talked more to him about it than my mum did. But she knew, well, she got to know the family that he was, that he had been living with, so I think she would know more about the bit when he was Canada than I do. But, anyway, I’ll ask her about that. OK.
Q: Or if she remembers about the time when your grandparents went over there and that sort of thing. How it struck them. You’ll have to write something up yourself about it.
Mr R: You know, I was reading, a magazine, Canadian magazine called the Beaver, and it’s sort of Canadian history. And I think there’s only about five people in the country that read it. [laugh] Anyway, somebody had written an article about their father. And I was thinking just a couple of days ago that, I probably should something about it, cause you, kind of take a step back and you think, no individual element may be is that big a deal, but it’s interesting, all the stuff that he …
Q: Cause there’s an Essex family history magazine, and they could well accept something like that as well. They generally have fairly short pieces in there but … Cause I sent them a few notes about, I think when I was looking for those [???] in the Public Record Office, I noticed some other Essex names, and so I sent them off to the magazine in case anybody else there recognised them. But since then I’ve found they’ve got the complete list in the back of that book, so there’s even more. (Mr R: Of everybody?) Everybody that went, yes, because everybody had a piece of paper like that in the file. Somebody must have [???] gone through and extracted all the names and where they lived.
Mr R: Well there’s, in that, Ben Wicks book, there’s a picture in it, and each kid had a string around their neck, with an envelope and a number written on it, and the number was an identification number, and inside was all the personal details. So it’s a very poignant picture. This little six-year old kid.
Q: They’re so small, aren’t they. I suppose there are pros and cons of being that young, really.
Mr R: Well, I think if you’re five or six, you probably don’t know what hit you.
Q: Probably a little bit more … you’d still be young when it was all over, come back and [???] settling in again, if that’s what was expected of you.
Mr R: Yes, if you’re only ten or eleven at the end, coming back’s not such a big deal, I guess.
Q: [???] most of the parents [???] [???].
Mr R: Well, I know Dad had decided that from an education point of view, when he finally decided not to come back, it was for education and whatnot, that he would have a better go of it.
Q: Because especially, that was quite a big decision, especially if he hadn’t been happy at the [???] anyway, wasn’t it. It’d be different if he’d settled in and made a life for himself there already, but obviously it was just a deliberate decision [???], whether he really wanted to stay.
Mr R: Yes, cause I mean, certainly from a, there was nothing really holding him there, other than desire. But I think he’d already made his mind up by then.
Q: So was he still, did he go on living with the family?
Mr R: I think after the Navy, you know I’d have to check with my mum on that, I don’t know where he lived, after the Navy. I know he got out of the Navy in, he told me this story once, that, a couple, recently, a year and half ago, a year ago, that he had somehow gotten to know a doctor, and he had toyed with going to medical school. And this doctor somehow or other had managed to get him an admittance exam into Wayne University in Detroit, and that he was how he had managed to get into University immediately after the War, the September of 1945 he started at the University. And so he had somehow wangled his discharge, so that he got back from Vancouver just in time to start school in September, so I mean, VJ Day was like, August, sometime, and he managed to get himself out in two weeks, two weeks from there and take a train ride across the country that takes, five days, four or five days, and be back in, ready for school immediately in September, so, he obviously was thinking ahead. But, I’ll check and see where he lived.
Q: So, Detroit is presumably just across from …
Mr R: Yes, the Detroit river, so you got, Lake Huron here, Lake Erie here, this is east, and then right in between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, is the Detroit river, and Windsor [where FR lived when first evacuated], is on the south side, and Detroit is on the north side. And so, at that time as well there was very little in the way of border controls and things like that, so he was back and forth, I guess daily.
Q: I see. That would be the nearest big university then, I suppose?
Mr R: Yes. Now he, he did his teaching, certificate, or his teaching whatever, credentials thing, at, University of Western Ontario, which is in London, Ontario, so, Windsor is in the south-east, as far south-east in Ontario as you can get, and London would be an hour by car, I think he took the train, didn’t have enough money for a car. And Toronto is another three hours, say, further to the east, and a little bit further north, than Detroit. So he did that there, and then he did his Masters degree at the University, at Miami University, in Ohio. So he … they had asked him to do his PhD as well, at Miami, and at that time he was 39, 38, I guess, cause when I was born he, he was just going to turn 39, so he, and he said no, because, he had four kids, and he said, enough is enough.
Q: So everybody moved to Ohio, did they?
Mr R: That’s where he, no, he did that during the summers. (Q: Oh, he did that in the summers.) Right, and so he left my mum, and the kids, in, they went to visit her family in Windsor for the summer, and he went down to Ohio and did his studies. Yes.
Q: As I say, very [???]. I wonder why Ohio, was it just that, sort of subject …
Mr R: Subject matter, and I think he also had a scholarship of some shape or form there.
Q: But you say your sisters weren’t so, interested in it, the background?
Mr R: No, not so much.
Q: Often, nobody is, so that was … (Mr R: Yes.) Perhaps they will be now. I’ve found a lot of people in there, perhaps about my age, in their sixties and so on, maybe their parents have died or something and, around Witham, for instance, they [???] old papers and stuff, and they get, just then, start to get interested in the background.
Mr R: It’s a pity it’s after the people die though.
Q: Well, sometimes, not always, but sometimes … [???] [???] . Surprising, I always think, I used to think, oh I must have seen all the photos there are of Witham, but there are always more cropping up, I’m always surprised, well like your ones. Because again, I suppose, you say they [his parents] got his photograph taken before he went, that must have been quite a, not many people had photos taken, but that was presumably cause he was going there.
Mr R: Yes, I think, if I remember correctly, it’s a picture with my grandparents. So there’s my granddad on the right, my dad in the middle, and my grandma on the left. And there’s another picture that I think was taken the same day, in the street, here in Witham somewhere, of them, just as they walked along, I guess there was sort of itinerant photographers who would take pictures and try and sell it to you, with them walking down the street together. I don’t, again I don’t know which pictures Mum’s picked out, but …
Q: Cause, course in 1940, there were very few photos taken at the time, at home, cause they couldn’t get film, but obviously there were certain official photographers or, professional photographers who would keep going [???].
Mr R: Yes, the one with three of them …
Q: Might have been Butcher’s. There was this chap on the corner of Guithavon Street, who took a lot, so I met his daughter, she’s died now, but, he was another very determined chap, I think. So many photos from that period were taken by him, but he was quite a high class. He also took a lot of pictures of animals, cows and things. If you see any portraits of Witham people at that time, it’s often him.
Mr R: Is that right. Well, I’ll have to check, I’m sure his name’s on it somewhere.
Q: And newspaper photos, it was quite a big business. And I think he had some special licence during the War, to carry on taking photos, taking official ones probably. There’s one of evacuees coming or going from Witham station, I think. So that might have helped, made him able to take photos, portraits. I might be wrong, might be someone quite different.
Mr R: I wonder how you’d figure out who the other person from Braintree High School?
Q: Yes, cause there’s a list, they must have taken people, I wonder if I’ve got that list, I’ll [???]. I typed out the list of Essex addresses, well, just what Essex town they were from. So if there were any actually from Braintree, that’s a good chance that they would be there. It’s probably the best bet. Or villages round about. Cause I think folks that live in Chelmsford, would go to Chelmsford schools, and some of them to Colchester and so on. But I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anybody else actually from Witham. [???] [???] Because I’m sure, well, you can see on the tape, I think they where your grandma, that he was dead keen to go. (Mr R: Was he? OK). Well, that’s what she thought, but I mean … (Mr R: When you’re twelve or thirteen.) It’s an adventure, you know.
Mr R: Yes, exactly. But he wanted to go to New Zealand or South Africa. (Q: I see, yes, I didn’t know about that part, that’s interesting, isn’t it.) New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. Sad thing is he never made it to either of the other two. He always wanted to go to New Zealand, and never did.
Q: So the other person, maybe if [???] from Braintree, but I can’t remember off hand, but I’ll see somewhere.
Mr R: OK. Great.
Q: Cause this other lady that phoned me, I’ve got her number somewhere, I’ll look that out. She’d gone, I’m pretty sure she’d gone on the same boat, but she was from Chelmsford.
Mr R: OK. I think it was called the Oronsay. (Q: [???].) If not, I’ll have that at home, or my mum’ll have it. Now I do, I have a piece of a bomb, a sherd of metal shrapnel, which purportedly had been, they tried to bomb Crittall’s, now where was Crittall’s?
Q: Ah, Safeway’s, did you notice the supermarket?
Mr R: The superstore, that’s the one?
Q: In fact, the frontage of it came much, along the actual road front. You’d go to the end of our road, and it would just be there.
Mr R: Oh, so he [FR’s father] would have walked to work then. (Q: Oh yes.) OK. Anyway. So apparently they were trying to bomb Crittall’s, and they had, I guess, missed. And there was this piece of shrapnel that came through the wall, or through the window or through the roof, of my grandparents’ house in Cross Road. It landed on my dad’s bed, after he’d left. So anyway, I’ve got that, little….
Q: Oh yes, again, I’ll have to look those out too, I’ve got accounts of the various bombings, there weren’t that many, but they were making armaments in Crittall’s, and obviously they were a bit of a target. And I think there was one, and so I think they were making shells at Crittall’s, and I think they reckoned on one of the occasions, they found bits of shell all over, in other parts of Witham, so it might have been that. (Mr R: Oh, OK.) Cause there was only one person actually killed in Witham, and that was in Cressing Road, which was just round the corner from Cross Road. (Mr R: Yes.) And that was the morning after a bomb had dropped, one of them hadn’t exploded. (Mr R: And it went off.) [???] And a couple of soldiers as well. And I think that caused a fair bit of damage, it might have been on that occasion. (Mr R: If that was Cressing Road, that could be.) I think that was just sort of, probably if it was actual shrapnel coming down through the roof, anyway, it could be either, couldn’t it.
Mr R: I don’t know if it was through the roof. It may have been through a wall or a window or something. But, purportedly it ended up on his bed.
Q: So how big is that, then? (Mr R: That big, I guess.) Six, eight inches long? (Mr R: Yes, six inches long, and about, probably an inch and a half …) Oh, that’s quite chunky, isn’t it. SO that, that would be, your grandfather would have saved …
Mr R: They gave it to my dad, and he gave it to me. So who gave it to him I’m not sure. But that’s the story that came with it, anyway.
Q: Yes, that must have been, they all seemed very, mostly seemed quite casual about it, but it must have been quite scary at times, because there one or two near misses, I think, at Crittall’s, one, on one occasion, I think it was only because the chaps on the roof were looking out, and saw the plane coming that they got people to the shelters. (Mr R: Is that right?) Because there hadn’t been a warning or anything, normally there was a warning, but they hadn’t caught on to the fact, the people who did the warning, that they were coming, so if it wasn’t for the guys on top of the roof, they’d seen them coming, the whole place would have gone up, I think. Another occasion, it was just as the shift was changing, or something, so there wasn’t too many … (Mr R: People in the building.) There was another one down in the town, but it mostly was round Crittall’s. There’s probably a picture, it was difficult to take a photograph of it, it was so long. I know what I’ve got, I’ve got one where my son’s sort of knitted three pictures together. [pause, fetching photo] [???] [???] That was sort of along the front, opposite Chalks Road would be about here, and you’d go down that road, wasn’t a roundabout until recently. That in fact wasn’t the first part that was built. You can keep that actually, cause [???]. The Social Club up on top, and a loading bay at the bottom, and most of the action was round the back [???]. It was a vast place.
Mr R: I was just, looking in here, and there’s a picture of the Happy Gang. The Happy Gang. And I remember Dad telling me that the, it’s nothing to do with the Happy Gang, but that, one of the pubs was the first time that he, in the pub window, was the first time he’d seen TV, in 1930 something. And he said it was little tiny screen, about that big, and there was just, this crowd of people staring at this television, in, one of the pubs. I don’t know whether it would have been, maybe the White Hart, or, I don’t know, I remember him mentioning that to me.
Q: Cause really, that didn’t take off for a long time, because (Mr R: Till the fifties.) [???] [???].
Mr R: And I’m sure there would have been security reasons why they wouldn’t want things to be broadcast as well.
Q: Was Crittall’s, I think it was about 1990 that it was pulled down, they closed, it got a lot less busy. I suppose that you see, they did the metal windows, they were pioneers of those, but then people started going onto plastic. (Mr R: Yes. PVC.) They did do some, switch over to some of that, but there was a lot more competition in PVC windows, a lot of companies were doing it.
Mr R: I know the, I remember that the pictures on your, son, I guess it’s your son’s web site is it? (Q: Oh yes.) Were taken in 1991. Well, it says Crittall’s 1991 on it.
Q: Oh, that was when it was empty, yes, we went in there and he helped me take some pictures of it. It was quite spooky. I’m still trying to track down some pictures taken inside it, I never took any, I mean when it was working, but I know somebody who had some, but I’m having difficulty tracing them. [looking at air photo?, discussion of where things are, not noted.]
Yes, when we first came  it was always, they must have started early in the morning, cause, I think they must have finished work about half past four, but there were always masses and masses of bicycles going along this way, taking them up Church Street, and down Church Street, and so on, at the end of work. And then there was a little truck, trailer, that used to go past with the post on it, cause there was a Post Office just opposite where your grandma lived [she was at 44 Church Street, PO at 9 Church Street], at one time, I don’t know if it would be there when you came before. Just a little tiny bungalow it is now, it used to be a little Post Office on that side.
Mr R: Beside the Woolpack.
Q: Yes. Just above the Woolpack, there’s a little bungalow now. So they used to trundle along there to the Post Office. There was a Scotsman in there, who was very, I remember we some, we had some boxes to send, and he worked out very carefully that it’s be a lot cheaper it we tied them all up in twos [laugh], so he gave us some string, and we had to, we weren’t sure we really wanted bother, but we didn’t dare say so, I think someone else was paying for them. So we had to stand in this little tiny Post Office, with his string, fixing them all up in twos.
Mr R: Stereotypes are not stereotypes for nothing, you know. [laugh]
Q: No, no. And I think Mr Hasler might have had something to do with that at one time, the Post Office, as well. And before he went to that shop [48 Church Street], he had one on the corner of Chalks Road, the corner shop in Church Street, not where the almshouse is but the other corner.