Hazel was born on the 11th of February 1926 in Lewisham, South London. Her parents were John Stanley Kirk and Irene Violet Bradshaw. Her father John was her mum’s second husband, her first, who she married in 1912, sadly died in the battle of the Somme in 1917. Mum had two sisters from that marriage and also at the time of her birth one elder brother and one sister. She also had a lot of uncles and aunts, her mum being one of fourteen children, all living in South London. The one childhood story mum was often fond of sharing was when at around the age three she had a masteroid in her ear that needed surgery.
Mum idolized her dad; her mum said she took after him, in that he was calm and never got angry or shouted. The more I consider mum’s early years, the more I have to agree with her, her dad was amazing, because a few years after mums birth there occurred an event that would have far reaching consequences throughout the world. The Wall Street crash!
On 24th October 1929, was the Wall Street Crash that triggered the great depression of the 1930s and which in turn led to the Second World War. Throughout Europe and Britain this event brought about considerable hardship and unemployment, but mum’s dad was a resourceful guy. In 1930, as well as her half sisters Winnie and Ella, his family now included older sister Dot and brother Stan, younger sisters Eileen and Barbara and her youngest brother Dennis, so in all ten souls to house, clothe and feed. It must have been soon after the birth of Dennis, in 1930, when he uprooted his family, moved across the Thames and into east Essex, where he started many a business venture that would support his family during the challenging years before, during and after the war. For mum, it seemed as if the family was constantly on the move from one house to another.
She talks of living above a sweet shop her dad managed in Shotgate near Wickford, on a corner with wheat fields stretching out before her in which she would play and be chased by an angry farmer. She is then in Thundersley, where she attended primary school and dad had a laundry business, before eventually settling in Westcliff-on-Sea. In the 1937 Kelly’s trade directory John Stanley is listed as a decorator living at 165 Westminster Drive. A few years ago we took mum back to that childhood home.
Despite the upheavals of moving home, family life had its regular routines epitomized by the Sunday outing.
The decorating business must have done well because they soon moved a few streets along to mum’s favourite home, where she lived until she married, 20 Southview Drive, a house which mum was keen to point out was at the top, posh end of the street. Using his trade skills it was beautifully decorated and furnished. These were more prosperous times as the depression ended.
But of course in 1939 all life was to be put into commotion when war broke out. Mum’s younger siblings, Eileen, Barbara and Dennis were first to be evacuated to Matlock in Derbyshire and mum joined them later. I believe they lived with some undertakers which certainly stirred the imagination of these children which may have been the reason why they soon returned home.
Mum, at fourteen, had now left school. She was ambitious and badly wanted to join the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). She applied, was accepted and destined to be a PE instructor, but her dad forbade it. The disappointed really broke her heart. Instead she was sent out to work and it is no surprise that she was soon employed in the local Ebenezer laundry, where she proved to be a very capable and reliable worker.
The Battle of Britain was then at its height. Fortunately they were spared the blitz suffered thirty miles away in the East End of London. Although a few stray bombs did land on farmland nearby and the beaches were prepared in the event of invasion, for her teenage mind it seems the dog fights in the skies over the Thames were observed as if they were sporting entertainment rather than a threat to life.
So the war years for mum did not seem very traumatic and at the age of 18 the tide of war was turning. These were impressionable times for this attractive young woman whose imagination and heart was soon captivated when American soldiers arrived in the town. Inevitably, she fell in love, his name was Saul Lowenthall. With him she had hopes of marriage and moving to America, but sadly these dreams were crushed when he died in the conflict, more than likely in the D Day landings.
But Mum loved to dance. She was an attractive, happy and vivacious young lady and these were the years of the great dance bands like Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.
Emily Violet 'Hazel' Petchey
11 February 1926 – 30 October 2021