England 1951

Ina and Godfrey Part Two

The bright future that Ina and Godfrey imagined awaiting them in Buenos Aires in 1947 did not materialise. Ken, being a self-invented snob – he described his gardener father on his marriage certificate as a ‘horticulturalist’ – felt his son had married beneath himself and snubbed Ina at every opportunity. Nonna tried to drown her unhappiness with alcohol. Juan Perón had been elected President of Argentina in 1946 and the economy had tanked. Inflation was running at 50% and 3 million working days were lost to strikes in 1947 out of a working population of 5 million. In March 1948 Perón nationalised the railways to popular acclaim. Yankee (and British) imperialism was blamed for Argentina’s economic woes. Along with students and intellectuals.

Election Poster 1948

Graffiti such as:
Haga patria, mate un estudiante!” “Save the fatherland, kill a student!” and “Alpargatas si, libros no!” “Shoes yes, books no!” appeared on walls around the city. Alpargatas were the rope-soled espadrilles worn by the working classes. The manufacturers, also called Alpargatas, was the biggest textile company in Argentina and Godfrey had been hired by them on his return from Europe. He called himself an industrial engineer, whatever that was. I remember sharp pencils and stop-watches not oily rags and wrenches.

My brother was born in July 1950 around the time the peso was devalued and Ina and Godfrey decided to leave Argentina and emigrate to Canada. But first they had to return to war-torn Britain. We arrived at Tilbury Docks on 14 June 1951, penniless and homeless. The ship we had sailed on, the SS Highland Brigade, was a sister ship to the SS Highland Piper on which Ken had emigrated to Argentina 30 years earlier.

Ina and her two sons were dispatched to Tralee where I met my grandparents for the first time. I remember standing on the green outside the row of terraced houses on Casement Avenue in Tralee bawling my eyes out because all the houses looked the same and didn’t know where I lived. Godfrey remained in England to look for employment. His previous experience with the shoe-manufacturers, Alpargatas, led him to the Bata Shoe Company in East Tilbury. The Czech, Tomas Bata, founded the company before the war and had designed a company town, Bata-ville, which had all the services of a normal town, including a theatre, sports facilities, hotel, restaurant, grocery and butcher shops, post office, and even its own newspaper. Most importantly, it had worker housing and schools.

Bata Shoe Factory

We moved into our semi-detached, reinforced concrete, block house on King George V Avenue in East Tilbury – or our Czech modernist Utopia on the Thames marshes if you prefer – in late 1951 and Godfrey began working for Bata Shoes. He hated his boss, John Tusa, with a vengeance and it wasn’t long after Finola was born in July 1953 that he began looking for another job.

Godfrey with Finola July 1953

He found it with Remploy, a company set up to employ the many disabled ex-servicemen after the war. The furniture factory was in Newton Aycliffe near Durham. This was the flagship town of the new welfare state set up by Beveridge after the war. It was built on the site of a huge munitions factory. The first house was built in 1948 and my first school, Sugar Hill Primary was opened in 1953, the year before we moved north. Our first home was on Baliol Green then we moved to a brand new house, 8 Sharp Road near the Post Office.

The local Post Office

I remember pushing Finola in her pram to this shop. I came home from school complaining that I couldn’t understand the other boys; their Geordie accent was too strong.
ah divvin knaw = I don’t know
cohen flecks = corn flakes
peanut butter = pint of bitter

But Godfrey was still not happy.

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