Moving memoir of Collier Row woman, 104, tells story of family life war tragedy and love

PUBLISHED: 15:00 08 April 2017

Louisa Alice Perris as a young woman. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie Clover

Louisa Alice Perris as a young woman. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie Clover

Doreen Chase/Valerie Clover

A few weeks ago, the hand-written memoir of Louisa Alice Perris, was discovered by staff at Romford Grange Care Home, Collier Row Lane, Collier Row.

Louisa holding her eldest granddaughter. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie CloverLouisa holding her eldest granddaughter. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie Clover

The memoir contained the moving story of family life, war, tragedy and love.

“I was the youngest of six, three brothers and two sisters. My family were quite poor. Dad was a coach painter and worked long hours for a low wage. Mum took in washing mangling,” wrote Louisa.

“Just before my second birthday, the First World War broke out. My sister Nell was on her way to the back garden to let the dog in when she called out ‘the sky is all red’ then the house shook. It was the Silvertown explosion.”

Louisa had just turned six when the war ended.

“It was November 11, 1918,” she continued.

“At 11 o’clock, our classroom door burst open and a teacher came running in and in her excitement dropped a pile of registers all over the floor.

“We all knew something lovely had happened, because everyone was so happy. We were all sent home with a piece of red, white and blue chalk to draw Union Jacks.”

Louisa Alice Perris, 104, with daughters Doreen Chase, 68, left,  and Valerie Clover, 71. Picture: Ann-Marie AbbasahLouisa Alice Perris, 104, with daughters Doreen Chase, 68, left, and Valerie Clover, 71. Picture: Ann-Marie Abbasah

ouisa was born on the Isle of Dogs and just before Easter in 1927, aged 15, gained her first job.

“It was in Fore Street, in the city, just a small workshop making fancy goods, powder puffs etc. I started at eight shillings a week, from 8.30am to 6pm. “By Christmas, I was getting twelve shillings and I was so happy.

But in the new year 1928, the firm went bankrupt.”

Unheard of in today’s time, Louisa recorded an event that now rarely happens.

“Around that time at the end of January, a tidal wave caused the Thames to overflow.

A wall broke down at the end of East Ferry Road and being as we lived in a basement house, we were flooded.

“Poor Micky our cat was clinging to the back of Mum’s basket chair which was floating round our living room.”

Louisa Alice Perris, aged 90, with her cat Daisy. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie CloverLouisa Alice Perris, aged 90, with her cat Daisy. Picture: Doreen Chase/Valerie Clover

As the years rolled by, Louisa fell in love with first husband Jesse and they got married at St Philip’s Church in Battersea and went to live with his mother in the same town.

Life at first seemed good, but rumours began of another war.

“On September 29, 1938 the prime minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich and made a pact with Hitler,” she explains.

“It stopped a war but sadly only for a short time.

“We were so grateful for that short time, because at least our baby would be born in peace.

“She arrived five days later on October 2, Patricia Ann.”

All seemed well for the young family in the early months of 1939 but as the Second World War broke out in September, Jesse, who had begun to feel unwell, was admitted to hospital for tests.

A week later a doctor called Louisa to the surgery.

“He then told me that Jesse was suffering from sarcoma, a bone cancer, and had about six months to live,” she said.

“He was 26 years old. He died at home four months later on February 27, 1940.”

Louisa carried on as best as she could as the weeks and months went by.

“One Saturday afternoon in,” she continues.

“The Blitz started. We knew the East End of London was being bombed and that night was the first of many bad nights we were to live through during the next five years.”

Louisa’s siblings were scattered around London, some lived in Barking, Dagenham and Millwall.

One day the young mum went to visit her parents on the Isle of Dogs and found her dad looking “sad and lost”.

He advised her to get away and she made up her mind to evacuate with her daughter.

But to her disappointment upon arriving at Kings Cross Station:

“Instead of being taken to the train we found we were in a shelter under the station.”

Eventually Louisa and her daughter Patricia, were taken to Leicester but at night being able to hear the distant sounds of bombs dropping, she felt nowhere was safe and a short while late returned to London.

“In the spring of 1941, we had been waiting to have bunk beds fixed in our shelter.

On April 17 we were sleeping on a mattress under the kitchen table when a bomb dropped in our street.

“Five houses were knocked down, our house was the third one standing.

“I don’t remember hearing the bomb come down, but I remember having Pat in my arms and trying to get by the street door which was wedged across the front passage.

“A warden was there and he helped us through the back garden and into the shelter.

When daylight came we looked at each other and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“We were simply covered in soot.”

In 1943, Louisa met her second husband Jim and she went on to have two daughters – Valerie born towards the end of the war and Doreen in 1948.

The family moved to Harold Hill in 1954 and the mum-of-three went to work for the Wyndhams factory making underwear for Marks and Spencer.

And in 1969, tragedy struck again when Jim, who seemed well, suddenly died of a heart attack aged 53.

“We had been married 25 years all but a few weeks.”

Louisa’s moving memoir goes on to chart the birth of her beloved grandchildren.

She has outlived two husbands and all of her siblings. Daughters Doreen Chase, 68, and Valerie Clover, 71, who both live in Collier Row, shared the secret of their mum’s long life.

Valerie said: “Plain food, no drink and no smoking.”

Doreen added: “She always had lots of greens every day for her dinner.”

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