Childhood memories of Gordon Frank Canning (1918-2012)

Some of my grandfather's early memories here, in his own words.


As a young child.
As a young child.


I was born on 3rd April 1918 an only child. 1

Life was lonely at times and we had no holidays. My father 2 was strict and possessive. Apart from a regular job [coalman] he was in charge of a stable of nine horses. This meant being available seven days a week and not being able to go anywhere. We paid a visit to his father 3 once a year at Offenham (2 miles away) on Boxing Day (circumstances permitting).

My routine on Sundays would be to accompany my father to the stables for mucking out, return home about 11 o’clock for breakfast, back to the stables at about 12:30 for giving the horses midday bait. From the stables to the Royal Oak pub where I stayed outside until about 1:30 then from there to the King’s Head where I stayed outside until closing time at 2pm then home to dinner.

How boring , mum went and had a nap upstairs and dad went to sleep in his armchair. I wasn’t allowed out on Sundays so I amused myself as best I could.

Sunday evenings weren’t too bad. Mum, Dad and I went out together usually for a walk and visiting various pubs en route but finishing at the King’s Head where in the evenings they had a children’s room where I had company. The same happened on Saturday nights.


I started school at four years of age at Evesham Council Infants School in Swan Lane 4 which as far as I can remember was quite pleasant. Headmistress was Miss Nightingale.

At seven years of age I went to the senior boys girls upstairs boys downstairs. On arrival we found that the former headmaster who had a reputation as a violent man had just retired. We were pleased about that but disappointed that the man who took his place was equally violent.

My first class teacher was Miss Hill, the only female teacher in the school. The male teachers all ruled by fear with a stick and a clout across the ears which usually produced the results they were aiming for. In those days I can’t recall any bullying in the playground unlike today! I was pretty average in my schoolwork but I did join a higher class for maths.

I think the most pleasant and rewarding time at school was going to woodwork on Wednesday mornings from age 11 until I left school at 14.

First job

I left school in 1932 in the middle of a slump and mass unemployment, therefore, apprenticeship were difficult to find. Even the tradesmen themselves were on the dole. I managed to get a job, apprenticed to painter and decorator. After the first morning I realised he just wanted a lackey and he said he would only keep me until I was sixteen. He was only going to pay me five shillings a week. I went back in the afternoon and told him what to do with his job.

The next day I applied for a job as an errand boy for the Home & Colonial, grocery stores, 5 at ten shillings a week and got it. It was a hard slog, as labour was plentiful and cheap. The hours were long, about sixty-four hours a week. Weekends were worst – Friday 8:30am till 9pm, Saturday 8am till 10:45pm/11pm.

I remember my first Saturday. I hadn’t finished work at 10:15pm and my father came to see if I was still working. The manager said I would be another half an hour. My father replied that that was ok as long as I was there and he knew were I was.

Teenage Years

My teenage years were quite pleasant, the leisure time not work! We went around in a small group and had plenty of laughs and larked about but never got into any trouble. The highlight would be an occasional day trip to Barry Island or Weston-super-mare.

At work I progressed to “First Hand” at the wage of two pounds two shillings a week – not bad when a market gardener’s labourer was getting one pound fifteen shillings. However I didn’t want to remain in the grocery trade for the rest of my life.

In 1939 preparations were being made for war – conscription was being introduced for twenty year olds and then twenty-one year olds had to register for national service followed by older men up to the age of forty in stages.

War broke out in September 1939 and everything changed. The blackout and rationing were introduced and shops had to close early at about 5pm.

I registered for service in October 1939. In November I had to go to Worcester for a medical examination.

On Thursday 15th February 1940 I had to report for military service at the barracks of the Worcestershire Regiment at Norton, near Worcester. We all thought the war would be short and were looking forward for the holiday with pay! As things turned out this was far from what was going to happen.

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  1. In Evesham, Worcestershire
  2. Ralph Canning (1876-1959)
  3. John Kettle Canning (1842-1928)
  4. The school today: