Thursday, 14 November 2013

Queenie Isabel May Maple

Queenie Isabel May Maple was born, in May 1919, in Hackney London to Robert William Maple - a barman/waiter and Daisy Isabel (nee Mayes) who painted toys at Britains Ltd; the market leader and inventor of die cast lead soldiers. Money was tight and Queenie remembers her Gran (maiden name Fanny Adams) carrying over soup from her tenement room to feed her daughters family on a regular basis.

Fanny’s husband, Edward Mayes, had not returned from the Boer War. Lying about his age, he had joined the army at barely 15 and served in Scotland, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Malta and finally Egypt. In 1882 he was awarded the Egypt Medal and a Tel-El-Kebir clasp together with a Khedive's bronze star. On discharge he struggled to feed his large family as a labourer and rejoined the army.

Though the second Boer War ended in May 1902, he never returned. He is not shown in the casualty lists now published. The family believe that he took up with a native South African but there is currently no evidence of that. According to information given to Barnardo's in 1908, when his disabled son was to be looked after by them, he had died of endemic fever in Rhodesia in 1903 (but the person who advised Barnardos admitted that this information may well be incorrect - as people who knew him well had reported seeing him recently!)

During her school days Queenie learned to play the piano, getting all her certificates - unsurprisingly (given her tenacity) all the way to up to gold medal standard - before lack of money caused her parents to decide that they could not afford the last exam, let alone the piano! I cannot be sure but it seems little coincident that her parents afforded to send her younger brother to the famous Blue Coat School. Queenie doted on Laurie and her younger sister Marie and would not have begrudged the choice.

She had been going out with a pilot, Bert Way, who would be shot down in his Spitfire defending the ‘Desert Rats’ a couple of years after the war started but on the first of September 1939, hours before war was declared, she met her future husband Ethelbert Blomfield Dunn. You can see the story of their meeting and wedding in his story

Queenie had continued to work (as a buyer at John Lewis in the West End of London); staying there every night during the week in the bomb shelter which existed under there and DH Evans. Regent Street was so popular with people seeking a deep shelter that the police had to control the crowds. People queued for hours and the first seven hundred people gained access. Londoners got used to heading for the shelters every night.

Two weeks before her wedding, She had lost her job – or, more exactly, her office which the Luftwaffe blew to smithereens. Selfridges, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Peter Robinson were all badly damaged. John Lewis, though, was ablaze from end to end. Another time, walking down the road to the shops close to her parent’s home, a solitary German plane came into sight and fired at the passers by. She dived into a doorway and was grateful for a brandy from her concerned Mum when she got back.

Blom was minesweeping round the British coast and suggested that Queenie leave London behind and move to near where his ship was based ‘to avoid the bombing’. With no job to go to, she became the dutiful wife and followed Blom’s minesweeper around the country. Part of the war she spent on the isle of Arran with no electricity or mains drainage. Then in Greenock she was bombed out.

When bombed out of 19 Dunn Street Greenock (no relation), she and another Navy wife (a pregnant Mrs Dickinson) hitched a lift on the top of a dust cart to Glasgow; having heard from their spouses that their ship would dock soon. They had no place to go back to and needed to get more clothes – as both were in night attire, having lost all their money and possessions). No doubt the sight of two ladies in pyjamas sitting on top of a dustcart travelling to Glasgow was not that unusual in those troubled times.

From Greenock, despite her Mums advice to ‘come home’, Queenie moved on round the country to Blackpool (where she danced with the ships captain) and other places before getting to Plymouth, where she was bombed out again. Queenie finally returned home to London. Like most women, she had been called up and spent the war in the factory at Smiths Industries, Cricklewood London, doing paperwork. Not only was the Post Office Research Telecommunications factory just up the road, housing not only much of the Post Office’s technical advances (and best staff) but the basement housed one of Churchill’s bunkers and the German bombers returned again and again - mainly with incendiaries. Queenie had not left the bombing behind.

Visiting her sister in law she was bombed out again. The house had just been repaired and redecorated after being bombed earlier. Walking down the road to Hilda’s in Croydon on an earlier occasion, Queenie had been forced to dive for the pavement. This time she was blown halfway across the room and got concussion. She remembered a ‘wobbly’ kitchen shelf. The kitchen was decimated but the shelf still stood proudly on the one remaining wall. Her sister in law lost all her possessions.

Queenie told me of one other such bombing raid and clearly recalled the white light she saw “beckoning her from her bed” one night when she decided not to go to the shelter. She followed it and sat under the stairs. The house was hit and her bed piled high with debris. She saw a similar light the evening the door bell rang to announce the death of her brother. So did her sister, with her, who fainted.

Just after the War the couple had decided to go to Eastbourne but never made it. Her younger brother had survived service in the last months of the war (as an aircraftsman) and became a pilot only to be knocked down and killed on his motor cycle after peace was declared. His brother had also been killed in a motor bike accident years earlier and this new tragedy affected them greatly.

They stayed in London and Blom took a second job to make ends meet. Once their son went to senior school, in the sixties, she announced that she was going to get a job. She hadn’t worked for more than twenty years and her husband explained to her, forcefully, how she was virtually unemployable. Needless to say she got a job in Post Office administration on her first interview and very soon gained a promotion. Years later she treated herself to a brand new mini and learned to drive at fifty plus.

At fifty eight Queenie moved a hundred miles to Suffolk when her job relocated (Blom, now 68, had retired) and one memorable Monday saw her, in her personnel job for Post Office Research, signing in four new Doctors, an ambulance and defibrillator at 9:00. At 10:00 she didn’t feel well and her full blown heart attack saw her as the first user of both bits of equipment. In the seventies and eighties she had other heart attacks, one of them major. During that time she pushed Blom to move another three times; each time to different counties – the last just down the road from her son’s family near Cambridge.

At seventy plus she achieved her dream. She saved up enough money to buy a small bungalow. Needless to say, it involved her moving away yet again – to Wisbech Cambridgeshire, where the couple lived until Blom died. Her wanderlust had never fully been cured.

In her mid seventies, a crash in another new mini had seen both Queenie and Blom in hospital for weeks again. She was told that she would have smashed her hip had it not, already, been a replaced artificial one. This ‘banged up’ hip is still in place after another 20 years of walking but this crash did not stop her driving. She simply bought another mini to replace the ‘write off’.

Moving into sheltered housing at eighty five also became an adventure; again moving miles – this time close to her son again. Even years later at 94 in 2013, and after a number of falls, she is still a fighter.

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