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Oral History Interview - Dora Davies


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Dora Davies.


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DD. My name is Dora and I was given this name by my mother. I was named after my grandfather which was quite unusual, ‘cos being the first grandchild in the family, and they wanted me to be named after my grandfather: now in the um Jewish, we name after the dead, not the living, and his name was David and I was named Dora which was the nearest thing to it. It was only when I was, many years afterwards at schooling age and I thought about it, and I said to my mother, “Why did you give me my name Dora? Why did you name me Dora?” “Because you are named after your grandfather.” “Right. But.” I said, “I’m a figure of fun” I said, because in the last war Dora was a figure of fun. I says “Now I’m Dora, D. O. R. A. Defence of the Realm Act.” That’s how I became Dora.

Q. Is there anything special about your surname?

DD. No

Q. What was your maiden name?

DD. Actually Davies is my maiden name, I’m not married.

Q. Oh, I’m sorry that was very presumptuous of me.

DD. No, no no I’m quite pleased to answer that, I don’t mind at all, I’m not what one of those people who doesn’t; it was probably my own choice so, I was too busy working to bother about it.

Q. You enjoyed your career, didn’t you?

DD. Very. very much so, I enjoyed my career.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about your first job, your very first job?

DD. well, urn. I was home. My parents, my mother and father, had a sweets confectionery shop, which was in Mile End Road, which although it was in the East End it was a very nice place; a very select place, it was a really nice place and I was with them for quite a long, while, then I decided I wanted to branch out. I liked shops. I liked people and. er, I went into a store.

Q. Was this in the thirties?

DD. Yes, that was just before the thirties, that was the early thirties, that time and, er, I went into the store and I wanted to learn, and I went through quite a lot of departments. The only departments that I didn’t really learn anything about, I did go through most of the departments which was marvellous, but I didn’t like shoes and boots cos those days it wasn’t so nice and, er, I didn’t go through hardware, like pots and pans and things; I did do a little but I didn’t really go into that. The thing I really liked was fashions, ladies and children’s wear and millinery I liked things like that and my favourite which sounds rather silly was Men’s wear.
‘Cos in those days a store in men’s wear was rather nice, cos you got a man and his wife and in those days women did buy a lot of things for their men. They used to come in, I was amazed even when the men came with them, the women were the one who did the buying. So that interested me very much I like that and, um, I was there for quite a long time. I went through religiously and from there I expanded, it was quite unusual thing, I was there ‘till went through all those sorts of jobs and, urn, I became there, I was an assistant buyer in the department, an assistant buyer, and then…

Q. Did you have a formal training scheme, or did you just go round the different departments?

DD. Well it was really, I was trained, but mostly I did go round to different departments but I was always trained through somebody perhaps it was, not the buyer, they had separate buyers for separate departments, in those days. But the sort of the head of that particular department who was under them, next one down to the buyer, sort of took me under their wing and it was through that really that when the buyer retired at one stage she put my name forward to progress, and I was quite surprised you see; but what was interesting, to me, it was interesting.
We came up to ‘38, 1938 when the war was and business was, all sorts of strange things were happening, businesses were closing down and there was a lot of discord in the stores and I, at home, they had Business Journals, Drapers Records and the Men’s wears, I don’t know if they still run those Trade Journals, but those were the two Trade Journals they had, and I looked through them not really looking for a job of work. I didn’t think of it but when it came up to near the war, there was still a lot of discord in the stores and there was one in the Men’s wear there was an advert for staff but they was interested in female staff because of the war coming up and they were interested and I went after this job. I wrote away, I was, and I went to work there in a men’s’ store at Wembley,

Q. that was, which was the big store you did your training with?

DD. ah, that was at Bartons in Wood Green, they’ve retired, they closed down but I had very good training there, but the men’s wear was an education because it was, it wasn’t Men’s wear as a store, it was two big shops and all Men’s wear but in that day it was a modern store, you know, in comparison to an ordinary store, Men’s wear in an ordinary store and it was very, very nice, I liked it very much. [laughter] I thought it was a great thing. I don’t think the men was very pleased with me, but any rate.

Q. Why not? What did you get up to?

DD. I didn’t get up to anything, but I was, but we used to have a monthly magazine used to come round; they had various shops this firm I don’t quite remember how many shops they had, they had quite a number of shops and in the magazine it said ‘The sign of the times we have engaged our first female assistant.’ [laughter] And then I didn’t want to. It wasn’t a case of me wanting to, I had to stop there because the boss of that particular firm have put in an application to say that his, I forget how many he said, seven? He said seven of his men had been called forward for the forces and as I was, I was a female I wasn’t likely to be called up or even get an extension for me. He applied and then he got an extension which I didn’t really want, I didn’t want an extension you know, but it so happened then I had to stop there ‘til after the war.

Q. So you stayed there during the war?

DD. ‘till ’45. I wasn’t allowed to leave.

Q. Oh right, it was like being in the forces?

DD. It was like being in the forces.

Q. They got an extension for you?

DD. Yes. I said, pity I didn’t know beforehand as I would have asked for seven peoples’ wages. [laughter] They thought I was getting a very good wage, ‘cos in 1939, I had £2 and 10 shillings those days, they thought it was wonderful.

Q. Oh yes that was quite good. You were fully trained?

DD. Yes

Q. I remember a school friend leaving school in 1950, it would have been something like ’57 and she went to work in a jewellers shop as a cashier. And she got £3 a week.

DD. Yes, oh yes if the government, I said to him I thought, well after I’d had this interview and ,um, I was amazed because I went up to have an interview. I went before the board and everything, well I thought to myself well, I didn’t want to go away from London if I could help it cos my father had died at that time and widowed mother, but I didn’t apply for an extension. I just said I would work, they said would you go into work, war work, yes, but I would like if possible not to go out of London because, I said I have a widowed mother and I wouldn’t like to. There’s no other family I know, no immediate family.

Q. When you went to, well first of all when you were in Mile End, was there much discrimination against Jewish people? Because you were off the fringes of the Jewish community weren’t you?

DD. There were definite yes, yes there were quite a lot but it wasn’t like Whitechapel that end, where all those you see, I really, I knew of them but I didn’t know those, people think that I’m not putting, there’s nothing to be ashamed of or proud of it, was just a thing. I knew Whitechapel because it was a sort of continuation of Mile End Road, but I didn’t find there was any discrimination there, I never found anything like that at all and um…

Q. What about when you went to work, you haven’t got a Jewish name either have you?

DD. No, no no, I expect somewhere down the line they changed it somewhere I should think so, [laughter] yes.

Q. But it’s not something you’re aware of?

DD. No no, I don’t know I’ve always known it all through my schooldays, it was always that name so I don’t know it as anything different no, that was it but, eh we eh, I never found anything like that and we although we didn’t have intimate friends as non-Jewish, but we did have, we were always a mixture we were always Jews and non-Jewish so we…So I never knew, I never knew of any discrimination of any description.

Q. And what about when you were in the store during the war, and other people had been sent away into the forces, did people make comment then?

DD. No. I never heard any comment like that but there was so many. ‘Cos there were so many changes of staff because the only people that got in the store at that time was those that were discharged from the forces, or who were unabled but never had any, never had anything like that, the only, it was very funny cos in the first instance, when I first went to that job the very first time I went to Wembley at the Men’s wear, there was a young man we used to call, in those days we called him a “Meakers” man who wore black jacket and striped trousers and he had a handkerchief up his sleeve, and he had lovely blond fair hair but, urn, I don’t know....

Q. What does “Meakers” man refer to?

DD. “Meakers” was a men’s wear shop. A nice class, they were very select. Oh, it was a bit posh, a bit snobby. Very select, city style, and all their staff had to wear black jackets…striped trousers, and they had to be really nice.

Q. Did you have to wear uniform to work?

DD. No, I didn’t then, no uniform.

Q. ‘Cos some shops say there’s got to be a white blouse with black…That sort of thing.

DD. Yes, when I first went to the store it that was as long as you kept something dark, black, navy skirt and a white blouse that was alright or a dark garment, they didn’t worry about it an awful lot.

Q. What sort of hours did you work when you was in the big store?

DD. Um, nine ‘till six we nine ‘till six we worked, but of course when we worked all, all my working life, I’ve always worked Saturday, always worked all day Saturday, we worked Saturday. Um, but. er, when it always came to Christmas and things like that then we always worked lates. We always had to work later.

Q. And were you paid overtime?

DD. No. you so called got time off to make up for it. But a lot of people didn’t like it because if you had, if you had time off and you were paid you had to pay income tax but the income lax wasn’t very big, those days, so it wasn’t very much. But most people would have preferred to have that time off.
Didn’t travel very far round you know, but even, even in my lane when I was a child we had, er, two or three doors away there was, um, non-Jewish, but they had, er, what we call now, we used to call it, er, coffee shop, they didn’t have it in the same tense now as we say coffee shop but they were non-Jewish and I was very friendly with them, friendly with the children, you know, friendly with them and…

Q. Did your family observe food regulations?

DD. My mother did, yes, my mother was as, born here in England and had a very nice education she was, my mother was a lady. She was really, she was a lady.

Q. Did she marry beneath herself then?

DD. Well, she did really, he came from more like, I don’t know where my father was, I think from Polish because they come, he must have come, he came to England when the, er, Pogroms were things like that ‘cos I can always remember him being a young man, you know, never an old man, always a young man and, um, I we, always sort of had mixed, we always had friends that were non-Jewish; so we sort of mixed in that, it didn’t seem, I mean all these pictures you see, and all the stories that you see with the lane and all that. I didn’t come into that category’ so I missed that bit so I suppose living in this end, where there was Jewish people and non-Jewish people I went to school where, I went to all Jewish school. They were all Jewish in fact they…

Q. Which school did you go to?

DD. Stepney Jewish, Stepney Green Stepney Jewish school and it used to be there, and um, no we never found anything like that but as I said mother had, mother had a very good education, I forget which school she went to she did tell me she went to one of the, in the East End somewhere schools… and…
But she had a lovely handwriting and she use to correspond with her brother in America lovely handwriting, she had, and she’s a very wise lady, no you realise as you get older, you realise more than when you were young. [laughter]

Q. And how old were you when you left school?

DD. Fourteen. I was only fourteen I did, Yes?

Q. Have you done any studying since then?

DD. No, not really I, I wasn’t a good child my father who was still alive then, he wanted me to, um, learn piano playing, he bought, in those days I mean money wasn’t, but he bought a piano and he paid, I realise now for those days he paid quite for, quite expensive lessons for me and the truth is, I did not warn to learn. It was my own fault I did not want to learn now the first teacher I had the first music teacher I had a lady, a very nice lady and she said to me, I suppose she could tell I didn’t want to learn, mind you I did very well on my theory and so forth but but I didn’t want to learn, I didn’t want to practise, very stupid, but the funny thing about it then, she said to me then would you like to have your voice trained and I never, I hadn’t, um, and I but now that’s the thing I should have done because even now though I’m croaking I’ve, I’ve got a good voice still. [laughter]
So I’ve decided now that I…A lot of the things I didn’t didn’t do which I should have done in my life, no I was too busy working and…

Q. But you enjoyed your work, didn’t you?

DD. Oh, enjoyed my work very much.

Q. And that was quite unusual for women to have a career like you’ve had?

DD. Yes

Q. I think that, what I’d call blue stocking girls, who came from well to do families and were sent to university…

DD. Yes

Q. They might have had a career as well as being a wife and what have you, but generally speaking children from working classes didn’t have a career in the way you’ve had a career today.

DD. No, no I did very well, and I did love it and I liked people always, I did like people but, er, as I say but even I was retirement age, that age I mean I still was very active, I should have things that I could have done, that I should have done more but you know?

Q. Yeah, you’ve actually got quite a contented look about you I have a feeling [laughter] that you did fill your time. Even if it wasn’t as adventurous as you wish it might have been.

DD. No, no I actually, it’s a funny thing, Myf asked us one day which pan of our life did we, er, was the best time in our life. I think at that time we were talking about the war years, and which, and I said the best time of my life, only unfortunately because I’m, I say not well would be now. It’s strange really, because you’re on the way out, it shouldn’t be, it should be when you’ve when you’ve still got, you see…

Q. Being a Jewish family in Hackney?

DD. Yes, yes

Q, I mean I know, I know it was Mile End but it was, you know it was East London but…

DD. No no, well my mother, my mother kept a Jewish house as she had been brought up, you know she was very good a lovely house.

Q. Where did her family originally come from?

DD. Um, that from Poland I would say, I would say, to be honest I really I don’t know but it would be Polish because according to the food she cooked she liked, like Polish people like a lot of their foods are sweet that they make a lot of it like you get, um...

Q. Did she make a lot of dumplings?

DD. Yes

Q. Oh yes must be [laughter]

DD. Yeah, all those things she made and when they have Jewish, gefilte fish things like that, well my mother always used to make it sweet, ‘cos now if I eat anything I like it sweet as well [laughter] yeah I’ve got that taste but yes, and she did keep, she kept a Jewish house she kept all the Jewish holidays and the amazing thing she? 7 as well because the shop was there, the shop she kept open, she kept open Saturday the shop didn’t close you see....

Q. So you have to come to a compromise with business?

DD. She come, yes but indoors she kept everything, she kept everything kosher she never had anything that wasn’t kosher and she kept all the things separately, one thing and another, she did keep it like that and the only time they closed the shop was, um, the holidays, the Jewish holidays that was really like New Year and fast...
That really was the only time but. Um my, my mother although she was, she was modern for her times I can tell she was modem for her times, yes she was.

Q. Did you know your Grandparents at all?

DD. No, no my Grandfather died before I was born that’s why I was named after him, and my Grandmother died I think, I think she died just after I was born.

Q. And your father was the one who came?

DD. Yes, yes.

So did he
“My Grandparents must have come they came my

Q. That’s your mother’s…?

DD. Grandparents, but my mother was born here, my mother was born here and, um, she had, she had, I don’t know three or four brothers, two I think were not born here, the others were born here.
A little tale to tell about the youngest one who well he wasn’t very young, but not very young, he was young he was in his early, late thirties, early forties. He got killed in Stoke Newington in the war unfortunately, yeah, there was a tale to tell from that but that’s a different..

Q. Well, tell me the tale then.

DD. Well, what, no well, we lived in, but this time my mother, my father had died, that time had gone, and there was two brothers, the two of the brothers; some were married one had gone to America many years before and he used to, my mother used to she always wrote to him, they always carded on in correspondence and I remember as a small child they used to send American clothes for me which in those days was very smart
Anyway at that time we were going to, we were, they decided my mother and me the older brother who was a widower, they decided they would take, set up house together you see and, um, which they did, then we had. There was a younger brother, he was single and was living with someone, another brother or something, so the four of us, my two uncles, my mother and myself we set up house together and we came to Beatty Road in Stoke Newington and then war was declared was, was on, war was declared and my mother wasn’t going away. She says, “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die here in Stoke Newington. I’m not going any place” you see? And they didn’t go away. I mean when you , when I, I say now that when you consider it to spend the five years that we spent in Stoke Newington with all those raids and we came through it we’ve been reborn.
Anyway I was working that time in Wembley and, um, I used to travel up to Dalston Junction station every day and came home, had to come home every night there wasn’t, I had the most terrible journeys ‘cos of bombing all the time, anyway, and then one night my mother, my mother had a sister she lived here on Stamford Hill in Portland Avenue, Portland Place, and she said to my mother, “Oh come and stay with me, I’m not well” she says. And she said, um, “Why should we be separated?” etc. etc. And my mother says, “I’m not coming out the house I don’t want...”
Anyway she gave in that night and she went to stay with her sister, and I had to come from Wembley to Dalston and from Dalston I had to come from Stamford Hill and there was no traffic, I had to walk which I did do in the morning. When I was going back, going back to her, got on a bus to go to Dalston to get the train, we only got so far we never got near enough to the Police, where the Police Station is, and all the roads were closed and that was the night that the Coronation buildings had a direct hit.
The youngest uncle, how he come to be there? Why he went in there? Because he didn’t go in there for shelter. I think he went in there a friend of his to play cards or something, anyway he got killed in the shelter, there in the shelter and. er, it was do you, I think it was one of the biggest raids, I believe, in Stoke Newington that was one, well any rate the, I got off the bus naturally when I knew what it was and, er, went indoors to Beatty Road to see if anyone was there. ‘cos my mother wasn’t there she was still at her sisters and any rate there was no one about there so I, they were I taking names of people they thought was there we weren’t sure I was told. I wasn’t sure about it but with that my other uncle came along, he was an older man, and I told him that I wasn’t sure that I thought that the young one, and any rate we decided that he was there, and I had to go back to Stamford Hill to tell my mother and her sister what happened to her brother.
Anyway eventually they wanted to have a mass burial, because they got out as many bodies as they could and the end, was, there was no identification and they did have a mass burial; I think they buried them in Abney park, they got a mass burial in Abney Park but the two brothers, the brother that was left, that brother, he, my uncle he would, he had another married brother who lived at Walthamstow though, they got together and tried very hard to get this body recovered I suppose they were, they were, people got fed up with them because they said they wanted, we cannot identify them, there’s no identification; any rate they kept on going there. Well eventually, they
wouldn’t allow them to identify the body but they said that part of the clothing they would, they’d show them part of the clothing, and if they could identify anything then they would allow them, they, would allow them to have the body for burial, which they would have, have a Jewish burial see?
Well any rate what they brought, what they brought, what they brought back for identification was a waistcoat, a gentleman’s waistcoat and attached to the waistcoat or had been attached to the waistcoat was a watch and chain, and on the end of the chain was a locket, and that was I said to you, I could bring something to show you, but I don’t want to show you because it’s a sad story but, and the waistcoat and this little locket had my photo in it. It was a young photo. It was really a schoolgirl’s photo. But this photo was in the locket; of course when they saw the locket they said right away, and that was the story and I’ve still got the locket. I kept the locket.
I said you know, I can’t stand it when, when I know she can’t help it, she’s blind and she’s deaf that lady. I don’t want no sad stories, I don’t want to hear about people dying. And I didn’t want to, I wasn’t going to bring this out to upset her either, so this was the story, so eventually they did have, um…

Q. A Jewish burial?

DD. They did have a Jewish burial, these berrages.
But I’ve always kept, mind you I must admit it is squashed, it’s got squashed but ‘cos it had, it had, it was a horse, a jockey and a horse on its, just a bit flattened otherwise the locket was in, I’ve never cleaned it or anything I just left it as it was you know?..