Sparrers can't sing - 1915

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Back then, all along the Wandsworth Road were little two-up, two-down terraced houses with tiny squares for back yards. Most of these were rented from private landlords. Each front door opened directly alongside the narrow dusty main road as two dozen motor vehicles and twice as many carts passed by. Every housewife made an effort to scrub her doorstep along with her meagre rooms. This had to be done every day, keeping them spick and span. When a family was in need, the neighbours would help out, in a way paying back some unspoken past or future debt for fear of illness. Even then the houses were a hundred years old, though still decent. The tenants took a pride in their homes and were confident that life was going to improve when the conflict ended and all would work out well.

Rose had been working at the grocer's shop all day and was now back home. Only sixteen, she was tired, though proud of her shiny thruppence wage for the day. Rose had been standing on her feet all day, moving the goods and fitting description cards with prices, her handwriting was not the best, so it had been challenging. Plus there were always so many other jobs at the shop for the only assistant. Her four younger brothers and three sister's greeted their older one excitedly. Once there had been another, the middle child named after Rose's mother, who had died young, this baby now rested in Lambeth Cemetery. Mrs Jones took a pride in her eldest daughter's achievements, not least reaching adulthood. She waved at Rose, a weary smile on her lips. Lil was glad of some help,

"Put them broken bits of wood on the range would you Rosie." "We can't afford no coal this week. This war is making things proper difficult." "They'll burn jus' as well mind. Your father took 'em from the rubble yesterday at 'is work." Lil was proud of Rose, who had her looks, though her father's temper.

"Yes Mum." She immediately went back and busied herself with the dinner. Lil and Jacko's children all had dark hair and honest features, though more often than not they had to go without most of life's little luxuries. Mrs Jones made sure they were all clean, lest something annoy Jacko Jones, her husband. She would wipe the faces of the younger ones with the same flannel she used to wash the vegetables, they'd taste slimy potato on their cheeks, and if onions had been cleaned, the children's eyes would smart.

"No rest for the weary." Lil would often say. Rose smiled to see the baby girl clutching her old doll. Though only tuppence, the doll had no hair, though Rose had stitched a dress out of some odd bits of curtain cloth and made a horse hair wig for the tiny wooden head. Mrs Jones laid the table, starting with a clean table cloth and the few pieces of their well-used cutlery.


The ragged children were all happy and chirping, surrounding her they wanted Rose to tell of her day.

"Well loves, one of the customers was a rich gent with a three-piece tweed suit 'e 'ad. 'E bought only the best food at the shop and five bars of expensive choc'late too. Proper posh 'e was, with a gentleman's cane and fob. 'E gave me a queer look, don't know why." The children were quiet, listening marvelling at her every word. Too innocent to know the ways of the world. Rose was a good girl. Despite the opportunity and need, she always resisted temptation to steal from the store, trying to be good and contribute wherever possible.


At this time there was much xenophobia for German shopkeepers in South London, and as a result of their nearest competitors being interned, the store where Rose worked had seen it's custom almost double. Despite the fact that many had lived and married in England since the King's grand-mother had been Queen, many had seen their shops looted and damaged by those who had lost loved-ones. The German nationals children or dependents had mostly seen fit to volunteer almost two years before in 1914, to prove their loyalty to King and country. Some had been prudent years before and altered their names from Schmidt to Smith or such-like. The less fortunate were interned, in some cases this was for their own safety. These had to see the war out from behind barbed wire and high fences.

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