1939 Register : St John's Wood gets ready for war
What was the Register?
In December 1938 the Government had announced that if war came the UK would need to have a national register of every individual so that identity cards and ration books could be issued. This register was taken at 6.30 pm on 29 September 1939 by 65,000 enumerators and identity cards were issued on the spot. The register showed name, address, marital status, date of birth, occupation and whether the person had served in the armed forces. Servicemen and women (684,000), were not registered as they would be fed by their employers.
Why is it particularly important?
The 1931 census returns were destroyed in an air raid and the 1941 census was never taken so it is the only record of population between 1921 and 1951. St Marylebone had a population of 62,479 in 22,877 households; 43% were male, 57% female. There are closed records among the registers, of children and young people who may still be alive.
41 million people registered. The most popular occupations for men were labourer, tailor, decorator, retired, chauffeur, student, police constable and living on private means; for women (9.3 million) it was unpaid domestic duties (being a housewife) and domestic service of various categories (580,000), dressmaker, office cleaner, retired and living on private means. Of the 6 million children in the country, only 2% were living in London, which shows how effective the evacuation programme had been.
Three streets in the Wood compared- Cavendish Avenue, Elm Tree Road and Aquila Street
Cavendish Avenue was one of the grandest streets in St John’s Wood and its inhabitants were well off professionals, employing various servants. Elm Tree Road had traditionally housed more artists and writers and the houses were small villas, with a servant or two. Aquila Street had houses of multiple occupation and the inhabitants were shop workers and mechanics. On the day the census was taken a surprising number of houses were empty – perhaps because the inhabitants had evacuated elsewhere in the country in case bombing started immediately.
Cavendish Avenue had 23 houses on the register, but Nos 7, 8, 12,13, 17, 18 and 26 were unoccupied, and there are 5 closed records in 2, 4, 9, 11 and 22. There were 53 people living in the remainder. In No 15 Alice Justice aged 78 was living on private means with a cook and house parlourmaid and in No 14 a cook and house parlourmaid were holding the fort. In No 24 Charles Brock, artist and illustrator aged 78 was there alone and in No 1a Phineas Solomon aged 61, solicitor of Bedford Row, was living with his wife Elizabeth and a cook. The rest of the street, with younger residents, was getting ready to help fight the war.
In No 1 Sylvia Hanson aged 41, a retired chauffeuse and secretary, had joined the WVS and the London Ambulance Corps and in No 2 Lilian Travis, an actress aged 39, was a volunteer First Aid worker. In No 3 William Dent, a 44 year old insurance broker living with his wife and cook , was part of the Officers Emergency Reserve. At No 4 Geoffrey Oates aged 54, Medical Officer of Health for Paddington Borough Council, was living with his wife Margaret and servant Kitty. No 5 housed a cook, lady’s maid and parlour maid plus Peggy Harris, who was a sub officer in the London ambulance service.
In No 6 Dr Frederick Hort, a practising physician aged 67, living with his wife and secretary, a cook and house parlourmaid , had been a temporary captain in the RAMC in 1915 and was attached to the reserve First Aid post in St Marylebone, and in No 9 Sylvia Pawley, a retired nurse, was Assistant Commandant of a Mobile Ambulance unit. In No 11 Bertram Geere , a chauffeur in private service, lived with his son Bertram, a clerk who was a Scout messenger for the ARP.
In No 16 John Legrew Harrison, a director of a coach building firm, was in the Officers Emergency Reserve and his wife Beryl was a physician in the Emergency Medical Service. In No 19 the butler/valet Cyril Lee was in the Auxiliary Fire Service and Ada Lee, the housemaid, was drafted for the WAFS. Joan Otter, the actress at No 20 living with actress Countess Roulette Oriel and Amy Swinstead, was in the Women’s Ambulance service and finally in No 22 were two servants and Philip Rogers, a retired Indian Civil servant who had been Postmaster General in Bombay and was in the ARP while his wife Janet was in the VAD.
Elm Tree Road
Nos 3, 6, 8, 18, 23 and 23a, 24,29, 30, 34 and 39 were empty. In No 1 George McCausland, aged76 was living with his wife and cook and in No 14 was 60 year old Amy Lloyd living on private means with a cook and maid. Isabell Clarebell aged 60, a chocolate manufacturer was with Sheila Storm a stenographer and a domestic in No 31 and in No 41 John Dulanty, High Commisioner for Ireland (and Ambassador in 1950) was with his wife Anne and 3 closed records.
In No 7 comparatively young Ernest Wonnacott was with his 33 year old wife Vera and In No 9 George Mayer aged 42 was with his wife Grete. in No 27 Charles Edwards, managing Director aged 41 of an Artificial Stone co with his wife. In No 28, 42 year old Prince Nicholas Galitzine, journalist and artist, was with his wife Elena and Pauline Dennistoun Swerd aged 27 , all living on private means plus a parlour maid. In No 26 Cecil Gilmour Wood, a managing director of an Estate Agent in Hanover Square, was living with his actress wife Phyllis and Katherine Gere, age 65 who was incapacitated.
Fewer residents in this street seemed to have joined any groups offering to help. Vera Armitage in No 25 with 1 closed record was helping at the Metropolitan Police Canteen and in No 11 Roy Warnford Davies, (a director of Decca records who had selected Gracie Fields as a possible world beater and had been a captain in 4th Dorsetshire Regiment,) was in the Territorial reserve , going on to be a Major in the Warwickshire Regiment, and his wife Josephine was an ARP warden, leaving 1 closed record to be looked after by a cook and a nurse. In No 12 Percy Springham, the chauffeur was a part time Air Raid Warden, leaving a ladies maid, cook and parlour maid to look after Grace Clarke aged 73 together with 2 State registered nurses, one of whom, Jessie Morrison was in the Territorial army Nursing service.
In the two houses, N0 20 and No 22, belonging to the MCC were Viola Aird with a cook and housekeeper and a child (her husband was Colonel Ronald Aird, MC, Assistant Sec from 1926 who was with the Army at Barnstaple) and Helen Rait Keir (married to Colonel Rowan Rait Kerr MC, who had been a Captain in the Royal Engineers and was Secretary to the MCC) ) with a child Diana who went on to be the first full time curator of the MCC, and cook, house parlour maid and house maid.
In No 9 was George Mayer -Marton, (1897 – 1960) a Hungarian Jewish artist with his wife Grete , a gifted pianist. He had been a significant figure in Vienna between the Wars , painting in oils and water colour but was forced to escape in 1938. In 1940 his studio home was burnt by an incendiary bomb and the majority of his life’s work went up in smoke; his wife never recovered mentally from this blow. She died in 1952 and he was able to take up a post as senior lecturer at Liverpool College of Art, where he pioneered the technique of Byzantine mosaics in England.
In No 33 was Joseph Oppenheimer aged 63 and his wife Fanny who had joined the WVS. A friend of Whistler and Sargent ,he had persuaded them to take part in the Berlin Secession Exhibition in 1899. From 1896 he had a studio, the Pheasantry on Kings Road in London and belonged to the Chelsea Arts Club. He moved to Berlin after his marriage but spent much of the year in England. He became a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters after moving permanently to London when Hitler came to power and became a British citizen. In 1949 he moved to Canada to be near his daughter.
In No 35 was Arthur Loewental, artist and medallist(1879 – 1964), with his wife Rosa and I closed record, and in No 32 Joseph Otto Flatter ,artist, his wife Hilda, a pianist and Raphael Levine aged 38 a rabbi at the Jewish synagogue. Flatter was an Austrian who had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914-18 war but had had to flee to London in 1934. He was interned for a while on the Isle of Man in 1940 but released and worked as a cartoonist for the Ministry of Information 1940 -45 and also was a member of the Home Guard. Flatter drew very rude and funny cartoons about Hitler; one of his books was entitled “Heckling Hitler” and some of his work can be found in the Imperial War Museum.
Aquila Street – and the hero of St John’s Wood
There were 12 houses in Aquila street, and Nos 9 and 10 were empty; there are 7 closed entries. 41 people were living there on 29 September 1939; houses were much smaller than those in Cavendish Avenue and each house had up to three different households within it – probably one on each floor. No 1 had only Frank Smith, aged 29, a porter at a block of flats. No 2 had 11 people all grouped as one household. Mr and Mrs Twitcher, their 17 year old son James, a butcher’s roundsman doing heavy work, his sister who worked in a hardware shop and 11 year old Dorothy, at school and I closed entry, presumably another child. There was also William Blckley, retired, and Thomas Stroud, a milk roundsman who did heavy work, plus 2 closed entries and 76 year old Henry Cronin who was a retired boiler erector.
In No 3 was Richard Rolph, a retired railway carriage examiner and his wife Eliza, plus Humphrey Horspool ,a clerk , and Kenneth Wilkes a grocer’s assistant who presumably were lodgers. In another household were Arthur Lane,a studio cleaner , and his wife Florence. No 4 housed Joseph Spiers, a tailor’s presser doing heavy work,and 1 closed record, with another household of Thomas Whyte, a butcher’ buyer and manager. In no 5 were Maud Noyes, an antique dealer with her son Harry, a tobacconist manager and 1 closed record, and another household of William Murphy aged 65, who had been a grocer on his own account. No 6 had three households, the Hicknett family comprising Thomas, a fitter and assembler, his wife Kathleen and daughter Edith, head kitchen hand, the Rowes, Henry a milk salesman and his wife Ivy, and the Judges, George a caretaker, his wife Ida and son Donald who was an engineer.
In No7 were Peter Christenson, a milk roundsman and his wife Catherine and 2 closed records, and in No 8 Elizabeth Vicar on her own. Then in No 11 came the Peerless family, 50 year old George, who was verger at All Saints church in the Finchley Road and his wife Alice and one of his twin sons, Neville, aged 14, a weighbridge attendant. George soon would be the hero of St John’s Wood, being awarded the George Medal in May 1941 for bravery as an ARP warden . The medal had only been instituted in September 1940 at the height of the Blitz as a reward for civilian courage and acts of great bravery. The Peerless home was equipped with an air raid shelter and George joined the ARP when war began, as did Miss Ortweiler, who lived in St John’s Wood Terrace.
One night No 2 Aquila St was wrecked by a bomb and Miss Ortweiler scrambled down a very small hole into the basement and found four people trapped and unable to move. She reassured them but was not strong enough to effect their release. There was an escape of gas and to avoid an explosion she put out the kitchen fire. Warden Peerless then entered the hole. He obtained a saw and cut away the corner of a dresser until it was possible , with the help of Miss Ortweiler, to free three persons who were then helped out of the basement. Warden Peerless stayed behind and made a most gallant effort to rescue the remaining victim. Both wardens behaved with great gallantry, being fully aware of the danger from coal gas.[Citation in the London Gazette, 9 May 1941]
After the war Aquila Street was almost completely rebuilt and St Marylebone council flats replaced the bombed buildings.
The 1939 Register showed an interesting mix of occupations – solicitor, accountant, stockbroker, doctor, as well as retired vice-admiral and retired research chemist. This reflected that the upper middle classes were in residence at the time of the outbreak of WW2.