Even after all these years I still struggle to understand how my grandmother, Becky, thought it was safe to send my mother, Olga, to London in April 1939. The threat of war between Britain and Germany had not receded in spite of Neville Chamberlain securing Adolf Hitler’s promise that he would not invade Europe further (Munich Agreement). Newspapers in Great Britain and Jamaica constantly referred to the threat of war. Whenever any member of the Browney family travelled to England, they always stayed with Becky’s sister, Martha, and Olga was no exception, although I think she wished she was! My mother didn’t like my Great Aunt Martha and described her a a bitter woman who lacked warmth and kindness - unlike her sisters Becky and Lucy. But I suppose Becky thought she’d be safe with Martha and, after all, it was only for six months.
Olga’s Diary (continued)
Bad news: I’m in despair. Madame Verschaka’s School of Dance have written to me.
“We do not have a place available for six months, at which time we will be delighted to accept you as a pupil.”
That’s no good, I need a place now!
I told Aunt Martha and she said she couldn’t afford to keep me if I was going to remain in London. I don’t know what she means “she can’t afford to keep me” because I know Sydney gave her plenty of money to cover the cost of my stay, but she says there’s hardly any left because food is expensive and I eat a lot.
Well, honestly, I don’t think I do, but I didn’t dare argue with her. Thank goodness Sydney will be here soon, but I suppose I’ll have to go back to Jamaica with him. So far my visit has been disappointing and I haven’t enjoyed myself the way Birdie does when she comes to London.
Fed up: Went to Trafalgar Square yesterday to feed the pigeons, but, I was in and out of that Square like a bullet.
I sat down and as soon as I pulled out my bag of breadcrumbs, pigeons surrounded me and started pecking at my paper bag trying to get the bread out and there were lots of them around my feet picking up the breadcrumbs – it felt like I was being attacked, so I dropped the breadcrumbs and ran.
Now I prefer to sit here on a bench in Regent’s Park and feed the little birds, they’re much gentler. Took my diary with me today so I could read again about my going away party in the Bournemouth Club, Kingston’s best night club.
It was a wonderful night with the club decorated with streamers and balloons and hanging from the ceiling, strung across the middle of the room was a whopping big sign.
“Goodbye Olga. We’ll miss you”. Wasn’t that nice?
There was a band and lots of food and all my friends and family laughing, joking, hugging and kissing me and giving me going away presents.
But the biggest shock that night came from Michael Sales. Michael was in the same class as me at Alpha Academy and he was a holy terror. His favourite past time was putting a mirror under some of the girls’ skirts, including mine, so he could see what colour knickers we were wearing. He nearly got expelled once for doing it and it was only because his mother pleaded with the Headmistress to give him one more chance, that he wasn’t. Anyway, he must have learnt his lesson because he quietened down a lot and was much nicer because of it. As a matter of fact he went out with one of my best friends, Elise Ferguson, for a while.
But at my going away party he handed me a present with a card. Inside, was a pair of beautiful pearl ear-rings. No doubt about it, that is the nicest present I have ever received.
“Olga, when you come back, I want you to be my proper girl friend. I promise I will wait for you and I won’t go out with anyone else while you’re away” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think he liked me that much. Boys, don’t really, you know. They like to talk to me and tell me their problems with their girl friends, because they say I’m a good listener, but they never like me in a special way.
My friend, Carmen Cadoza, has boys buzzing round her like bees in a honey pot and, honestly, sometimes she treats the boys like they don’t exist. She says the secret of being successful with men is to play hard to get. Michael was going to be my first boyfriend. I wanted to cry I was so happy, but instead I gave him a little kiss on the cheek and said I would love to be his girlfriend and for a few minutes, I wondered, do I really want to go to England. But I dismissed the thought immediately because it would be something to look forward to when I come home.
On the same page is the holy picture of the Sacred Heart that Father Butler gave me when he came to say goodbye. He’d written on the back:
Bon voyage and a happy stay in London.
Be a good girl and don’t forget to say your prayers.
God bless you,
Reading about that evening and how happy I was then and how miserable I am feeling now made me sad and homesick. I felt lonely sitting on that bench in the park. I was hugging my diary with both hands, my head buried in my chest and gently rocking back and forth and I wasn’t aware someone had sat down beside me.
“Are you alright”. I heard someone say.
When I looked up I saw a beautiful brown face smiling at me.
“My name’s Joanne” she said, smiling at me.
My spirits lifted immediately and we started talking. And guess where she came from….Jamaica!! I couldn’t believe it because there aren’t too many Jamaicans in London, I can tell you.
Joanne comes from a big family, just like me, and they live in St Ann’s Bay. We talked about our families and home and even though she’s been in London for two years studying nursing at Paddington General Hospital, Joanne still misses her family a lot.
I said I missed my friends and was lonely and whenever someone sits next to me on the park bench, like the nannies who push the babies in the prams, I always smile and say hello and hope that they will talk to me, but they don’t, they either pretend they haven’t heard me or get up and walk away.
“Thank goodness for the keepers in the zoo”.
“They’re friendly and they tell me all about the animals like elephants or the tigers and the bears” I said
“I like London a lot, but it can be the loneliest place in the world” Joanne told me.
Oh she’s really lovely. I’m so happy we met. Joanne has one more year’s training and then she’s going back to Jamaica to work. When I told her why I had come to London she was surprised and said didn’t my parents realise that England could go to war any day. I said that the Prime Minister had Hitler’s promise not to invade Europe any more, so Mammie and Sydney felt it was safe for me to come over, and, anyway, Sydney would be here soon and I’d be going back to Jamaica with him. Two hours later, and much happier, I said goodbye to Joanne, but we arranged to meet in the park the following week.
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