1935 - 1939

On 16th January 1935, my father William George Perks, who had been a bricklayer since the age of fourteen, celebrated his twenty-first birthday by walking with his mate the three miles from Lower Sydenham in South London to the Penge Empire to see the music hall. By chance they sat in the cheapest seats next to two girls, and during the interval they got talking. One of the girls was Kathleen May Jeffery, aged seventeen, known as Molly. At the end of the show the boys asked permission to walk the girls home, and the boys tossed a coin to choose which girl to take. William called tails, and walked my future mother the short way home, and my parent’s courtship began.

The Penge Empire in South London.

Money was scarce, and six months later, William and Molly went on a day’s outing to Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where they had their very first photo taken, and became engaged.

Bill’s parents in a photo taken at Southend-on-Sea in Essex.

In mid-December they moved into a tiny flat at 9 Park Road, Forest Hill. They bought furniture with weekly payments for the entire flat for under £70 at Burts Department Store in Peckham, and were married at Christ Church, Penge, on Christmas Day, 1935. He was 21 and she was 18.

An invoice for furniture paid by Bill’s parents to furnish their first home.

There was no honeymoon, and no photos taken of their wedding, and a little later they moved to a terraced house, with no electricity, and had gas lighting, no bathroom, no heating or hot water, with the toilet in the back garden.

By now there were fears of the German military build-up, and that August the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, with the intention of glorifying the Nazi regime. But to Adolph Hitler’s dismay, Jesse Owens the black American became the star, winning four gold medals.

I was born at Lewisham Hospital on Saturday 24th October 1936 and was named William George, after my father – the tradition in those days.

On Monday 30th November, when I was just 5 weeks old, the Great Exhibition Building of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, was destroyed by fire. My parents watched the fire, just 2 miles away from our home in Lower Sydenham, with me in their arms. This would begin my strong love for the history of the Crystal Palace itself and later for the football club.

The Great Exhibition Building, built in 1851, was destroyed by fire when Bill was just a few weeks old.

Nine months later Neville Chamberlain the British prime minister at the time, arrived home from Munich having signed an agreement with Hitler, that promised ‘Peace In Our Time’.

In February 1939, Anderson air raid shelters were being installed in most back gardens, partially covered over with a foot of soil, and a little later gas masks were issued to everyone, with the smallest children’s masks resembling Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse.

With war looming, Anderson Air Raid Shelters were constructed in back gardens.

A month later Britain and France, pledged to defend Poland against attack by Germany. And as Germany and Italy signed a military alliance, Britain braced itself for war, and plans were announced for the immediate evacuation of children from the England’s main cities.

Next morning Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II commenced on 3rd September 1939. A month later the British Expeditionary Force of almost 160,000 soldiers left for France – later to be marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk, when France capitulated.

The weather suddenly deteriorated and it began to snow, and went on snowing and freezing throughout the rest of the month.

On Christmas day Santa brought me a tiny brightly coloured clockwork bi-plane, which, when wound up, ran along the ground and then looped-the-loop, which fascinated me.