Vive la France I said each morning, and De Gaulle saluted me in return
PUBLISHED: 14:15 23 May 2007 | UPDATED: 14:32 07 September 2010
I was born in and lived in Lower Terrace until 1944 and have many memories of pre-war and war-time Hampstead. I am writing now about a few of the famous people we met or saw in the 1930s and 1940s. Sir Kenneth Clark lived next door for a time in Upper Te
I was born in and lived in Lower Terrace until 1944 and have many memories of pre-war and war-time Hampstead. I am writing now about a few of the famous people we met or saw in the 1930s and 1940s.
Sir Kenneth Clark lived next door for a time in Upper Terrace. One summer afternoon when I was 11 years old, I saw thick smoke oozing out of his ground floor windows and raised the alarm. In no time firemen were swarming in and out of the house and staff carrying out Sir Kenneth's valuable and precious pictures.
He came round to thank me, much impressing my family.
On my way to school, I used to see a French military chauffeur sitting waiting in a car in Frognal. I practised my French on him and he suggested that if I came by a few minutes later each day I would see de Gaulle. I did this, saying "Vive la France" each morning to this very tall poker-faced general who gravely saluted me in return.
I had a nursemaid whose favourite walk was in the cemetery of the parish church. Once she pointed out a young Daphne du Maurier standing by the new grave of her father, Gerald. Another time we saw Ramsay McDonald in a big hat leaning on his stick looking at the graves.
My last summer holidays in Hampstead were idyllic; I loved horses, especially those of the Express Dairy with their friendly milkmen and horses and smart dark blue carts. I longed to help deliver the milk and when a Land Girl took over the round as so many men had been called up, she let me help her. Later, the friendly horse was retired and a handsome large dun called Boxer was put on the round, but he was unpredictable and Nina told me never to sit on the cart without her. I was standing on the pavement by Boxer's head one day, pretending to be in charge when suddenly he took off along Windmill Hill and full tilt down Holly Hill, making for his stable under the Express Dairy shop, scattering crates and glass milk bottles right and left, terrifying pedestrians. Boxer made it to his stall but the cart didn't, being too wide!
Shortly afterwards I went to boarding school and my family left my beloved Hampstead but I still make pilgrimages there when I can and collect books on Hampstead and memories.
However, when I was in my twenties I worked at the riding stables on Downshire Hill - we used to take riders for hacks to the sand track by Wildwood Road to have a gallop.
The owner of the stables took a week's holiday, leaving me in charge. I had a wonderful time - getting up very early each morning and riding all over the Heath (strictly forbidden) chased occasionally by furious men in brown suits - the wardens. Imagine doing that nowadays!