These were what you called neighbours. The photo is from the street party in 1945 in celebration of VE Day in Norah Street, Bethnal Green, London. The country had been fighting a war for 5 years and many nights were spent in a hut in the back garden to escape the falling bombs, not knowing whether your house would still exist on the following morning. Somehow this little street managed to survive with the neighbours. Some sons never returned from the war after being sent to foreign contries to fight. Our neighbours opposite, Mr. and Mrs. Green had a son, Tommy Green. My mum would tell me about him. He never came home after the war. He was just a photo on their mantelpiece.
But this photo is of the neighbours, celebrating that the war was finished. My mum is on the right dressed in her party dress of the day, with a fancy hat. They all had fancy hats, they were celebrating a time of peace at last. On the left is Emmy Stanford, next to her her sister Lizzie and on the left to my mum Ivy Stanford. The three sisters and their mother lived next door to our house. I grew up with them, but only knew them as middle aged ladies as I was born in 1946 when the men returned home from Europe.
These girls grew up together and went through thick thin. Their meeting place was usually the church. Religious? in a way, it was all part of the education and the church was the only place where you would have meetings, dances being arranged and a sort of prewar youth club. Of course as they grew older, they would meet in the pub and have a drink together. I grew up in this street, knew all of my neighbours, but rarely entered their houses. We did not do the “living with the neighbours” thing, we had respect for their private sphere. We would talk over the “garden wall”, but did not sit in each others houses. Of course I had a few school friends living in the street, but we mainly played outside with a ball, skipping rope or otherwise running around. As we grew older and the serious school life began we would meet more in the houses, but they were places to be respected.
When the street was demolished some time in the seventies, the families that had known each other as children were now split up, but moved to places in the same area. I remember Ivy Stanford and Lizzie coming to my mum’s funeral. They were then elderly ladies, but the connection had remained. They knew where mum lived and she probably knew where they lived.
We were one of the families in the street that had a TV and I remember when it was the English soccer cup final he would invite Ernie, the guy next door, to see it on our TV. Ernie did not have a TV and was very happy to share the football afternoon with dad.
Today we live in an estate in Switzerland, mostly privately owned appartments, some are rented, but it is OK. We say hello to our neighbour, we ask how they are. Some are golden oldies like ourselves and we enquire about their health, they enquire about ours. There are a few families with children, married couples, neighbours. There is always a private sphere to be observed. We have just got a renovation of our building behind us, as as my mum said “in war times you grow closer together” and so was the case of our renovation. We all had a common denominator, the build. We perhaps spent more time talking, meeting on the path and exchanging our experiences. The build is now more or less finished, there is less conversation amongst us, and we now go on our way greeting each other and just being neighbours.
Have things changed so much since 1945 and 2017 with the neighbours? Not really, we respect each other’s privacy and lend a helping hand if necessary. It is the world that has changed around us.