We were a couple of scallywags, I was seven years old and Billy Blackhurst was slightly older, probably about eight. I was fair-haired with blue eyes and Billy was dark haired with brown eyes, total opposites in description but very much a couple of street kids with not a care in the world.

As was the fashion of the day we wore jerseys, short grey pants that came down to the knees, socks full of holes and boots; we weren’t out to impress anyone, it was enough we had boots to wear, besides there was a World War going on and clothes were rationed.

I lived on Tunnel Road and Billy in Palmerson Street; I had just been enrolled at Earl Road School, and I’d actually made an appearance there a couple of times.

Billy was a student at Chatsworth Street School, which was very convenient for him as he lived on the corner of Palmerson Street/Chatsworth Street; I considered Billy to be very clever because he could read quite well, he even wrote some very unconvincing notes for me, to give to my teacher at Earl Road.

Dear Miss
Are Tony kant kum to skool taday kos hes sick.
Sined Tonys Muver

In retrospect I now realize that Billy was a more responsible individual than I, for starters he hardly ever missed school and if he did take time off it was as a result of me pestering him. One of Billy’s weaknesses was his entrepreneurial leaning; he was always out to make a quick penny so it was quite easy to persuade him, I had only to suggest we take time out to go down to the markets and collect wooden boxes that we could chop up and sell, door to door, as firewood.

The firewood enterprise was Billy’s idea.

This was a time after the May Blitz, so there was lots of bombed houses; houses that had been built in the Victorian era, the interior walls of which were plastered over a wooden lath structure; lengths of wood measuring one inch wide x a quarter inch thick, ideal to be broken into manageable length and bungled into saleable portions… it was Billy’s crowning glory and quite lucrative, enough to get us in to the Tunnel Road flea-pit to see our heroes, either Boston Blackie or Charlie Chan.

Billy and I also spent time hanging around Bibbies warehouse down at the docks. We would wait for a horse & cart carrying sacks of peanuts or coconut (Used for making soap) to roll up under the hoist, we would sneak at the rear of the cart and slash a couple of sacks at the bottom; it was then just a matter of waiting for the sacks to be slung and as they were lifted peanuts would pour out of the bottom, we then just had to race in and fill our trouser pockets and sometime we would secure the bottom of our jersey with a piece of string and fill the jersey through the neck before racing away like a couple of miniature Michelin Men.

Just a few years later I was seaman on a Palm Company ship, the Lagos Palm, and we were loading sacks of peanuts, the very same peanuts Billy and I used to pinch down the docks, what a revelation that was, when the Krue Boys felt the call of nature they would just urinate all over the peanuts… talk about salted nuts!

I was incorrigible, always wagging school and totally out of parental control, but that ended when the School Board finally took control and sent me to an Approved School, Saint Vincent’s which was in North Wales for three years; when I finally got out I never missed school again.

I lost touch with Billy but I believe he also joined the Merchant Navy as a Fireman/Stoker …. He was a great pal.

Story by Tony Dwyer

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This story was added on 11th November 2010

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