The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Monday, April 16, 2007

After the Army, a civilian job

After 22 years in the Army, Walter returned to civilian life in 1930. It was a chance to settle down after all the years of living overseas. Finding work was top of the list, and May's brother Charles came to the rescue:

My brother-in-law Charlie (who I assisted in his window cleaning business in 1919 for four months, which enabled him to get established) called round to see May and I to see how we were faring. He told me there was an advertisement in the Barnes and Mortlake Herald for a school caretaker. £2-5-0 per week at the Mortlake Boys’ and Girls’ Central School, and he advised me to apply for it. He suggested that I go and see Mr. Blake, a well-known jeweler in East Sheen who was also a great friend of Charlie’s family. I did so, and Mr. Blake took me to the Bull Hotel where he asked me to have a drink and then wait for him, as he was going to see someone in the Lounge about my intention to apply for this caretaker’s post. After a while, Mr. Blake came out, and told me to write out an application enclosing my references to the Divisional Officer, and I was to await for a reply.

A few days later, I was informed to attend a Selection interview at the East Sheen Junior School where the school managers were present. There were twelve applicants, and we were interviewed in alphabetical order, so I was last to be seen. Many questions were asked of me, but one question nearly got me “stumped.” Did I have any experience of central heating boiler work? “A little,” I said, “but I would soon overcome that difficulty.” I was selected to be the caretaker, commencing on the 29th April 1930.

The work that had to be done was very exacting. I had two women cleaners who were not very co-operative. They had apparently been employed for several years, but that didn’t deter me to adopt a new system of hours they must perform. I used to go home at night, very tired with sweeping classroom floors, and stoking four boilers, but I gradually got into the way of things. The Headmaster, a Mr. Hill, he was a Captain in the East Surrey Territorial Army. I used my cycle to great extent around the playground. When the Whitsuntide holiday arrived, the boilers were not required, so the work became much easier. Whitsun holidays came along, and the school had to be cleaned throughout. I was gradually getting used to the many tasks that my job entailed.

A couple of months ago, I heard from a woman whose father had been a student at Mortlake when Walter was caretaker. Though her father never mentioned Walter, she was kind enough to send along a couple of sports certificates her dad earned while at the school. Note the signature of Headmaster Hill, whom Walter mentions.
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posted by MaryB @ 12:00 PM  


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