When I was a little boy I lived in Lausanne Road in Hornsey. It is part of the Harringay Ladder, a grid of Victorian streets running east -west between Wightman Road and Green Lanes. In my time, just after the 2nd World War, the streets were empty of cars and apart from the occasional milk float clip-clopping its way down the road and the weekly dustcart the area was largely free of traffic. It was halfway down this street that the German Lady lived and watched us kids playing outside her front door.
The Harringay Ladder is bisected north-south by a long alley – Harringay Passage – which cuts across the streets to the shops in Turnpike Lane. The German Lady lived in a house on the corner where the Passage crosses Lausanne Road. This is where we played and this is where she watched us. She watched us as we kicked a ball about and she watched us as we went down the Passage to the Coop, ration books and shopping list in one hand, trying to remember our Mum’s
‘divi’ number. This is what she watched and we in turn watched her. She was the German Lady. I do not know if we or anyone actually disliked her but when we saw her we shouted at her “Nazi!” or “Heil Hitler”. That’s what we shouted. Sometimes we ‘goose stepped’ up and down the pavement or stood outside her front door and saluted, right arm in the arm like Hitler. Braver and bigger souls would bang on her door than run away. We didn’t really know why we did it but we still did it even though most of our mums told us to leave the poor woman alone. She was the German Lady and this is what we did to Germans after the 2nd World War.
“She made a silly mistake” said my Dad “and we’ve never forgiven her for that”. At the start of the war there was a national campaign encouraging people who had cast iron railings or gates or the like to give them up to be melted down and turned into tanks and battleships. You weren’t obliged to and many people didn’t but on the Harringay Ladder almost everybody did – apart from the German Lady. Nobody knew why she refused. Maybe she was a pacifist who didn’t want her front garden fence turned into weapons of war. Maybe she was a realist who knew that you cannot turn cast iron fencing into tanks or battleships. Maybe she thought that her house would lose value if it were denuded of its Victorian fixtures and fittings. Many other people had used similar excuses to keep their fencing… but not in the Harringay Ladder. Our gates and fences had all been stripped away apart from the house in Lausanne Road on the corner of the Passage, the home of the German Lady, who us kids thought was a Nazi and personal friend of Adolf Hitler. No wonder she didn’t want her ironmongery turned into a 1000-pound bomb.
Kids no longer play in the street and the German Lady has almost certainly gone but her ornamental railings remain and I often wonder about that woman who watched us and the terrible way us kids treated her. Maybe she wasn’t a Nazi at all. Maybe she was a refugee fleeing the Nazis, just one of the many that Hitler was determined to eradicate. Maybe she loved England and wanted to stay here to help fight the war. Maybe she didn’t deserve any of the childish racism that we threw at her in our ignorance and neither do any of the minorities living in our communities today and yet we in our ignorance still turn against them. 70 years on I am still ashamed of myself then and ashamed of ourselves now.
Newsreel of the railings coming down
— from Martyn Day