Helen Bradley : from her personal scrapbook.
I was born on the 7th April 1939 in St Patrick’s Terrace Pennyburn. I was christened Helen Veronica Mc Dermott. My father Lawrence was a carpenter from a very holy Catholic family from Marlborough Avenue. My mother Edith (nee Gamble) was from a very strong Protestant background from the Collon Lane. They had a large farm and people from the area would work for them. My mother’s father was not in agreement with the marriage so she never inherited anything from her family. Being an independent person, it didn’t really bother her.
In 1941 a bomb was dropped on the shipyard near Pennyburn. I was in my cot and the blast broke all the windows, one coming in on top of me, thus the scar on my head. There were people killed and lots injured. My mother had an aunt, June Gamble, a nurse, and I am told that she ran all the way to the City & County Hospital with me in her arms. We had to leave our homes then, everything was destroyed. We went to Quigley’s Point to stay with friends. My father cycled to work in Derry every day.
Eventually we moved to 13 Fern Terrace in Shantallow. Fern Terrace is where I grew up. It was a mixed area of Catholics and Protestants, although I never knew any difference. We never talked about religion. It didn’t really matter what you were. I was an only child until I was 8. I had a brother and 2 sisters after that. We had a good and happy upbringing, although my father was very strict. I remember sleighing down Steelstown Brae. My father made a lot of sleighs.
We all played together. There was a forge. The Temples owned so many horses. We used to play in the cornfield. There were always bonfires at our back, one in July and one on 15th August. We all sat around them. I remember Granny Wylie died and my mother washed her. At the time I thought it was really terrible, but now I think it was a great thing to do.
We were all brought up Catholics and although I always went to chapel, I didn’t really feel like a whole Catholic. I remember one day a girl, she was always fighting with people, she called me milk and water and I didn’t know what she meant, so I asked my mum. She said you have the best of both worlds. You have two kinds of blood. I didn’t really understand.
I was always kept well. My mum made lovely clothes and she knit. I remember always squeezing the top of my ankle socks so they would sit right. I think we were all spoilt, as we grew up we didn’t have to do housework like other girls.
There was a bus-stop at our gate so everyone from out by the Rock and Muff would leave their bicycles at our house. There was Bessie Quigley’s wee shop, the cats used to run over the fruit and vegetables, and Katie Quigley’s wee shop. She sat all day with a wee black shawl, and stirring a big black pot. Looking back, she looked like a witch. We got penny sweets and things in Katie’s. The chickens were always in round the house. Anyway the sweets always tasted good.
We didn’t have TV then, but I loved painting and we played a lot. Everyone was kind to each other. I was always very happy then. We seemed to always have lovely summers then. We played skipping, ball, and tig around the coal sheds. Secrets was my favourite. You made a hole in the ground and put fresh flowers into it and covered them with glass. Looking back now I had more Protestant friends than Catholic.
After I made my Confirmation in Shantallow School, I went to Ballyarnett School. I was the only Catholic there. We had fish every Friday, I heard years after, the fish on Friday just started the week I started the school. I was a very shy girl. I passed my exam for the Tech. I stayed until I was fifteen and left to serve my time as an apprentice hairdresser with Mrs Poyntz in Waterloo Place. We got 10 shillings a week. She was really sharp, but I loved hairdressing so I got on really well and worked very hard. I started up my own hairdressing salon when I was nineteen, beside Wilkinson’s factory. The girls from the factory all came to have their hair done on a Friday night. I would work to ten o’clock. I loved the atmosphere when they all came in, everyone talking about boys and clothes. My favourite was clothes. I bought new ones every week and I loved getting dressed to go to the Corinthion with my friend Helen McGrory, although I had to catch the eleven o’clock bus home. We were not allowed out late unless we went to Borderland.
I was going with Gerry on and off for a long time, eventually we got married. We had a lovely wedding and we bought a house in Maybrook Park and settled down to married life. Gerry worked in the B.S.R. and played a lot of football. I had my first child, a daughter Katrina, followed by a son, Gerald. I gave up my hairdressing business and did hair in the house.
The B.S.R. closed and we had to give up our house in Maybrook Park so we rented a house in Barry Street and Gerry went to England. Later, a letter came from Dunlop’s for Gerry to go for an interview, I had to go, but he got the job, and came home. We could not get a house then it was very hard, we would have to queue every week in the Corporation office, but no luck, and the lady we rented the house off wanted us out before Christmas. I went home to live with my mother and father with the children, and Gerry went to his house. We had a small Morris 1000 then and we would have to sit and talk outside. I had been expecting my third child but I lost it. No one ever mentioned my miscarriage ever again.
A woman in Culmore let us rent a few rooms, no electric or hot water but a big garden for the children. There were few houses in Culmore then. After about nine months we got a new house in the new Shantallow Estate. It was great. A Mr Finlay who had promised to speak for us put in against us. He was on the committee for the Corporation, a Protestant man, but Miss McCullagh worked very hard and we got keeping the house. Sometime later we moved to Lenamore Gardens and shortly after that my father died, a week later my mother’s brother died. It was very hard for my mother but she got through it all and after consulting with us, she went back to her own church, St Peter’s.
I had two more children, a girl Carmel and a boy Niall and two grand-daughters. I took my younger grand-child out walks on the Lenamore Road. We would swim sticks in the little burns. There are houses built over most of them now. I would take her to see Sir Dudley’s big house around by McCorkell’s. My mother always took us and I took my own children too. It doesn’t seem as important now as there are lots of other houses around, nearly as large. To me when I was young it looked huge.