‘It is worse than the war. Back then you could go out’

It’s official – for civilians, living through the Covid-19 pandemic is worse than the Second World War.

That is the verdict of Nell Pearce, who has lived through both and had her 95th birthday on February 2.

Nell has in the past given up hundreds of hours to help others on the estate where she has lived since 1933 – and was given an Our Heroes Award by the South London Press in 2013.

She said: “It’s worse than the war – at least we could go out back then!

“At least you could go out in the war. No one could stop us! After dinner everyone went down the shelter and shared their tea – and made sure all the children had something to eat.

“Me and my friend Dolly joined the wardens because we were fed up sitting in the shelters.

“In lockdown you can’t get out – apart from when I got my vaccine in Lewisham two weeks ago.”

Nell enlisted as the youngest air raid warden on the Honor Oak Estate in Bessingham Walk, Brockley, weeks before her 15th birthday party.

She was living in Horsley House, Friendsby Road, and working at the Peak Frean biscuit factory in Clements Road and Drummond Road, when the estate was bombed.

Nell and Charlie getting married at St Silas Church, Brockley, now demolished

She raced home to find her mum with bandages around her head. And as soon as she knew she was all right, she moved on to help others.

She went on to organise hundreds of events, including plays, fetes parties, trips to the seaside and bingo nights on the estate, where she has been a familiar face since moving there when it was first built.

She campaigned to have a plaque in the estate’s Co-op to commemorate the people who died on its site, when the flats were bombed during the war.

There is already a block of flats nearby called Pearce Court named after the family.

Husband Charlie, who died 30 years ago, was given the British Empire Medal for his work on the estate 35 years ago.

He was a governor of the school he went to, Turnham Primary School (now Turnham Academy in Brockley) – where England and Arsenal footballers Ian Wright and David Rocastle were pupils – and was a governor there for 30 years.

Nell Pearce with Chris Bray who nominated her for a South London Press Our Heroes award in 2013

They met just before he was taken off to war and she didn’t see him after the war for years because he had to continue his service in Burma.

They were married in St Silas Church – it was half bombed at the time and she had only 10 days to get her wedding organised, including bridesmaid dresses, flowers, and her own dress.

The couple raised money for the school for more than 50 years, and the school sent them flowers every birthday, Easter and Christmas to thank her.

Every harvest festival a class of kids would go over to the estate shop they ran, Sector J, to sing and give out the tinned food to pensioners.

The couple had two sons, Robin and Cliff and one daughter Jill, who passed away from cancer more than 15 years ago – and seven grandchildren.

She also now has nine great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

Nell, has been to Buckingham Palace twice – and is two months older than the Queen.

“That was the first time we tasted caviar,” she said. “We didn’t like it.”

Honor Oak Estate in Bessingham Walk, Brockley

She had a knee replacement in her 90s. She said: “I was a home help for 30 years. All that kneeling didn’t help.”

She helped write a 1977 book, A Street Door of Our Own – the only place you can get it now is on Spanish Amazon for £44.

“I can still remember when I first moved here when I was a child and it was new. It has changed a great deal over the years – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But I have ended up staying here and I have always liked it.

“I couldn’t stand to be cooped up in an air raid shelter so I became a warden so I could be outside.

“It was frightening at times but when you are 15 you are full of yourself and have more courage.

“I was there in 1941 when 39 people were killed when a bomb fell on Hilton House.

“It was one block away from me, so it could very easily have been me and my family who died. It was terrible, but you just got on with it.”

She had been working at United Glass Bottle Manufacturing in Charlton when she was told to go home – it was believed her mum, Matilda Endersby, had been killed by the flying bomb.

But she found her, alive, in St John’s Hospital, Lewisham.

“She was badly injured,” said Nell.

“I took her to grandma’s in the Old Kent Road.

“She had scars on her face and had to wear her hair down the rest of her life. And she suffered from arthritis of the spine as long as she lived.

“I have had lots of lovely friends in my time here and we organised all sorts of things.

“But sadly there are very few of us left. Many are now living upstairs – in heaven, I mean.

“There were some wonderful people in my life and very fond memories.”

Nell was social secretary for the Honor Oak Neighbourhood Association for nearly 30 years, raising funds and organising holidays and day trips for residents.

She has spent much of lockdown knitting woollen coats and mittens for great-grandson, Alfie, aged two.

“It’s only to pass the time away,” she said. “I have people who look after me – David Morgan, the former estate caretaker, comes around with the paper every day. If he can’t his daughter does. It is so kind of them – I am very grateful.”

Her granddaughter Jennie said: “David has been caring for her as we have all moved away. Without him I don’t know where nan would be – she calls him her other son.”

Main Pic: From left, Rachel Pearce, Harry Pearce, Nell Pearce, and Annie Pearce

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One thought on “‘It is worse than the war. Back then you could go out’

  • Linda Debell maiden name Pearce

    She is my aunty her and my uncle Charlie did so much for the community and she is an amazing lady lv u x


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