The last Sunday of October when the ‘clocks go back’ is always the event that triggers a complete, involuntary change in my mood and in my demeanour.
The reason for this is quite simple; the change from British Summer Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) always acts as a portent of the impending anniversary of the worst day of my life; 3rd November 1971, the date my mother Enid was killed on her way home from work by a dangerous driver on the zebra crossing at the junction of Victoria Way and Woolwich Road, Charlton. She was 41.
Today, Wednesday 3rd November 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful day, a day that changed the lives of my father Fred, my sister Christine and me, forever. I was 15 and my sister was just 3 days away from her 12th birthday.
The day must have started like any other. At 6.00am I would have walked down to Bert and Elsie’s paper shop in Conway Road, Plumstead; collected my newspapers to deliver and set off to complete ‘my round’, which started in Chestnut Rise, then went along part of Old Mill Road, down Tormount Road and finished, more or less, at my own house at the bottom of Roydene Road. By that time my Dad would have left for his job as an ‘electrician’s mate’ at Harveys in Charlton, and Mum would have prepared breakfast for Christine and I before we left for school – me to Shooters Hill Grammar School in Red Lion Lane, Woolwich and Christine, to Plumstead Manor School on Plumstead Common. Mum would then have set off for her part-time job as a typist at Johnson and Phillips in Victoria Way, Charlton.
Fast forward now to about 4.15pm. The clocks going back a couple of days earlier meant that it was dark as I made my way down from Plumstead Common where I got off the bus from school, to Roydene Road. As I got to the top of our road, I vividly remember seeing flashing lights near what must have been our house. As I got closer, I could see that there was a police car waiting right outside our house.
As I approached both police officers got out of the car and one said to me, ‘are you Stephen Sutherland?’ I remember confirming I was and before I could ask any questions, the other police officer said ‘your Mum has been involved in an accident. You need to collect your sister from your neighbour and then both of you go to your Aunt’s house in Hector Street.’
Christine – who was being looked after by Olive, one of our neighbours – joined me and we set off for the short journey to our Aunt Joan’s house. Mum was the youngest of five children – three girls and two boys – and Joan was one of my Mum’s sisters.
All we had been told was that Mum had been ‘in an accident’ and I remember saying to Christine that Mum had probably ‘broken her leg or something,’ but I suspected there might be more to it than that when I saw the sadness in Olive’s face when she brought Christine across to join me with the police officers.
When we arrived at our Aunt Joan’s house we were immediately met by Joan, her husband Don, and several other members of our family, all of whom were visibly distressed, and we were told the terrible news that Mum had been hit by a car and killed while she crossed the road to go to the bus stop to catch her bus home from work.
The rest is somewhat hazy in my memory, but I do remember that not long after Christine and I arrived at Aunt Joan’s; Dad arrived shortly afterwards, he’d been driven to Joan’s by his work friend, George. Dad was clearly in a distressed state.
As I said, my memory is not that clear of what happened after that except to say that I do remember flying into a distraught rage and I ran out of Aunt Joan’s house to ‘get the bloke’ who killed Mum…I didn’t know where I thought I was going though and I was quickly brought back into the house by I think, my cousins Ray and Brian.
My family were all brilliant in how they rallied around in the following weeks, months and years to support my Dad, Christine and I but we owe so much to one woman in particular – Dad’s Mum Lily, our Grandmother who we lovingly called ‘Nan’.
Nan, who was 76 at the time, moved in with us and ensured that Christine and I had as stable a home life as possible which allowed Dad to continue to go to work to support the family. Nan died in 1988 aged 93.
Now, 50 years on from that awful day in 1971 – 50 years since the last time I thought nothing of the fact that the clocks go back and it gets dark earlier – I like to think that Mum would have been proud of both Christine and I, and of what we have achieved in our personal and professional lives.
In loving memory of Enid Jean Sutherland; born 1st March 1930, died 3rd November 1971, aged 41.