Dengate Shop Fire
Norman Dengate was born on the 12th October 1926 to Stanley and Emily Laura Dengate in Hastings, East Sussex. He was born at the family home in Hughenden Road. The family later moved to Elphinstone Avenue, Ghyllside Drive, Braybrook Road, then back to Ghyllside Drive from where Norman left to enter the Air Force.
Stanley and Emily Dengate with children Norman, Barbara and Gwendoline
Norman's early years in his own words
Written November 2009
I left school when I was thirteen, when the Grammar School evacuated to St. Albans, my father decided that I should not go, so at thirteen I started work in the Dengates Furniture store in Queens Road, owned by my father and his brothers, the job being a fairly menial one but nevertheless I was getting paid and one or twice a week, after I had gained some experience, my Uncle Cecil would take me in his car (as I remember a Flying Standard 8) to the shop that we had in Bexhill and from which all the staff had been called up for the Services. So there I was, all on my own, in charge, but I do not remember ever having a customer. Joyce at this time [Norman's future wife, whom he met at the Salvation Army corps in Adelaide Road, St Leonards] had been evacuated with her mother and brother to Glastonbury, where they were billeted in a convent. It was not very nice and they returned home after a few months.
It was on leaving for Bexhill on the 30th September 1940 when rounding the Memorial [Hastings town centre] that a bomb dropped from a low-flying German plane, hit the parapet of the cinema and exploded above us. I can still visualise that explosion, I received a cut on the back of my head and a piece of shrapnel came through the door of the car and tore my jacket. I was extremely lucky particularly as we later found out that my cousin, Clifford, who was at the bus stop outside of Plummer Roddis was killed.
At this time, Joyce, who was also 13 or 14, was at her first job having been placed into 'service' as a kitchen maid at High Beech, a large house at Hollington, which was the home of a Mrs Jefferson, with extensive grounds, all of which is now developed with housing and High Beech now a hotel.
Her next job was as a cashier at Rymils the Butchers in Kings Road, St Leonards. She too was lucky, as whilst looking out of the window to the rear she watched two of the Warrior Square tall houses just fall to the ground having been hit by a bomb. Her next job was at Watsons the Jewellers in Queens Road as a sales assistant where she stayed until well after our marriage. Most Sundays after attending the Salvation Army, I would have lunch with Joyce and her family at her house in Clarence Road. I didn't give it much thought then, but we used to have a roast dinner each week, in spite of the rationing. It was only later that I realised it might have had something to do with the fact that her father, Arthur was a butcher.
Also at this time Hastings was experiencing bombing and so on a Sunday if there was an incident, Joyce and I used to get the Dengates small Ford 8 shop van, collect a tea urn from the Salvation Army and go to the bomb site with the tea for the rescue teams. We could only do this on a Sunday due to work. The incident which we remember the most was the bombing of the Swan Hotel in the High Street, in May 1943, quite a serious incident in which many people were killed.
Some of the extensive damage to the Old Town after the raid in May 1943
I, by this time having spent some while in the ATC, and after a short course at Reading University, became the first ATC PT instructor, which carried the rank of Corporal, and for which I was allowed a petrol ration for my motorcycle, a Triumph Tiger 70, to enable me to get to the St Leonards, Battle and Rye detached flights of the ATC Squadron and to give PT instruction.
Clearly my interest in the ATC meant that should I be called up, I would prefer the RAF to the Army, so at seventeen I volunteered to avoid the Army and joined the RAF on the 17th April 1944.
My first posting was to Cardington in Bedfordshire, the home of the Airships R100 and R101, long gone when I arrived. We did 6 weeks basic training there and then was posted to Creden Hill, Hertfordshire, for trade training where I became an Electrician for the RAF, posted to the Orkney Isles, attached to 611 Spitfire Squadron.
After a hairy boat ride to the island across the Pentland Firth, I arrived at a bleak airfield at Skea Brae, because it was an operational Squadron every day was a working day, except for the occasional whole day off which was usually spent in calling at the local farms buying eggs to send home as fresh eggs were a luxury. I made a wooden box with internal divisions, lined with felt, filed them with eggs and posted them home to Mum, who told me that they always arrived safely, and by collapsing the divisions she was able to pack a cake, made by using some of the eggs of course, in the box and post it back to me.
The Orkney's are a pretty desolate place and the trip across the Pentland Firth usually being a rough one, I was not sorry to leave when I moved to Yatesbury in Wiltshire for a few months before told that I was to be posted to India. I was only allowed a few days leave before reporting to Morecombe to assemble for embarkation at Greenock, Scotland sailing for India on the 3rd April 1945 on the S.S. Franconia.
During my few days leave and not knowing when I would be home again, Joyce and I became engaged. I went to Rix the jewellers in Albert Road to buy the ring, my mother came too, and I decided on a modestly priced ring with three opals. It was really nice but you do not have a lot of spare cash on Air Force pay of two shillings a day (10p in today's money), but Joyce liked it and so began our three-year engagement.
During the time I was away, Joyce continued working at Watsons and became an enthusiastic member of the St John Ambulance Brigade where, after training used to do her duties at various functions and also assisting with Ambulance duties.
It was great to be home again after all this time and to see my family. This was when I saw my younger sister, Nita for the first time and she was three years old. When my leave was up I had to report to the Central Flying School at Little Rissington on the edge of the Cotswolds. The time arrived for my release number to come up, and I then went to Warrington for the formalities of being discharged from the RAF on the 21st January 1948, complete with my demob suit having served for three months short of four years.
On returning home, it was great to see Joyce again, and although we had written to each other regularly, it meant we could continue our engagement normally and begin to make plans, which soon materialised. We were married on the 29th March 1948 at St Matthew's Church, St Leonards-On-Sea, with Gordon Dengate, my cousin as Best Man and with Gwen, my sister and Kathleen, Joyce's cousin as Bridesmaids. The reception was held in the Salvation Army Hall in Adelaide Road. We were still rationed at the time and so Joyce's mother saved from the rations over a while in order to make us a cake. We then made our first home in a flat in Githa Road.
The wedding of Norman Dengate and Joyce Ades
When I returned home in January I had no job to go to, but there was a responsibility for employers to re-employ staff who had left to join the services, my father and his brothers had, whilst I had been abroad, sold the Furniture business to the Co-Operative Society, who gave me my old job back on the furniture removal side, back driving the furniture lorries to various parts of the country, which I had been doing for my father before joining the RAF, having obtained a provisional driving licence when I was seventeen, but the company needed staff as most were being called up.
My father, having retired early when his business sold, had taken a part-time position with Mr A Buchanan, who had a credit business in Havelock Road. My father worked as a salesman / collector for him. After a while, Mr Buchanan wanted to move to Braintree and asked my father if he would like to buy the business, to which my father agreed after some consideration. So, I left the Co-op and joined my father in the business of A.J. Buchanan, to learn the trade as quickly as I could. The decision we made was the right one as after one year we were approached my Mr Watterson, who had a similar business in Cambridge Gardens to see if we would buy his business, which we did, moving our company to Cambridge Gardens because of its size and it had a window display. We also added, over time, a couple of smaller businesses, finally taking over Uncle Leslie's. He had also bought a small credit company a while earlier. This was when Stan Edwards joined us [husband of Norman's cousin, Eveline Dengate]. By now, we were a substantial business, our only competitors being the national companies of Hugh Wylie and Duponts.
Dengate's of Cambridge Road, Hastings (left and above left)
Stanley Dengate (above on the left) with son, Norman c.1970
Joyce was still at Watsons the Jewellers at this time and it was on the 25th August 1950, that our first son, Kevin was born.
In 1951, we moved to Gurth Road, having had a bungalow built on a plot of land that my father owned. Three bungalows were built, my mother and father having the corner plot, Albert Jobson and his wife bought the second one (he was the first person to be employed by us), Joyce and I having the third one. It was here that Colin was born on the 20th June 1953, and Andrea on the 20th August 1959. We lived there until 1960, when we moved to Collier Road, on the West Hill in Hastings, leaving there in 1965 moving to a larger house in St Helen's Road.
[In 1989] we received an approach from two national companies who wanted to take over our company, one from Greenwoods, a northern firm and Duponts from the south. Business was getting more difficult, competition from the supermarkets, government legislation, etc, so after discussion with the family, we decided to take the offer from Greenwoods as they were willing to buy the property and the stock and to guarantee the jobs of our staff, a point which was most important. So in 1989 I retired. I felt a bit guilty as I had not quite reached the normal retirement age of 65, I was in fact 63, but then I realised that as I started working for my living when I was thirteen, I had in fact worked for fifty years, which I thought entitled me to my retirement.
Having now reached our 80s and celebrated our diamond wedding anniversary in 2008, we now live with all the memories with which our children and all our friends have provided us, and for which we are extremely grateful.
In 2008, at his diamond wedding celebration Norman had the idea of getting together with hiss Dengate cousins, many of whom he had not seen in several years. Later that year, he organised the Dengate Family Reunion held in Sedlescombe. The event was a great success and was featured on the local Meridian News (clip below).
Norman Dengate being interviewed by Meridian News, October 2008
Norman and Joyce Dengate (front row, seated) with some of heir children and grandchildren
The Dengate Reunion on Meridian News, 2008
Sadly, Norman died in March 2017 after a short illness. His funeral was held on the 5th April 2017 at St Andrew's Church in Fairlight.
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