My series on the volunteer ambulance drivers of Chelsea is finished (for now at least). It is time look at other aspects of the wartime life of my diarist, auxiliary ambulance driver June S.
During the Blitz June lived at Lindsey House in Cheyne Walk, a 17th-C mansion a stone’s throw from the river at Chelsea. Over the years the house was divided into separate homes. In the 19th C, residents included the painters John Martin and James McNeill Whistler, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father Marc.
By the mid 20th C, Richard Stewart-Jones owned many of the residences. He let the numerous rooms to scores of people – his friends, anyone he deemed “interesting”, musicians (he liked to hold musical soirées) and, during wartime, people employed in war work. This included June. The atmosphere, to begin with at least, was friendly, fun and young.
The building was run down – all peeling paint and crumbling plaster -and, during the Blitz, battered by incendiaries and bombs. Stewart-Jones served in the merchant marine and his mother and sister often ran the house, along with the ferocious family nanny, Christiana Sams, whose job included making sure there were no shenanigans between the male and female lodgers, especially while they sheltered together during overnight raids.
June’s room on the 4th floor of No. 97 Cheyne Walk was a place of refuge, a haven after long, grimy, gruelling shifts at the ambulance station in Danvers Street where she was a driver for the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service. It was here that she held tea parties, gossiped with her friends, sewed (she was a dress designer), and stood on the balcony to watch enemy bombers, using the silvery arrow of the Thames as a guide, sweep their way to targets across London.
In June’s day Lindsey House was a hub of comings and goings, a place of conviviality and camaraderie – until it wasn’t. Why the atmosphere turned sour was revealed in June’s diary and, as I later found, corroborated by another resident, a remarkable woman called Betty Stucley, who will be the subject of a later post.