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The Diary of Oscar Kirk, PLA Messenger Boy, extracts for March 1919.

This document contains the transcribed diary entries from March 1919 of Oscar Kirk
who was 14 when he started to work in the West and East India Docks in 1918
ferrying messages and mail between different docks and Port of London Authority
offices.

Oscar's diary for the first half of 1919 has survived and is currently part of the
museum's collection. The diary is currently on display in the Sainsbury's Study
Centre at the museum.

Who was Oscar Kirk?

Oscar was born in May 1904 in Poplar, London close to the West India Docks. At the
age of 14, on the 23 October 1918, just a few days before the end of World War I,
Oscar started to work for the Port of London Authority and began to keep a diary full
of delightful and illuminating detail about the life of a young working man in East
London at this time.

Oscar went on to become a Clerical Assistant in the West India Dock, took part in the
General Strike in 1926 and by the time he retired in 1968 was a Senior Foreman at
the North Quay Warehouse (where the Museum of London Docklands is now
housed).

Oscar died in 1980.

Diary extracts and personal biographical details reproduced with the kind permission
of Oscar's family.

Saturday 1 March 1919


Today is not my half-day worse luck; but never mind.
I am Specials W.I. Dk.*
I got up at 6 this morning ready for early mornings as they start today.
I bought a bottle of Stephen’s Ink yesterday & this page is written with it.
I went home at 2 O’clock this afternoon on [?]bills.
I went down for Nana and we came back together. She gave me twopence & Appa
gave me twopence as well.
Weather:- Fine day. Sunny all day. Sharp. Clear sky. No rain.

*probably special messages to West India Dock

Sunday 2 March 1919


I took Marjorie with me to Nana’s house.
I took two macramé bags to Mr Haddon’s House and he ‘soaked’ Marjorie in scent
and gave both of us a penny each.
In the afternoon I went round for Bellamy but he wasn’t in but I met him.
Mum made some Custard & bought some rhubarb and we had that for tea.
Appa* gave Marj. And me a penny each which we put together and bought some
sweets.
Weather:- Sunny all day and very pleasant. Not cold, no rain.

* Appa – Oscar’s name for Grandpa

Monday 3 March 1919


Today is the first Monday of the new times*.
Tomorrow is pancake day, and Shrove Tuesday.
Today is Appa’s birthday.
Bellamy called for a lend of my book called Captain Nat’s Treasure.** I had a lend of
his book called Settlers and Scouts***
I had my usual Shepherd’s Pie tonight.
I had some cheese for my supper.
Polished some of my door knobs tonight.
Weather:- Sunshine most of the day. Rather windy. Rain in evening.

* New journey schedule

** Actually Cap’n Nat’s Treasure: a tale of old Liverpool, published in 1902 by


Robert LEIGHTON (1859 - 1934 ) a prolific writer of adventure stories.
*** Settlers and Scouts by - T C Dugdale (1909) – a pseudonym of George Herbert
Ely (1866-1958) & C James L'Estrange (1867-1947) who were staff members of the
Oxford University Press. They published a long list of books for both boys and girls.

Tuesday 4 March 1919


Today is Shrove Tuesday & Pancake Day!
I had two pancakes and an egg for tea. (Thumbs up!)
I went down the road this morning and bought a tin of milk for Miss O’Doherty and a
1/4lb of biscuits for Miss Cutler.
Hunt gave me a late night and Ord was supposed to have one but he ran home.
I went to bed early tonight at 8 O’clock.
I promised to tell Bellamy if I was going in the Hippodrome but I didn’t know.
Weather:- Raining all day. Gloomy. No sun.

Wednesday 5 March 1919


19 weeks in P.L.A.
Just before I went to work this morning I had a pancake which I left from last might’s
tea.
I did some machining tonight.
Nana came this evening and sewed a button on my tunic and brought up The Family
Herald.
I ruled up my signature book today for Thursday & Friday, and Saturday morning.
My 12.30 Town Journey went today; but I only went up as far as North Side & then
came back across the sack shed.
Weather:- Raining all day. Gloomy. No sun. Mild.

Thursday 6 March 1919


E Bellamy called for me to lend him a book and I lent him The Windsor Magazine*.
O’Donovan said that his father was demobilized at 12. midnight last night.
I got some muscatel raisins out of 1/3 whses** and I went in the sack shed with Ord,
when he saw Mr Thurgood chasing Greenaway because he “dossed” over the fields
and we both ran back to 1/3 whses and from there back down the quay to G.O***.
I lent Ord 1d to ride home with.
Weather: - Sunshine all day. Very cold. Cloudy.

* A monthly illustrated magazine that was popular from the 1890’s to at least the
1920s.
**warehouses
*** General Office

Friday 7 March 1919


I bought some cocoa at Calver’s to make some Chocolate. But I boiled the fat and it
spoiled.
A policeman chased Rousell, Greenway, Ord and me when we were in the sack
sheds.
I ate about 8 oranges today and I gave Billy Wells one.
On my 11.journey I went round Inner Dock with Greenway and afterwards got some
oranges.
Mum went to the Hippodrome.
Weather: - Raining all day. Cold. Cloudy.
Commodity transit shed West India Dock 1905 to 1925 © PLA collection/Museum of London

Saturday 8 March 1919


I bought a 3d bar of chocolate and the Penny Popular and Gem yesterday. It is my
half day today. I went home with Greenway through the docks and met Wells who
used to be a messenger at one time.
I got a cocoanut abd brought it home.
I made some chocolate this evening. Nana came.
I rode up Chrisp St. and bought a banana for Marjorie and a bar of chocolate for
myself and 6 eggs at 1s 6d.
Weather:- Cold. Cloudy. Sunny intervals.

Sunday 9 March 1919


I bought some Boisselier chocolate* (6d worth) as I was going down the road
yesterday and Mr Ascott gave me 6d. And yesterday I took my boots to be mended
at Phillips.
I went to bed at 9.30.
I saw in the papers that there was a bit of riot in the Strand caused by Australian
soldiers gambling**.
Weather: - Raining some of the day. Cloudy. Muggy.

* The Boisselier Chocolate company was founded by Henri Conrad Boisselier, son
of a French Consul to Britain. By 1900 he was working as a cocoa manufacturer’s
assistant for the Watford Vi-Cocoa Company. A few years later he took over the
company and renamed in Boisselier’s Chocolates.

** This was actually a serious incident involving men and women of the American
Army. The riot took place in Bow Street and the Strand, following the rather badly
handled arrest of some soldiers for gambling with dice outside the YMCA building.

Monday 10 March 1919


When I came home from work Daddy told me that there was a chance to go on the
stage in a play called The Great World of London. So I went to the stage door and Mr
Watson told me to come round at 6.30.
Nana came last night and brought my watch.
I went to the bootmakers and asked for my boots but they were not done!
Weather:- Mild temperature. Fine day early. Dull later.

Tuesday 11 March 1919


When I came home from work I had an egg for my tea and then I went and changed
and went in the Hippodrome.
The number of my watch key is No. 5. I am very pleased with my new watch.
I am going to make out on a piece of paper what times I have to come on the stage.
The list or time table, is on the first blank page,
I went to Phillip for boots but he said they would be ready at 7pm and I went and got
them then.
Weather:- Very muggy. Raining early. A gale blowing.

Wednesday 12 March 1919


20 weeks in Port of London Authority.
I ought to have had my hair cut tonight but I didn’t have time.
I ‘dossed’ Central Granary on my 3.45 journey.
When I came home from work I had a read and then went out and washed myself
and then went to the Hippodrome.
Nana came this evening and brought the ‘Family Herald’.
I had a dry dock bridger twice today because (of the ss Tras-os-Montes)
I wore my boots (P.L.A.) today.
Weather: Rainy and cloudy. Sunny intervals. Muggy.

Thursday 13 March 1919.


When I was in the Hippodrome the ‘villain’ but he didn’t give me anything.*
At work my boots hurt me so when I cam home I changed them.
I couldn’t get a bus so O’Donovan and I asked the driver of a trolley** for a lift and he
said ‘Jump on’ and we ‘jumped on’.
We and some more men from Fletcher’s had a whip round and gave him what we
got. I bought a bun with the penny I saved.
Weather: Sunny all day. Slightly cold. Windy.

* It really isn’t clear what Oscar means by this, though we can guess he was
expecting payment for something.
** Trolley bus – a bus powered by overhead electric cables.

Friday 14 March 1919


Bellamy came this evening and brought me a book called Sir Sleepawake* a tale of
the Crusades. I lent him The Wonder Book.**
I bought a bar of chocolate and a tin of blacking*** (Cherry Blossom because I could
not get any Berry’s boot polish).
I also bought the Gem and the Penny Popular.
I bought a bottle of Valento**** for Mum. I also bought 3 oranges for Marjorie.
On my 8.45 I went right round South and cleared Railway cage for Donovan.
Weather:- Sunny all day. Windy. Moderate temperature.

* Actually Sir Sleepawake and his brother: a tale of the Crusades. By Grace Witham.
Published in 1909.
** There were so many books in this series that this one is impossible to identify.
*** Black shoe or boot polish
**** Unidentified

Saturday 15 March 1919.


Today is the last day that I have to go to the Hippodrome.
I bought two cakes of chocolate (3d & 6d).
I was nearly late for the Hippodrome but I was in time.
The tall boy came in late and he missed two turns.
I made my sig(nature) book out for next week and the week after.
I was on this Saturday.
Nana came tonight and gave me twopence.
I lent Alderton my Gem & Popular.
Weather:- Sunny all day. Moderate temperature. Windy.

Sunday 16 March 1919.


I went out with Bellamy and as I was going with him to Whiffins I bought 11oz of
Clarnico Cream Caramels*.
When I came back I bought five oranges.
Last night I was paid in the Hippodrome by Mr Melville 10/-.
I went to bed early this evening.
Dady opened my watch and altered the regulator.
I read Sir Sleep Awake and With Drake on the Spanish Main**.

*Clarnico was a confectionary company founded in Hackney in 1872 by Clarke,


Nickolls and Coombes (Clar-Ni-Co). Later became part of Trebor Bassett, and
owned by Cadbury Schweppes.

** With Drake on the Spanish Main by Herbert Strang. Published in 1907. Herbert
Strang was another pen-name for George Herbert Ely (1866-1958) & C James
L'Estrange (1867-1947) who were staff members of the Oxford University Press.
They published a long list of books for both boys and girls.
(See note for 3 march also)

Monday 17 March 1919


Nana came this evening and brought the plate powder* which she promised me, and
I polished my watch with it and washed my chain and also polished it with powder
afterwards.
I took two cakes with me for lunch this morning.
I brought home some T nuts.
I drew a picture of a bull-finch in Marjorie’s book this morning.
I went to bed at 8.10 tonight.
Play at the Hippodrome ‘For Services Rendered’**
Weather: - Moderate temperature and Sunny intervals. Cloudy.

* Oscar’s watch is a ‘pocket-watch’, rather than a wrist watch. This was meant to be
attached to the waistcoat or jacket by a length of chain. Wrist watches were first
available to buy from 1911.
Silver and other metals were usually polished with abrasive powder – though this
could badly damage the surface.
** Not identified, but not the Somerset Maugham play of the same name of 1932.

Tuesday 18 March 1919


I didn’t call at Central Granary on my 1 (O’clock) journey.
I had my hair cut this evening and I bought 1d orange and 3 elastic rings*.
I also bought a doughnut and two ‘Magnets’.
I went to bed at 8.30 this evening.
When I went out to get my hair cut I put on my cap and ‘civvy’ coat**.
I stayed at work with Hunt and Alderton til five o’clock.
Weather:- Raining in the evening. Moderate temp. Cloudy.

* Elastic bands.
** Civvy = civilian. Not his uniform coat.

Wednesday 19 March 1919


21st week in PLA
Nana came this evening and brought the ‘Family Herald’.
I had my mouse in this evening and fed it.
I had an egg for my tea.
I went out and bought, Mum, Marjorie and Nana a banana each.
I also bought myself 2 ozs of moulded chocolate at Bishops and Mum a roasted nut
ring.
I didn’t call at Central Granary on my 11.30 or 1 o’clock journeys today.
Weather: Raining all the afternoon and evening. Cold.

Thursday 20 March 1919


I called for Antram and we went to Aldgate and I bought a doughnut, a bar of
chocolate & 2 ozs of Packer’s chocolate moulded caramels. I paid Antram’s fare
there and back.
Mum made a rice pudding for my tea but when I came home it wasn’t done so I will
have to have it tomorrow.
Mum had a touch of the toothache tonight.
I didn’t call in at Central Granary on my 1 o’clock journey.
Weather: Snowing early in the morning. Raining afterwards. Very cold.

Friday 21 March 1919


Pay day today.
I bought a 6d tablet of chocolate, 2 doughnuts, (2d) Gem & Penny Popular, ½ pound
of oats, a bottle of Fields ink, two bottles of lemonade and two sponge cakes.
I went to Leyton’s shop for the oats and I left my bottle of ink there. About half-an-
hour afterwards I went there and asked Mrs Leyton if she had seen [it] and she gave
it to me! I fed my mice with the oats I bought.
Weather:- Snowing slightly this morning. Raining later. Cold. Cloudy.

Saturday 22 March 1919


My half-day today.
I went home through the docks with Albert Greenway & his brother.
I bought a doughnut, 2 packets of Zig-Zags for Dad at Cose’s.
Went to Wareham’s & got Mum’s scissors which she left there to be sharpened, the
Daily Mirror, 2d of caramels, a menthol tube, a bar of chocolate and a card of boot
protectors which I put on my boot.
Nana came this evening and gave me 2d. I went to the library and got a Mag[azine]
for myself and Marion Darche* for Nan.
Weather:- Snowing slightly. Very cold. Cloudy.
* A novel set in New York, by the prolific author F. Marion Crawford, published in
1894.

Sunday 23 March 1919


I saw a man named Billy Lyons in the Police office as I was at Inspection yesterday.
The same policeman who caught Ord, saw him take 9 oranges.

[Oscar didn’t write anything more on this Sunday]

Monday 24 March 1919.


Nana didn’t come this evening.
I did my 4.14 journey right round south this evening*.
I went to bed early tonight at 8 o’clock.
When I came home I had a nice She[herd’s Pie made of meat, rice and potatoes.
The Engineers boy gave me a bank bag.
I bought the Mirror this morning.
It is my turn to pick the ashes up and sweep up.
Play at the Hippodrome this week ‘Sons of the Sea’.
Weather:- Sunny intervals. Slight snow. No rain. Cold and Windy.

* The long walk right round the southern tip of the Millwall Dock.

Millwall Dock 1919 © PLA collection/Museum of London

Tuesday 25 March 1919


I opened my money-box this evening and found a penny and a ha’penny* instead of
2s and 1s! I suppose Daddy has taken them out and put in the coppers.
I went out and mum a pint of beer.
I stayed til five this evening with Hurst.
On my 4.15 journey I went across the fields to South Side and from there to Railway
and central Granary.
I had some soup for supper.
The 12.45 Town Journey went today (as far as Central G[ranary] )
Weather:- Sunshine all day. Very cold. Windy. Rain.

* A Halfpenny

The White Heart public house, Bethnal Green Road: c.1900 © Museum of London

Wednesday 26 March 1919


22nd week in PLA.
Nana came this evening.
I did my 4.15 right round and came back at 5 o’clock.
Ord came up today with a bad foot where a rusty, sharp piece of tin ran into it.
Last night Alderton threw a pen belonging to Mr Thurgood into the ceiling and broke
up another one and also dragged his coat about the floor.
On my 2.30 Journey I met Lyons at Railway and he waited for me at South Side and I
went across the fields back to General.
Weather:- Sunny intervals. Very cold. Gale blowing.

Thursday 27 March 1919


When I came home from work I had my tea and then I went out and bought Mum 3
oranges for 2d and a reel of white cotton No. 36 (3d).
Mr Thurgood gave the South Journey boys such a fright because he said we will
have to call at the Transporter Yard when we were going to central and get a
sig[nature]. I was supposed to go on my 4.15 Journey but Mt Stanton said he would
have no letters for me then so I wouldn’t have gone there but for an M.R.B*. for the
Transporter.
Did some machining this evening.
Weather:- Raining very heavily this morning and evening. Cold. Windy.

* Unidentified, but perhaps some form of official form.

Friday 28 March 1919


It is my pay-day today (17/-).
O’Donovan told me today that Mr Stanton told him that we were to call once every
two journeys, that is better than twice every journey.
I forgot my sig[nature] book on my 9.15 journey.
I went out and bought the Gem, Magnet and Penny Popular. I also bought 3
oranges, 2d of bullseyes and a Mirror and a bar of chocolate and a chocolate biscuit.
I didn’t call at central on 4.15 [Journey]
Weather:- Very cold. Snowing at times. A Gale blowing.
Saturday 29 March 1919
It is Marjorie’s Birthday today. She got a nice pair of green socks and also a book
called Home Friends. A jelly for tea and some biscuits. Dad bought her a 1lb box of
chocolates and I gave her 3/-.
Nana bought some handkerchiefs for me.
I bought 3 3d bars of Cadbury’s nut milk chocolate. It was nice.
I took my boots to be soled and also the heels raised and tipped.
Weather: Snowing heavily this morning. Soon thawed. Very cold.

Sunday 30 March 1919


I went to bed last night at 9.20.
We had to put our clocks forward an hour last night.
Cousin Annie came this afternoon, she gave me 3d & Marjorie 2d.
We had veal today for dinner. It was fine too.
In the evening Dad went to Uncle Jack’s house.
We had dinner at 4.30 this afternoon. I had no tea and no supper. I have read Nana’s
library today. Marion Darche’.*

* A novel set in New York, by the prolific F. Marion Crawford, published in 1894.

Monday 31 March 1919


The foreman at D Warehouse gave me some cardboard and Mr Herbert gave me a
few cards.
Nana came this evening and brought my library back.
I bought the Mirror this morning and some Ginger Beer this afternoon at 1 o’clock
and sold some of it to Rousell for 1d.
We had most of our office windows put in this evening.
As I was coming home I bought some chocolate.
Play at the Hippodrome this week, Mr Mayfair.
Weather:- Sleet at times. Windy. Cold.

Find out more about Oscar’s thoughts and duties daily on our website and
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