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Extract of an Interview with Mrs Clack

Mrs P.Clack came to Cranfield University from Ireland in the 1950′s, here talks with Carmela about her experience as a waitress at the college.

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“I came by boat. My former employer said “Look, we wish you all the best. If you’re not happy, please come home. Do come home. You don’t have to stay there. Please take care of yourself, and you know what I mean by that.” That’s how gentle she was.

What were your first impressions (of being here)?

We were met at Bletchley, from the ferry train… and brought to the College of Aeronautics. Nowadays, it’s the University (Cranfield). I felt it was great. There were two halls, Lanchester and Mitchell. There would have been 36 of us in the two halls. You had three meals of the day… you had to be there… waiting at table… that was all you did! Now and again, they would have a social club and you would have conferences coming down from London. They would have to be entertained, so I was asked to do the singing and there was a pianist. I’d say, “You play them and I’ll fall in.” They’d say, “What would you like to drink?” I’d say, “I don’t drink” They would then give some money to my boss who would then drop it through my fly window in the billet, next day, for entertaining them. We sing and then have lovely dances… and we’d be dancing together there. One student did try to get fresh with me and I just walloped him – “You’ve got the wrong one here,” I said. The next morning, he’d be on my station (the tables she served). I just came in to the dining room and saw he had a “black eye”. I said to Mr. Cassidy, the head waiter who was over the whole of us, “Mr. Cassidy, I can’t serve this station, this morning”.

“Why not, Patsy?” he said.

I said, “I can’t go down there.” I said, “I’d rather not”. After the breakfast, the young man saw me and said it would teach him a lesson to know his place in future.

I stayed there for a year. We had the 8 o’clock breakfast, the 12 o’clock lunch and the 6 o’clock dinner. After each meal, we would go back to our billets and do whatever we want from say 10 to 11.30pm, 2 to 5 and from 7.30. All that time was ours. We used to go into Bedford on the bus and College provided transport for us to be brought home after the dance We went to ‘ Dudeney and Johnsons’ and the Corn Exchange. They were the two main dance halls there. This would be on Saturdays. In the week, a couple of nights we would perhaps go to the cinema in Cranfield, called the “Ritz” or into Bedford to the “Empire”. Then there was the Social Club, just “chin-wagging” and a glass of lemonade. All Irish girls were brought for this waitressing. We were taught how to do it. We were 18 – 20 and you had the older generation who possibly had been there for many, many years.

Did you used to send money home to your family?

Oh I did! I did. It was £4.15s (£4.75p) a week and we ‘lived in’ (free)… I felt my mother was struggling. Then I’d go home on a fortnight’s holiday. Maybe three of us would go across to Ireland… I’d go see the woman I’d worked for and she’d give me a meal and she’d take me home to my mum.”

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